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Haiti's 'Baby Doc' Duvalier Dies At 63


Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier has died at the age of 63. In 1971, he ascended to the presidency as a teenager, after the death of his father, Francois Duvalier, who was known as "Papa Doc." Baby Doc largely continued the harsh political repression of his father, jailing many dissidents and torturing others. His 15 years in office ended abruptly in 1986 when he was deposed and fled Haiti for exile in France. Jacqueline Charles covers the Caribbean for the Miami Herald. We reached her in Cap-Haitien. And she told us about one of Baby Doc's most notorious abuses.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: One of the most famous accusations is called Black Friday. And this is where a number of journalists and professionals - they were all rounded up and they were thrown into the jail on the grounds of the national palace. Then it was referred to as the triangle of death. And basically there were three different areas where you could've been taken. And one was worse than the other.

Boby Duval, who was a soccer player and runs the soccer program in Haiti today, was one of the victims. I remember walking with him, checking out one of the cells where he was being held. And the emotions were still raw even though this was many, many years after. This is a country that increasingly grew frustrated with that dictatorship, which we saw finally ended in 1986 with Jean-Claude being forced from power with his wife and forced into exile in France.

RATH: Can you talk about his time in exile?

CHARLES: You know, he always had this reputation, this image of being a playboy. He loved women and he loved cars. But that didn't go very far, at least the money didn't. At one point, we heard that he was broke.

And Jean-Claude spent 25 years in exile before he shocked the nation when he returned to Haiti shortly after the January 12, 2010 earthquake, basically a year after that quake. And he himself had longed to return home. He told me this when I sat down with him after he returned at how in exile, he always wanted to return back to Haiti. This is the place where he wanted to be.

RATH: And with that return, it seemed strange watching it from a distance because it felt like a triumphal return. Can you explain how he was received in that way in Haiti after his record there?

CHARLES: Well, I was here the day that he surprised us all with his return at the airport. And I remember there were thousands of Haitians, mostly young Haitians, who weren't even alive around that time, but who had heard the stories. And they had romanticized his reign. And they took to the streets waving the Haitian flag, screaming his name.

And so - and then after a while, OK, Jean-Claude just became part of the life. You would see him driving himself in the streets. He would also be an invited guest to official presidential events held by the current president, Michel Martelly. But for the people who were the victims of Jean-Claude - always this emotion seeing him. They never really had reconciled history with the current reality that was happening.

RATH: And in that current reality, how was it that he was able to die in Haiti without ever having faced justice for the abuses during his rule?

CHARLES: At the time of his death, Baby Doc Duvalier was facing trial on human rights abuses, as well as corruption - allegations that he and basically his supporters had stripped the Haitian coffers of the money and they had used it for their own personal purposes. Justice really does move slow in this country. I mean, imagine this case against Jean-Claude Duvalier was more than 25 years old. And for the victims, the people who brought those charges - I spoke to Michele Montas today. And what she said to me is that he may be gone, but the fight continues.

RATH: Jacqueline Charles writes for the Miami Herald. Jacqueline, thank you very much.

CHARLES: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.