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Ex-Haiti Dictator Duvalier Is a Dangerous Distraction, New Yorkers Say

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jean-Claude Duvalier,  the former Haitian leader known as 'Baby Doc', makes his way back into the Hotel Karibe after being questioned by Haitian authorities at a downtown courthouse January 18, 2011 Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former Haitian leader known as 'Baby Doc', makes his way back into the Hotel Karibe after being questioned by Haitian authorities at a downtown courthouse January 18, 2011 (Allison Shelley/Getty)

The return of the former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier to Haiti had many in the Haitian diaspora glued to Internet radio Tuesday. Duvalier fled during a popular uprising in Haiti a quarter century ago and was questioned in Haitian court Tuesday. His defense attorney said he faces accusations of corruption and embezzlement for allegedly pilfering the treasury before being ousted in 1986. Some Haitians in New York accuse him of stealing attention from Haiti’s most imminent problems: a contested election and hundreds of thousands of people still living in tents.

Brooklyn restaurant owner Denise Felix had her ears on the Haitian radio station Signal FM for much of the day, listening via the Internet to reporters watching Haitian police arrive at his hotel.

“It seems like he's been taken out of his hotel by the police force,” she said, translating from Creole the words of reporters on the scene.

She refrained from offering her own opinion of Baby Doc, whose thuggish secret police allegedly killed and tortured political opponents. But with supporters and detractors already taking to the streets, she said she worried his presence could sow more division among Haitians at a time when they need to unite.

“Whenever there's division among us, we cannot succeed,” she said. “We can't succeed.”

Crowds of people followed Duvalier through the streets of Haiti as police escorted him to the court, where a judge questioned him. Some called for the arrest of Haitian President Rene Preval, saying under Duvalier Haitians had access to a better education and more security. Others called for Duvalier’s arrest, saying he should be tried for human rights abuses, including torturing and killing political opponents.

Keeping track of the news from his office in Brooklyn, community organizer Orlando Aupont said Duvalier must pay for what he did, but not now.

“There are a lot of things right now that must be addressed first,” Aupont said. “Right now we need to have a clean legitimate government that the whole world can deal with.”

Aupont and many others said they believe international entities are behind Duvalier's return and that it is designed to distract from still contested elections and the plethora of other problems in Haiti.

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