Elizabeth Abbott, a historian and writer, lived in Haiti for five years, from 1983-88. A research associate at University of Toronto's Trinity College, she is the author of Haiti: The Duvaliers and their Legacy.
How did Baby Doc get into power?
His father, François (Papa Doc) Duvalier, was a medical doctor who won popular support for treating people who were suffering from Yaws, a tropical disease that afflicted many Haitians. He was elected president in 1957 after campaigning on a platform that attacked the mulatto elite and appealed to the Afro-Haitian majority. Once elected, he deported most of his opponents, instituted a new constitution and ruthlessly consolidated his power with the help of his self-styled militia called the tontons macoutes. He died in 1971, one of the few Haitian presidents to die in office without getting kicked out or killed. Jean-Claude took over as president when he was 19 and clueless, and was in power until he got kicked out in 1986.
Was Baby Doc better or worse than his father?
He wasn't as cruel. The father was a micromanager, and the son was a partier who inherited a system and let the different cliques run the country for him. There were all sorts of power struggles between "the dinosaurs," the older crowd who had run the show under Papa Doc, and younger people who were friends of Baby Doc. But the system of repression, elitism and absolute corruption continued, including using Haiti's poverty as a means of attracting foreign aid, which he then stole for himself.
What happened to Baby Doc after he went into exile in France in 1986?
For years, he and his former wife Michèle Bennett Pasquet spent millions living lavishly, but he lost a lot of money in their divorce and he has been living very modestly ever since. There are millions of Haitian dollars in Swiss bank accounts.
Why do you think he has come back?
Probably because he is an old man living in a one-bedroom apartment. He is a figurehead to people who still believe in Duvalierism.In Haiti, 40 per cent of the population is 14 or under, so the vast majority of Haitians weren't alive when Baby Doc was in power. All they know are the stories they hear of a time when women weren't raped on the way to the bathroom.