Cherchez la femme!
By Jean H Charles
Trying to deconstruct the surprise visit of the former dictator Jean Claude Duvalier to Haiti exactly twenty five years after his forced departure on February 7, 1986, I have resorted to the well known French dictum: cherchez la femme, as the most plausible line of inquiry.
The young Duvalier, who grew up in the national palace with the military and the militia at his feet, became an indulgent playboy, who loved fast cars, boats, women and debauchery. He was, nevertheless, less cruel than his sadistic father. The whimsical and witty Haitian people have a recurrent joke which is telling: if you happen to have in one day, fast and decent transportation, electricity, water and telephone functioning at the same time, in the city, for sure Jean Claude Duvalier has returned into the country!
Things have been going so downhill since; the story is amusing and apropos!
Feeble in mind and in spirit, he failed to listen to those who advised him not to take the beautiful but intriguing and Jezebel-like Michelle for his wife. Haiti became the modern day Corinth, where the rich and the powerful indulged themselves in a luxurious and lascivious life in the midst of the squalor and the misery of the masses. The state funds were Michelle and Jean Claude’s private piggy banks, taken or rather stolen at will.
The people were offered, as in Marie Antoinette’s time, cake instead of bread by the lean and svelte Michelle. Their anger took another turn after a strong repression in the city of Gonaives, where three young lads were killed by the militia. The entire country stood up as one to force the departure in the middle of the night of the couple, Jean Claude and Michelle, from the enchanted but rendered despicable land.
They found refuge in France, the home of Marie Antoinette, where the bankers and the lawyers helped them to continue the station of life they were accustomed to in Haiti. But soon Michelle found herself a new paramour more glamorous than the former president; she left Jean Claude penniless ensuring that she took with her the gold, the bags and the children.
There was left untouched 5 million dollars (now 6 million) stashed in Switzerland belonging to the Michelle Benett Foundation. Through a long legal procedure the court in Geneva wanted to return the money to Haiti. But in Haiti, the governments since have been so corrupt and so inept that they could not present a powerful legal argument to convince the Swiss judge that Haiti should get the money.
In the interest of justice, the Swiss legislature has formulated a novel legal theory: the lex Duvalier. As of February 1, 2011, the money will be returned to Haiti unless Jean Claude Duvalier can prove to the Swiss Court that he can return harmless to Haiti without any legal pursuit.
Enter a new woman, Veronique Roy, a nemesis of Michelle and of Jezebel, born in Tunisia, where another dictator has just been chased out by its people. She has developed the dream of becoming one day the first lady of Haiti or packing with Haiti assets in Jean Claude’s trust to live a new life in luxury abroad.
While Jean Claude could not come into the country in the past few years, she was a frequent visitor to Haiti, developing a whole slew of nostalgic followers who dreamt of a nation where the ruler was the master of life and limb.
Frail and febrile, eaten by a pancreatic cancer that will soon consume his life, Jean Claude Duvalier is under the spell of another strong woman, who cannot wait to put her hand into the last stash of funds that would send children to school in Haiti, provide safe water to a population against the looming cholera epidemic.
There are stories that France and the United States conspired to bring Jean Claude Duvalier to Haiti to influence the final results of the election. There are further stories that the very Haitian government facilitated the return of Jean Claude to create an aura of evasion against all the recurring national problems such as inept leadership in the recovery from the earthquake, the cholera epidemic as well as the fiasco of the elections.
I believe, rather, Jean Claude’s return has a personal touch of follow the money or cherchez la femme!
There are two legal theories to build a legal action against the former dictator. The Haitian government could have commenced a legal action in Haitian courts to judge by contumacy Jean Claude Duvalier for the repression, the theft and the revilement of the state funds.
The Haitian government in the last twenty five years has been exceptionally delinquent in pursuing all the legal avenues to bring about justice on behalf of the Haitian people for the crimes and the malfeasance of the Duvalier regime. The Prosper Avril government has also withdrawn the international suit against Duvalier, all commenced under the Henri Namphy regime.
Any victim of the regime could have seized the court of a country friendly to international human rights. Spain, with Judge Balthazar Garson as a knight errant, prosecutes with vigor and passion any and all violation or infringement of rights anywhere in the world. No one has taken that road.
Furthermore, Haiti has failed or purposely refrained from signing the Rome convention allowing the pursuit of crime against humanity ad infinitum. If legal proscription (25 years without a legal action) could muzzle the hands of the state in pursuing Jean Claude Duvalier in Haiti, it could have another avenue offered by the international community any time after.
As such, Jean Claude Duvalier is home free in spite of the legal demagogy of being placed now under Haitian judicial custody.
There is a mood towards reconciliation now in the nation. The youth of today did not know firsthand the repression of the Duvalier regime. They are also the witnesses that the ensuing governments (albeit with improvement in freedom of speech) have been more delinquent in security in the area of public health and environmental and public safety. The international human rights organizations (Amnesty International and all) have exhibited no interest in the right to schooling, decent housing, health care and incubation to employment for the Haitian people in general.
Watch for Veronique being wedded in a civil and secret ceremony in Haiti with Jean Claude Duvalier before his untimely death, so she can go back to Switzerland, claim the money that rightfully belongs to the Haitian people. As Graham Greene has so aptly said about Haiti, the comedy is playing with national and international actors for the delight of the promoters, the confusion of the extras as well as the trepidation and the sorrow of the Haitian people!
Under the Prosper Avril government I was offered the job of Director of the Michel Bennett Foundation, which ran a modern and efficient hospital. When I asked for a forensic accounting of the 5 million dollars in the budget, the job and the position disappeared. The hospital has since been disaffected and in ruin!
January 29, 2011