Monday, January 17, 2011

Haiti: Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier Returns from Exile - TIME

Haiti: Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier Returns from Exile - TIME

In the past 12 months, Haiti — already the western hemisphere's economic basket case — has suffered an epic earthquake that according to latest estimates killed more than 250,000 people and leveled the country's infrastructure, a cholera epidemic that has claimed thousands more lives and a powder-keg political crisis tied to the fraud-tainted Nov. 28 presidential election. (See pictures of Haiti's cholera outbreak.)

All the country needed now was the return of a brutal exiled dictator.

"I came to help my country," the 59-year-old former despot declared as some 2,000 of his supporters met him at the airport. But it's hard to imagine how Duvalier's reappearance, which Haitian officials insist took them by surprise, could do anything more than throw Haiti into even deeper turmoil as it tries to rebuild after last year's disaster. (See TIME's exclusive pictures from the Haiti earthquake.)

The question now is, Who if anyone in this standoff benefits from the sudden presence of Duvalier? Some Haitian pundits on Sunday said it might be meant to compel Préval to acquiesce to international demands to sacrifice Célestin. But it's hard to believe, even under Sarkozy, that France and the international community would stoop so low diplomatically as to encourage Duvalier to return to Haiti for that purpose. Others suggested that Duvalier's return instead gives Préval leverage by showing the international powers how much more turbulent things can get if they keep messing with the Haitian President. But again, could even Préval be cynical enough to open the door to one of the 20th century's most notorious dictators for that kind of political gain? Either way, sources close to Duvalier told reporters Sunday that he'd entered Haiti on a diplomatic passport — but if so, it was unclear which country had issued it to him. (See the early days of Baby Doc's life in exile in France.)

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