Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier has told Haitians he returned after 25 years in exile to participate in the post-earthquake reconstruction of his homeland and was ready to face “persecution” for alleged crimes during his administration.
In his first public comments since his shock return to Haiti on Sunday, the ousted strongman known as “Baby Doc” spoke in a faint voice and did not take questions, leaving that to three American consultants – including former US congressman and presidential candidate Bob Barr – and one of his Haitian lawyers.
He said the return was timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the January 12 2010 earthquake. “When I made the decision to come back to Haiti to commemorate this sad anniversary with you, in our country, I was ready for any kind of persecution,” Duvalier said.
“But I believe that the desire to participate by your side in this collaboration for the national reconstruction far outweighs any harassment I could face.”
After several restaurants and hotels refused to host his speech, Duvalier spoke sitting at a long wooden table in a rented guest house in the hills above Port-au-Prince. He faced a jostling throng of cameras and reporters – mostly Haitians.
The 59-year-old former leader, who ruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986 through terror and the regime he inherited from his father, returned on Sunday evening to the shattered nation. He soon found himself facing an investigation by a Haitian court for corruption, embezzlement, torture, arbitrary imprisonment, crimes against humanity and other allegations.
His motives for returning have been a source of debate and confusion. Some believe he had a desire to unlock Swiss bank accounts that contain the last remnants of his squandered fortune. Others speculate that he is gravely ill, or that he is a pawn in someone else’s game – Haiti’s current president, the US or France – to influence Haiti’s current electoral crisis.
Duvalier did not address any of those topics, other than to say it was his choice to return. He appeared to be in imperfect health, slurring his speech at times in a near-whisper, apparently unable to move his neck and walking with a shuffle.
As for those tortured, imprisoned, killed and exiled under his rule he offered “my profound sadness toward my countrymen who consider themselves, rightly, to have been victims of my government”.