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Former Haitian president ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier dies

JUSTICE AVERTED?An activist said that the death had robbed Haitians of potentially the most important human rights trial in the nation’s history

AFP, PORT-AU-PRINCE

Former Haitian president Jean-Claude “Baby-Doc” Duvalier, center, gestures from a hotel in Petionville, Port-au-Prince, on Jan. 16, 2011.

Photo: Reuters

Former Haitian president Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who ruled the impoverished Caribbean nation with an iron fist from 1971 until his ouster in 1986, died on Saturday of a heart attack. He was 63.

The death of Baby Doc, as he was commonly known, marks the end of a dark chapter for a desperate country plundered first by his father — former Haitian president Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, a physician-turned-populist politician — before being further ravaged by his son.

An estimated 30,000 people were killed during the reign of the Duvalier father and son, rights activists say.

Baby Doc returned to Haiti in 2011, after 25 years of exile, but the people he affected, opponents and activists never saw him face justice.

Despite that, reaction to his death was muted on the streets of Haiti.

Haitian President Michel Martelly called him “an authentic son of Haiti” on Twitter and sent his “sincere condolences to the family and to the nation.”

“Love and reconciliation must always prevail over our internal quarrels. May he rest in peace,” wrote Martelly, who said he was paying tribute to the former president “despite our quarrels and our differences.”

Baby Doc’s death in Port-au-Prince was announced by Haitian Minister of Health Florence Guillaume Duperval, who said the cause appeared to be a massive heart attack.

“The family phoned us this morning asking us to send a [medical] helicopter,” she told reporters.

“They tried to administer first aid to him on the scene, but he died” a short time later, she said.

The younger Duvalier came to power when he was just 19 years old, and for a decade-and-a-half ruled as Haiti’s self-proclaimed “president for life.”

Like his father, Baby Doc allowed little room for dissent, barring opposition, clamping down on dissidents, rubber-stamping his own laws and pocketing government revenue.

And like his father, he made liberal use of the dreaded Tonton Macoutes, a secret police force loyal to the Duvalier family.

The notorious sunglass-wearing Macoutes terrorized Haitians, arresting and torturing untold numbers of political opponents, thousands of whom vanished without ever being accounted for.

Born in Port-au-Prince on July 3, 1951, the young Duvalier watched the intrigue and paranoia escalate in his father’s 14-year government, which began in 1957 and saw waves of arrests, executions, bombings and 11 failed coups.

At the age of 11, he survived an attack that killed three of his bodyguards.

In 1986, he was forced into exile in a popular uprising, as pro-democracy forces rallied in the streets amid international condemnation of the rampant human rights abuses during his regime.

Baby Doc fled Haiti for a life of luxury in France, thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly pilfered from the coffers of the most impoverished country in the Americas.

He was said in reports to have looted as much as US$300 million before being forced to flee.

In the late 1990s, former political prisoners brought charges of “crimes against humanity” against Baby Doc in a Paris court, claiming they were tortured over a period of years, but the lawsuit later foundered.

In 2007, Duvalier called on Haitians to forgive him for “mistakes” committed during his rule, even as the government in power at the time insisted he face trial.

After his return, he was charged in a slow-moving prosecution on corruption and embezzlement allegations dating to his years in power.

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