FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How the U.S. Protected Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier

In February of 2013, I stood in a sweaty, overcrowded Port-au-Prince courtroom and watched as Jean-Claude Duvalier answered questions about hundreds of his political opponents being arrested, imprisoned, and killed during his tenure as Haiti’s “President for Life.”

Many of Duvalier’s rivals were held in the notorious three prisons known collectively as the “Triangle of Death”—Casernes Dessalines, Fort Dimanche, and the National Penitentiary. One political prisoner held in the Casernes Dessalines recalls being placed in a cell underneath the grounds of the National Palace, where Duvalier lived. The prisoner was led to an area so dark he could not see, but a guard’s torchlight revealed the man was locked in a room amid the skeletons of former prisoners.

At the court hearing I attended, Duvalier ducked responsibility, saying that the killing and oppression was done without his franquigcovknowledge.

Then he walked out of that courtroom a free man, which is how he died earlier this month, at age 63. Court rulings were still pending at his death, but the process was moving at a glacial pace and several of the interim decisions had been in Duvalier’s favor. Meanwhile, Duvalier met with Haitian and international political leaders, was acknowledged on the dais at public events, and was often spotted dining at expensive restaurants.

In researching a book on the struggle for human rights in Haiti, I spoke with Human Rights Watch’s Reed Brody about the Duvalier situation. “Can you imagine any other country where a former dictator accused of political murders and leaving people to rot and die in prison is allowed to just walk back into his country and remain free?” Brody asked. But he also said that the Haitian government did not bear sole responsibility for seeing that justice is done. “Part of this is the fault of the international community. Where is the outrage we would have if the brutal leaders of Iraq or Serbia were walking around free? We would not allow this anywhere else.”

But it was allowed to happen in Haiti, largely because of the studied indifference of the U.S. government. Shortly after Duvalier’s surprising 2011 return to Haiti from exile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staff made it clear that any prosecution was a matter solely for the Haitian government to handle.

The U.S. taking a hands-off approach to another country’s human rights issues would be more defensible if our hands were not so bloodied by the tragedy in question. For decades, the U.S. provided money, weapons, and troops to sustain the Duvalier regime in Haiti, even after human rights abuses were well known. Jean-Claude Duvalier’s father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, even used USAID trucks to carry supporters to his political rallies. More recently, Secretary Clinton successfully pushed the candidacy of current Haitian president Michel Martelly, who opposed the prosecution of Jean-Claude Duvalier and welcomed Duvalier’s son into his administration.

The determined Duvalier victims and tireless human rights advocates won a key victory in the prosecution last February, when the Haitian Court of Appeals ruled that Duvalier could be tried for his human rights crimes. But there was still a long road ahead when Duvalier died, a road that could have been traveled years ago if the U.S. had stepped up. The U.S. could have provided diplomatic cables and other evidence from the Duvalier era that would have helped make the prosecution’s case. The U.S. could have assisted in ensuring the safety of Duvalier victims fearful of testifying against him. And the U.S. could have used its bully pulpit and status as Haiti’s chief source of aid to push for prosecution. Instead, the Obama administration, likely wary of a trial destined to expose embarrassing evidence of U.S. complicity in Duvalier’s crimes, did nothing.

As a result, the Haitian people lost out. On a previous visit to Haiti, I interviewed Raymond Davius, who still carries the physical and psychological scars from being imprisoned and tortured for daring to join a political party that opposed Duvalier. “The problem is not as much about Duvalier himself as it is what he represents,” Davius said. “If Haiti does not judge Duvalier, we have lost the opportunity to send a message to Haitian leaders who think they can kill whoever they want and steal whatever they want, and not be judged.”

Instead, the message after Duvalier’s death continues to be one of impunity in Haiti, if you are rich enough and powerful enough. From his cradle in the National Palace run by his despotic father to his grave, where the latest U.S.-backed Haitian president called for a salute to an “authentic son of Haiti,” Jean-Claude Duvalier enjoyed U.S. protection.

I ended my column on the February, 2013 court hearing with this sentence: “The U.S. has enormous influence here, and most observers feel Duvalier will be held accountable for his crimes only if the U.S. speaks up.”

We didn’t, and he wasn’t.

Fran Quigley is a clinical professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and the author of How Human Rights Can Build Haiti (Vanderbilt University Press, 2014.)

 

 

More articles by:

Fran Quigley is a professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where he directs the Health and Human Rights Clinic. He is the author of How Human Rights Can Build Haiti (Vanderbilt University Press).

July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS class struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail