As the ousting of Tunisian dictator Ben Ali sent shock waves and fear through the Arab world, ex-dictatorJean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier stunned the Western world with his surprised return on Jan. 16, 2011, developments that left political pundits puzzling. “It’s such a critically important moment for Haiti and this guy to drop in from nowhere is very strange,” said Robert Maguire, associate professor of International Affairs at Trinity University in Washington, D.C. to the Miami Herald. “What does he bring to Haiti, aside from a lot of confusion. Does he come back with political pretensions? We just don’t know,” he added.
Amid massive anti-government demonstrations that originated in Gonaives, north of the capital, Duvalier and his wife, Michelle Bennett boarded an US military aircraft in destination to France on Jan. 7, 1986 leaving the power he inherited from his ill father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, in 1971. The self-proclaimed president for life ruled Haiti with an iron fist through his infamous personal militia “tonton macout” causing a massive migration of Haitians to the shores of Miami.
He came to help his country he told flocks of reporters behind the shield national police and UN peacekeepers. Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive expressed disbelief claiming his government knew nothing about Duvalier’s return until he was airborne. “This time I’m totally lost. No way I’m going to believe the French didn’t know,” Bellerive told The Miami Herald. “We’re informed one hour before he landed with his passport ‘perime’ (expired) so this should at least have brought some attention!”
Duvalier’s Air France flight landed at Toussaint Louverture Airport shortly before 6 p.m. where he met a sea of reporters desperately trying to catch a glimpse of him. After waiting about four hours in the diplomatic lounge at the airport, the 59-year-old emerged to a growing, cheering crowd and left quickly in the back seat of an SUV.
Duvalier left the diplomatic community speechless as his well-orchestrated return caught everyone by surprise. As many scholars scramble around for more information about the intentions of the former dictator, “At least in the short term, the Haitian political chessboard has changed and changed utterly,” said Robert Fatton, Jr., a government and foreign affairs professor at the University of Virginia. “We need more information from the French, the United States and the Haitian governments before arriving at a sensible idea of this event.”
Meanwhile, Duvalier told Radio Caraibes. “I’m not here for politics, I’m here for the reconstruction of Haiti.” Veronique Roy, his longtime companion, told reporter he planned to stay three days and will hold a news conference on Monday.