PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier told Haitians on Friday that he returned after 25 years in exile to participate in the post-earthquake reconstruction of his homeland and that he was ready to face “persecution” for alleged crimes during his administration.
In his first public comments since his shocking 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 U.S. 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 Jan. 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 in a faint voice. “But I believe that the desire to participate by your side in this collaboration for the national reconstruction far outweighs any harrassment I could face.”
After several restaurants and hotels refused to host his speech, Duvalier spoke sitting at a long wooden table in a rented house in the hills above Port-au-Prince.
The 59-year-old former leader, who ruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986 through terror and the regime he inherited from his father, returned 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.