In Haiti, nostalgia for past dictators pervades peacetime

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In Haiti, nostalgia for past dictators pervades peacetime

Post by Guysanto » Wed Sep 12, 2007 8:49 am

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times | September 9, 2007

PETIONVILLE, Haiti - Out of sight, out of mind, and now out of money, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier quietly has been sounding out the possibility of returning home after 21 years in exile in France.

Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, still visible and sufficiently flush to fuel his promotional machinery from South African exile, nurtures the hopes of his supporters that one day he will come back to lead this country.

Closer to home, three coup leaders and a former president live in the shadows, aging and ostracized, but not to be counted out in the seemingly boundless potential for political disruptions in Haiti.

Even as Haitians enjoy a respite from violence for the first time in decades, political forces given up for dead are showing faint stirrings of life. Some analysts dismiss the phenomenon as irrelevant musings of yesterday's men, but others point out that history in Haiti tends to repeat itself.

Nostalgia for the Duvalier era has made itself apparent in recent months with the establishment of the Francois Duvalier Foundation preserving the memory of the exiled Duvalier's late father, a celebration of what would have been the elder tyrant's 100th birthday in April, and a memoir of the president-for-life titled "The Misunderstood."

"More and more people are talking about the Duvalier period with positive memories," said Daniel Supplice, a teacher and historian who was a childhood friend and political aide to the younger Duvalier, who fled to France in 1986 as prodemocracy forces fanned international condemnation of his human rights abuses.

"When Jean-Claude left, the population expected changes for the better," Supplice said. "On the contrary, things have only gotten worse."

Rural Haitians were removed from much of the repression trained on dissidents in the cities, so they felt little benefit from Baby Doc's departure and "couldn't care less about so-called democracy," he said.

"I've heard that Jean-Claude wants to return, maybe not as president, but as a citizen," said Rony Gilot, who was Baby Doc's information minister and wrote the recent biography of the father.

"The Misunderstood" sold out its initial 1,000 copies within days of its February release, and a larger second printing is due out soon. Gilot, who still talks to the 56-year-old Duvalier in Paris by phone every few months, attributes the unanticipated interest in the late dictator's story to a nostalgia for a lost sense of order and national pride, but not for the stifling of personal and political freedoms.

Gilot likens the newfound reflection on the Duvalier era to postwar Germans and Italians longing for the punctual transportation and crime-free streets they had under fascism.

Jean-Claude Duvalier inherited the presidency in 1971 after the death of his father, a country doctor who won a rigged election in 1957 and had himself proclaimed president-for-life seven years later. After Baby Doc fled to the French Riviera with untold millions from Haiti's coffers, General Henri Namphy oversaw corrupt elections that brought a French-educated academic, Leslie Manigat, to the presidency in January 1988.

Four months later, Namphy ousted Manigat, only to be toppled himself before the year was out by General Prosper Avril.

Avril embarked on a renewed campaign of repression, ordering the arrest and beating of political opponents and parading the bloodied men on national television. As violence rose and a state of siege ensued, Avril was forced to resign and give way to the nation's first democratic elections since it became independent in 1804.

Aristide, then a priest renowned for rousing oratorical powers, won the presidency in a landslide, but served only seven months in 1991 before Duvalier loyalists in the military and the disgruntled business elite conspired to back another coup, led by General Raoul Cedras, who took over the helm as the coup-plotters' puppet.

After three years in exile, Aristide returned on the heels of a US-led military invasion that chased Cedras into exile. But political turmoil persisted, and Aristide armed slum gangs, which attacked his opponents. The violence led to the return of exiled former military figures and betrayed gang leaders in a rebellion. Aristide was sent into a second exile, this time to Africa, in February 2004.

Cedras, now 58, lives in obscurity on a Panamanian island, unlikely to return because of a prison sentence imposed in absentia for his alleged involvement in a massacre.

Namphy, 74, was last known to be taking refuge in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

The whereabouts of Avril, 69, are unknown since his escape from the national penitentiary in the chaotic aftermath of Aristide's flight three years ago. Manigat, 77, came in a distant second in his bid for the presidency last year.

What, if any, political ambitions these men might nurture remain a mystery, but Aristide openly aspires to returning and reigniting his following.

"He is in good spirits because he knows he will come back and that we are fighting for that," said Maryse Narcisse, one of five directors of the Aristide Foundation, which bankrolls student stipends, aid for activists with his Lavalas Movement, and political agitation for his repatriation.

Nearly 1,000 supporters marched on Aristide's 54th birthday in July to demand his return - a shadow of the throngs that once backed the charismatic populist, but still a force for the fragile government of President Rene Preval to reckon with.

When pressed by Aristide supporters to invite him back to the country, Preval has said there are no impediments to his predecessor and onetime mentor's return - except the former president's own concern about pending charges of illegal drug trafficking and misuse of government funds while in office.

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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Post by jafrikayiti » Wed Sep 12, 2007 12:48 pm

so much propaganda !
So many deceitful statements in these pieces of "journalism" that one could get nausea.

For one thing, this sentence is simply inaccurate:
"Nearly 1,000 supporters marched on Aristide's 54th birthday in July to demand his return"

I was there and took pictures (see ) - even the most concervative estimates would show several thousands - closer to 10 thousand people at this march.

Those marching were demanding the return of the exiled former president but not to take over from the current president or to lead the country as the New-York Times attempts to deceive the reader.

The marchers' list of demands included more than the return of political exiles like Aristide, they focused on the unbearable increase of basic food staples since the 2004 U.S. backed and U.N. blessed coup d'état. They were asking for the foreign troops (MINUSTAH) to get the hell out and let Haiti live and they also denounced the existence of political prisoners in the country even to this day.

These racist articles always try to dumb down the articulated demands of the struggling masses in black countries, especially Haiti. I am no longer surprised to read such crap in the U.S. mainstream media. But when these reports (from imagination while seated at the hotel drinking Martini with the good people) are describing events that I witnessed with my own eyes, it simply makes my blood boil. It is more than incompetence on the part of the NY Times. It is propaganda. At that they are expert.



Post by Zanfanginen » Mon Sep 17, 2007 6:22 pm

Propaganda indeed. I'm so disgusted with the lack of objectivity and professionnalism from the corporate journalists. What's the deal now to paint Jean-Claude Duvalier as a good president and to demonize Aristide? This is so pathetic.

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