Amid Political Crisis, Former Dictator Reappears in Haiti
Haiti’s exiled former dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, returned unexpectedly to his homeland Sunday for the first time since he was deposed in a coup in 1986.
Although the reason was not immediately clear, his return, reported by news agencies and radio stations in Haiti, appeared to take the Haitian government completely by surprise.
He returned as Haiti remains in a political crisis over a disputed election last fall and the country continues to recover from a devastating earthquake a year ago last week.
Mr. Duvalier, known as “Baby Doc,” had ruled Haiti after the 1971 death of his father, the authoritarian François Duvalier, known as “Papa Doc.” The son had been living in France in exile.
Reuters reported that he was met at the airport in Port-au-Prince by enthusiastic supporters.
Earlier Sunday, the American ambassador to Haiti embraced an international report rejecting the results of the presidential election in November, adding pressure on Haitian officials to reconsider the outcome. The ambassador, Kenneth H. Merten, said in a telephone interview that the report “makes sense,” and he urged Haitian officials to accept its findings, including the conclusion of widespread fraud.
The report, delivered Thursday to President René Préval and prepared by a multinational team of experts convened by the Organization of American States, confirmed Mirland Manigat, a former first lady, as the leader in the first round of voting in November. She did not win enough votes to avoid a runoff, though.
But the report said, based on a statistical analysis of ballot sheets, that Mr. Préval’s choice as his successor, Jude Célestin, had placed third, not second, as announced when the initial results were released in early December. Instead, the panel said Michel Martelly, a popular singer, had won second place and qualified to face Ms. Manigat in the second round of balloting..
Mr. Préval has not commented on the report, but his aides have been privately telling reporters that he is dissatisfied with it and questions its methodology.
With the leadership of the country and billions of dollars of disaster relief hanging in the balance, José Miguel Inzula, the O.A.S. secretary general, plans to visit Haiti Monday to consult with top officials.
Mr. Merten, who also spoke Sunday to two Haitian radio stations, noted that Mr. Préval had asked for the report in an effort to defuse a political crisis that had lead to violent demonstrations when the initial results were announced.
“It would be problematic,” he added, “if the Haitians sought to modify the contents of the report Préval asked for. It is a technical report, prepared by a multinational team of experts.”
Their qualifications, he added, “are pretty impeccable.”
Mr. Merten declined to discuss what steps, if any, the United States would take if the government rejected the report or the votes were not retabulated.
The second round of voting had been scheduled for Sunday but was postponed while the O.A.S. conducted its review. Haitian authorities have said the runoff probably will not now occur until February.
Sporadic political violence has broken out since December. On Friday a man was shot to death during a confrontation with the police at a demonstration.
Several diplomats have said they are growing worried that the delay in resolving the election could ignite more violence.
“It seems like a balloon that keeps getting air put into it,” said one. “It would be wise to let the air out before the balloon bursts.”
Haiti's election mess turned explosive Sunday when ex-dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier unexpectedly arrived in Port-au-Prince after 25 years in exile.
Photos posted on Twitter showed Duvalier, 59, walking off an Air France plane with his companion, Veronique Roy, to be greeted by supporters.
It was his first visit to Haiti since he was deposed by a popular uprising in 1986.
Agence France-Presse reported he was met by a delegation of former officials who had served as his cabinet ministers 25 years ago.
Duvalier's intentions for returning were unclear. Some feared he would try to seize power.
He told the press at the airport that he came back "to help."
Port-au-Prince erupted in a frenzy of rumors and ringing phones.
Haiti is in the middle of a major political crisis over disputed presidential elections.
President Rene Preval is resisting international pressure to remove his handpicked candidate from a runoff that many consider rigged.
Duvalier, who ruled Haiti after the 1971 death of his authoritarian father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, had been living in exile in France.
In 2007, he asked the Haitian people to forgive him for the "errors committed during his reign" and suggested to supporters he might return.
Preval said then that if Duvalier did return to Haiti, he would face trial.
Duvalier arrived three days after the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince.
Haitian authorities say Duvalier siphoned $100 million from the hemisphere's poorest nation.
Dozens of Haitians were killed in the riots that ousted him.