PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned Sunday to Haiti nearly 25 years after a popular uprising against his brutal dictatorship forced him into exile, a surprising and perplexing move that comes as his country struggles with a political crisis and the stalled effort to recover from last year’s earthquake.
Duvalier, part of a father-and-son dynasty that presided over one of the darkest chapters in Haitian history, arrived on an Air France jet to hugs from supporters at the Port-au-Prince airport. He left the airport without making a statement, waving to a crowd of more than 200 supporters.
“He is happy to be back in this country, back in his home,” said Mona Beruaveau, a candidate for Senate in a Duvalierist party who spoke to the former dictator.
It was not immediately clear why the former dictator chose this tumultuous moment to return to Haiti. There were no immediate protests in reaction to his return and very few people were even aware that the former dictator had come back to Haiti, where more than 1 million people are living in crowded, squalid tent encampments after their homes were destroyed from the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. Half the people in the country are younger than 21 and weren’t alive during Duvalier’s rule.
At one of those camps, there was enthusiasm for Duvalier’s return.
“I don’t know much about Jean-Claude Duvalier but I’ve heard he did good things for the country,” said 34-year-old Joel Pierre. “I hope he will do good things again.”
Nearby, 42-year-old Marline Joseph, living in the camp with her three kids, was also somewhat hopeful. “He’s here; that’s good. Now, what is he going to do for the country?”
Haitians danced in the streets to celebrate the overthrow of Duvalier back in 1986, heckling the tubby, boyish tyrant as he drove to the airport and was flown into exile in France. Most Haitians hoped the rapacious strongman had left for good, closing a dark chapter of terror and repression that began under his late father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier in 1957.
But a handful of loyalists have been campaigning to bring Duvalier home from exile in France, launching a foundation to improve the dictatorship’s image and reviving Baby Doc’s political party in the hopes that one day he can return to power democratically.
“We want him to be president because we don’t trust anyone in this election. He did bad things but since he left we have not had stability. We have more people without jobs, without homes,” said Haiti Belizaire, a 47-year-old Duvalier supporter in the crowd outside the airport.
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