The world's worst kept secret?

World leaders reacted with shock to Jean-Claude Duvalier's return to Haiti, but it was not really much of a surprise.

    Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier returned to Haiti 24 years and 11 months after he was deposed [GALLO/GETTY]

    Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as 'Baby Doc', has been planning his return to Haiti for at least six months. The former dictator has had a small but active political party lobbying for his return. His girlfriend Veronique Roy and a handful of supporters have been laying the groundwork for his arrival. In certain parts of the capital Port-au-Prince he has support from the people; the Duvalier name is spray-painted on the sides of some buildings.

    When he returned on January 16, 24 years and 11 months after he was deposed, world leaders reacted with shock and condemnation.  
    P.J. Crowley, the US state department spokesman, said in a Twitter post that the US was surprised by the timing of Duvalier's visit. "It adds unpredictability at an uncertain time in Haiti's election process."

    Didier Le Bret, the French ambassador in Haiti, told reporters at a press conference that the French government had no idea that Duvalier was travelling to Haiti. 

    Martin Nesirky, the UN secretary-general's spokesperson, said Duvalier's return had come as a "total surprise" to the organisation's mission in the country.
    But a former Haitian government official who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity said Duvalier's trip had been planned for months and that the French and Americans certainly knew about it before hand. "For 25 years Jean-Claude Duvalier has not been allowed to come to Haiti. He has an expired diplomatic passport. He did not come here on his own without certain guarantees," she said.

    A matter of time

    If Duvalier's return was supposed to be a secret, it was perhaps the worst kept secret in the world. I first heard about Duvalier and his grand plan to come back to Haiti in June. The country is full of Teledjol, the creole word for gossip, but this seemed real and very plausible.

    I was able to get his phone number and personal email from sources, which unbeknownst to me, few journalists had. I called his mobile phone with a Washington area code, which connected me to his secretary in Paris, and I set up an interview. He agreed to a date in late June.
    After Duvalier agreed to the interview I became more sceptical. Why would he go on the record with his plan to return to Haiti and possibly grab back power if he was really serious? He had announced his intentions to return in the past and had not delivered on his promise. His secretary asked for an outline of what I wanted to discuss and I sent it off. Three days later the interview was cancelled. This is when I knew Duvalier was going back and it was just a matter of time.

    Exactly why he returned to Haiti is still a mystery. "I can't imagine him trying to take over power. How can he take over, who would wish for him to take over?" the former Haitian government official said.

    The question that should be raised is how did Haiti's main patrons, the US, France and the UN not know about Duvalier's plan?

    Has the world forgotten about Haiti?

    Haiti is a country occupied by the world; UN troops, diplomats, dozens of NGOs and journalists. The fact that anyone is surprised is perhaps a clear indication of how little attention people on the ground and around the world are paying to Haiti, one year after a devastating earthquake killed more than 300,000 people.

    Perhaps the only thing surprising about Duvalier's return is that he arrived through the front door in Port-au-Prince on a commercial airliner. One would think a former dictator accused of murder and mass corruption would have to sneak into the country through a side window, landing in a smaller city on a private plane if the international community did not know or even approve of his trip. 

    On Tuesday, Haitian prosecutors presented formal charges of corruption against the former dictator. He was not arrested, only brought in for questioning. It could take up to three months for a judge to decide whether Duvalier will go on trial.

    Another source who did not want to be identified called this "theatre," saying Duvalier, in the end, would not be prosecuted for crimes committed during his presidency.

    The source also said that Duvalier would not be leaving Haiti any time soon, and suggested he is the best president Haiti has had in 25 years.

    He said: "He's going to remain here. Jean-Claude is an usher compared to [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide [a former Haitian president] and [René Garcia] Préval [the current president]."

    Todd Baer is a former correspondent for Al Jazeera English in India, Gaza, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the US and Haiti. He is now the director of the International Media Institute of India (IMII).

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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