The mastermind of thousands of killings was supposed to face the judge today. And from their tents, from their cardboard and plywood shacks, the families of the murdered came to bear witness. For many, their colorful, often second-hand clothes hid the burns and scars and wounds of years of torture.
Some rode bicycles. Some even wore suits. They were, after all, going to court. They made their way towards the Palace of Justice, which used to be a resplendent structure of arches and pillars that would have fit nicely in Paris. But the 2010 Haitian earthquake pancaked the Palace into a tilting wreck of jumbled plaster and skewed rebar. Only portions were restored.
Bobby Duval came. Once he was a local soccer hero. Then the regime brutalized him in prison for 17 months over accusations of political activism. They killed his friends in front of him. Today he is over sixty, graying, portly in his T-shirt and jeans. Today Bobby Duval hopes to witness a measure of justice.
Duval got one of the seats in the white-washed walled court. Scores of others demonstrated outside of the court house. If all of the victims’ families had attended this hearing, a soccer stadium might not have been big enough.
No doubt Duval’s thoughts drifted back to his prisoner days and the horrors he witnessed. He probably prepared himself to recite those crimes when the court asked for his accounting.
Not many dictators face a trial. But Jean Claude Duvalier, deposed son of the President-for-Life of Haiti, returned to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. “Baby Doc,” (his father was Papa Doc) had ruled Haiti for 15 years until street riots drove him into exile in France in 1986.
According to the United Nations staff, "Very serious human rights violations including torture, rape and extrajudicial killings have been extensively documented by Haitian and international human rights organizations to have occurred in Haiti during the regime of Duvalier.”
Some human rights groups rate Baby Doc among the most corrupt dictators. They estimate he stole between 300 and 800 million dollars from Haiti, where a dollar a day is a good wage.
Unlike most ex-dictators, who live opulent lives beyond the reach of extradition treaties, Baby Doc actually returned to Haiti from France in 2011, to the scene of his monumental crimes. To his surprise, Haitian police arrived at his luxury hotel and arrested him for corruption.
Duval, and thousands of others, could scarcely believe it. Baby Doc had inadvertently submitted himself to Haitian justice. Mountains of evidence documented his 15 year crime wave. The months had passed, and today was supposed to be the day.
The Judges wore black robes, and sat at a covered table. Baby Doc’s lawyers promptly began shouting, interrupting the Judges, and disrupting the proceeding’s flow.
Reynold Georges, a political actor in Haiti and Baby Doc’s lawyer, spat angry words first at opposing attorney Mario Joseph, and then at the judges, and finally at Bobby Duval, torture victim who’d been unjustly imprisoned for almost two years.
Georges first demanded that Duval be removed from the courtroom. The Judges refused. Duval fidgeted and became frustrated as he witnessed Baby Doc’s attorneys and their disruptive tactics. Finally George whirled on Duval, the court room lights reflecting off Georges’ sleek suit and orange tie.
Georges, his fleshy features twisted in anger, jowls shaking, pointed his finger at Duval and shouted,” The victims will never be allowed to participate!” (Les parties civiles n'auraient jamais le droit de participer; it sounds just as bad in French).
A few days earlier, Georges had barged into an Amnesty International press conference. His gestures and shouting disrupted that call for Baby Doc's prosecution,
At this hearing on February 7, the 3-judge panel was considering an appeal of an earlier decision, when a different Judge ruled that the statute of limitations has expired for prosecuting Baby Doc for crimes against humanity. That could have allowed Baby Doc to escape prosecution for overseeing thousands of crimes.
Baby Doc hadn’t even appeared at either of these court proceedings, defying court orders. The Haitian government hadn’t appealed the crimes against humanity dismissal, but a human rights group, who represented Duval and others, had objected.
Baby Doc and his late father were depraved dictators, but brilliant politicians. They represented the blackest Haitians, as opposed to their lighter-skinned brethren, and some still supported them. Since Trujillo, dictator of the neighboring Dominican Republic in the 1950s, ordered murders thousands of dark-skinned Haitians, black Haitians felt especially beleaguered. Papa Doc once won an election by a vote of about 1,200,000 to zero. Baby Doc won only 99% of the vote in his own election.
But Baby Doc alienated many of his own supporters, after inheriting the President-for-life seat from his father in 1971, when he married the high-cheekboned, long-legged, light-skinned Michele Bennett Pasquet. Michele’s excesses included a $3 million wedding, $100,000 stays at luxurious hotels around the world.The antics and arrests of her cocaine-trafficking family further angered Haitians, among other factors, driving Baby Doc and Michele to exile in France in 1986.
Amnesty International issued a report, “You Cannot Kill the Truth,” stating that Baby Doc left behind a Haiti torn apart by his gangs of secret police thugs, known at the tonton macoutes (bogeymen). The report cited the murder of trade unionist Simeon Jean-Baptiste, who’d met with exploited workers, the arrest of Eric Alcindor, a marine, for possessing an opposition newspaper, and dozens of other examples of folks who were detained, tortured, murdered or disappeared under Baby Doc’s rule.
Reportedly, once in France, Michele cleaned out Baby Doc’s back accounts in 1993 divorce proceedings. That may be one reason that Baby Doc had to free-up funds from a $6 million bank account frozen by French authorities.
Baby Doc’s current scheme, according to published accounts, was to arrive in Haiti, hole up for a few days in the best hotel in town, and then return to France. He would then claim that Haiti was not interested in prosecuting him, which would cause the French to release the $6 million.
Baby Doc’s scheme fizzled when Haitian authorities busted him for corruption at his high-end hotel room. Baby Doc’s scheme worsened when a team of human rights attorneys gathered together some of Baby Doc’s victims and got crimes against humanity charges added to the potential indictments against Baby Doc.
But currently, some Haitian authorities, including President Martelly, wondered if it would be better to let Baby Doc go, hope that everyone forget about the bad old days, the tourists would come back, and the economy would restart.
Some say that’s why the first Judge dismissed the murder and torture allegations against Baby Doc, and the government did not appeal.
However, human rights attorneys from Haiti, in league with the Institute for Justice and Democracy appealed the dismissal of the crimes against humanity charges. That appeal is still pending.
And at the recent February 7 hearing, despite the dismissive shouts of Baby Doc’s attorneys, the Judges ordered that Baby Doc, for the first time must either appeal before the Court on February 21st for questioning, or face jail time.
Baby Doc could face prison time for corruption soon. For his involvement in murders and torture, those charges remain under appeal.
When I worked as a legal assistant a few years ago, I became friendly with a lady attorney who worked on the labor unions’ side. She had it made, earning a substantial salary, living in San Francisco, working for a good cause, with no heavy lifting required. She was always pleasant and thoughtful and energetic, and much different from some of the pompous male attorneys I encountered.
But one day, she ditched her remarkably successful life, and lit off for Haiti, after the earthquake that destroyed the country. She’s there now, amid the dust and destruction and chaos and cholera, battling for the very least among us, and fighting to bring Baby Doc to Justice on February 21st. Her group is the Institute for Justice and Democracy. I give them money when I can.
I’ll conclude with something not seen often in a Daily Kos diary; a prayer.
Please lay off of Haiti. No more hurricanes. No more earthquakes. No more cholera or epidemics of diseases. No more Presidents for Life. Amen.