Former Haitian "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier (1971-1986) died suddenly of a heart attack the night of Oct. 3 at a friend's home in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Pétionville, according to his lawyer, Reynold Georges. He was 63. Duvalier succeeded his father, François ("Papa Doc") Duvalier, at the age of 19. The older Duvalier had built and maintained a brutal dictatorship from 1957 until his death in 1971. The brutality continued under his son; an estimated 30,000 people were killed during the family's 29 years in power. Massive demonstrations and the withdrawal of US support forced Duvalier to flee to France on Feb. 7, 1986, reportedly carrying off millions of dollars looted from the national treasury. He returned to Haiti on Jan. 16, 2011. Despite facing corruption charges, Duvalier never came to trial; he also never came to trial for human rights abuses committed by his regime, although a court finally ruled on Feb. 20, 2014 that the human rights cases against him could proceed.
"I direct my sincere sympathies to the family and to the entire nation on this sad occasion," current Haitian president Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky") wrote in his Twitter account, @MichelJMartelly, on Oct. 4. In contrast, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization said the ex-dictator's passing resulted in "justice denied." According to HRW special counsel Reed Brody, it was "a shame that the Haitian justice system could not bring ‘Baby Doc' Duvalier to trial before he died. Duvalier's death robs Haiti of what could have been the most important human rights trial in its history." But Haitian activist Danièle Magloire, of the Collective Against Impunity, told the online Haitian news service AlterPresse that "[t]he struggle for justice continues." She called for judicial action against Duvalier's collaborators and followers and warned against plans to organize a state funeral for the ex-dictator. "This would be one more effort to rehabilitate Duvalier," she charged, calling the Martelly government "Duvalierist." (AlterPresse, Oct. 4, Oct. 4; HRW, Oct. 4)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 5.