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Haiti moves toward corruption trial for Duvalier
“The citizens of this country have endured so much crime,” Alexi said. “We haven’t had a president who hasn’t committed crimes.”
Duvalier was removed from the hotel Tuesday after meeting in private with senior Haitian judicial officials inside his hotel room amid calls by human rights groups and others for his arrest.
The country’s top prosecutor and a judge were among those who met with the former leader in the high-end hotel where he had been ensconced returning to Haiti.
Dozens of Haitian National Police officers were posted inside and around the hotel, some of them in riot gear or guarding the stairwells. A police vehicle for transporting prisoners was parked in front of the hotel’s main door and all non-police traffic was halted at the driveway.
Henry Robert Sterlin, a former ambassador under Duvalier who has said in recent days that he was speaking as a spokesman for the former dictator, told reporters at the scene he was shocked by the developments. “Let’s see if they put him in prison,” he said.
Duvalier assumed power in 1971 at age 19 following the death of his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. The father and son presided over one of the most brutal chapters in Haitian history, a period when a secret police force known as the Tonton Macoute tortured and killed opponents. The private militia of sunglasses-wearing thugs enforced the Duvalier dynasty’s absolute power and lived off extortion.
At Fort Dimanche, a fortress prison, Haitians were executed or died of malnutrition during the 1957-1986 Duvalier dictatorships. Ripples of pain and violence stemming from the Duvalier family’s dictatorship over 29 years still deeply scar many Haitians, including those who were forced into exile abroad.
Duvalier has also been accused of pilfering millions of dollars from public funds and spiriting them out of the country to Swiss banks, though he denies stealing from Haiti.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville said Tuesday that Duvalier’s return increases the chance that he could be charged with atrocities committed during his 15-year rule because it will be easier to bring charges in the country where the crimes occurred.
He cautioned, though, that Haiti’s fragile judicial system may be in no position to mount a case.
Duvalier and his family spent years living in luxury on the French Riviera, driving fancy sports cars and staying in exclusive villas. Following financial difficulties, Duvalier moved to the Paris region in 1993. He allegedly lost a large part of his fortune when he was separated from his free-spending wife. The Duvalier clan has waged a long-running battle to retrieve at least $4.6 million frozen in a Swiss bank.
For most of his exile, the ex-despot was quiet. But in September 2007, Duvalier took to Haitian radio from abroad to apologize for “wrongs” committed under his rule and urged supporters to rally around his fringe political party.
A handful of loyalists campaigned to bring Duvalier home from exile, launching a foundation to improve the dictatorship’s image and reviving his political party in the hope that he could one day return to power democratically.
• Associated Press writers Jacob Kushner in Port-au-Prince and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.
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