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Exiled Dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier Returns to Haiti

January 17, 2011 at 5:30 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: A confused situation in Haiti grew only more complicated today with the return of Jean-Claude Duvalier, ousted by popular revolt over two decades ago.

Even as several hundred cheering supporters greeted him at the airport, the reasons behind his sudden reappearance remained a mystery.

VERONIQUE ROY, Duvalier’s Wife (through translator): Very good, very emotional, a lot of emotion.

QUESTION (through translator): Is he going to stay here? What does he want to do?

VERONIQUE ROY (through translator): Nothing was planned. We wanted to keep things as simple as possible.

GWEN IFILL: Known as Baby Doc, Duvalier assumed power in 1971 after the death of his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. In 1986, the Duvaliers fled Haiti under a cloud, accused of torturing and killing thousands of political opponents during a dictatorship marked by fear and repression. Duvalier supporters said the motives for his return are not political.

DR. HENRI-ROBERT STERLIN, Supporter of Jean-Claude Duvalier (through translator): Mr. Duvalier is not in the political running, from what I know. Mr. Duvalier is rejoining his family, rejoining his society and rejoining the Haitian people. And he is welcome in this country, because 25 years of exile is no small thing.

GWEN IFILL: But his reappearance does add a chaotic new twist to an already contentious political situation.

Last November’s presidential election was marred by disorganization and claims of ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation. For the moment, Duvalier has taken up residence at a hotel in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Human rights activists have charged, he should be arrested by Haitian officials, but no attempts have been made.

MAN (through translator): Since he left the city, we never had another good president. There are always problems, so I think he is welcome.

Since he left the city, we never had another good president. There are always problems so I think he is welcome.

GWEN IFILL: Last December, Haitian election officials declared former Haitian first lady Mirlande Manigat and the government-backed candidate Jude Celestin the top first-round vote-getters, with popular singer Michel Martelly a close third.

That announcement angered Martelly supporters and sparked protests throughout Port-au-Prince, which left four dead. Last Thursday, the Organization of American States issued a report alleging widespread fraud, invalidated those results, and named Martelly the second-place finisher.

Officials have now indefinitely postponed an election runoff that was supposed to take place yesterday. The political standoff comes as Haiti grapples with continuing fallout from the devastating earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands a year ago, left millions homeless and sparked a cholera outbreak that has so far killed nearly 4,000.