PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier applied for a new passport Wednesday and intends to leave the country when he gets it, a spokesman said, insisting that the ex-strongman can neither be forced to leave his homeland nor compelled to stay and face a potential criminal trial.
Duvalier had been scheduled to leave today but can’t because his passport has expired, said spokesman Yves Germain Joseph. He stunned the country Sunday with his sudden and mysterious return nearly 25 years after he was forced into exile by a popular uprising against a regime widely viewed as brutal and corrupt.
The spokesman said he did not know how long it would take to get a new passport but that the former dictator known as “Baby Doc” was in no rush to leave Haiti.
“He is home here. He is a Haitian,” Joseph said. “Nobody can ask Mr. Duvalier or any Haitian to leave his country at any time.”
Duvalier associates have been giving conflicting statements about his intentions and legal status in recent days. Earlier Wednesday, one of his attorneys said he wanted to stay in Haiti.
Alice Blanchet, a special adviser to Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, refused to speculate about Duvalier’s plans to stay in a country struggling through a dire political crisis following the problematic Nov. 28 first-round presidential election, as well as a cholera epidemic and a troubled recovery from the last year’s devastating earthquake.
“Let justice do its job, run its course. He is a citizen and no one is above the law,” she said in a Wednesday e-mail, adding that Duvalier “remains available to the prosecutor” while he is in Haiti.
The former dictator has declined interview requests and Haitian government officials could not be immediately reached to confirm the spokesman’s account of his passport status.
Duvalier’s longtime companion, Veronique Roy, introduced Joseph as the official spokesman to a small group of journalists in the lobby of the upscale hotel where Duvalier has been ensconced since his abrupt return. She cautioned that other unspecified people had been speaking on the former leader’s behalf without authorization.
Joseph said that Duvalier’s return to Haiti was intended as a “private visit” intended to mark the first anniversary of the devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, which the government says killed an estimated 300,000 people and leveled much of the capital.
He was also asked about the health of the 59-year-old Duvalier, who has appeared somewhat unsteady. Joseph agreed that the former dictator appeared unwell but said he did not know of any specific ailment.