1.17.2011

A Former Dictator Reappears in Haiti

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MEXICO CITY — Haiti’s political crisis took a stunning turn on Sunday when Jean-Claude Duvalier, the dictator known as Baby Doc who was overthrown in 1986, arrived unexpectedly in the capital from exile in France.
Haitian television and radio stations reported that Mr. Duvalier, dressed in a blue suit, landed shortly after 6 p.m. in Port-au-Prince on an Air France flight and told reporters that he had simply come to help Haiti, moved by images of the first anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the country. He did not elaborate on his plans.

The sudden appearance of Mr. Duvalier, 59, who ruled Haiti with brutality and corruption for nearly 15 years, threatened to further convulse a country struggling to recover from the earthquake and a lingering cholera epidemic.

The Haitian government had no immediate comment.

In 2007, President René Préval said Mr. Duvalier could return but would face justice for the money the government said he had looted from the treasury, as well as for the deaths and torture of political opponents at the hands of the secret police.

Still, Mr. Duvalier has long flirted with returning, telling reporters over the years that he would like to go home. His nickname derives from his being the son of François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, a much feared dictator in the 1950s and ’60s.

Jean-Claude Duvalier’s departure from Haiti 25 years ago, which was arranged with the assistance of the United States, ushered in a period of halting democracy that has continued with tumultuous elections.

On Sunday, the American ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth H. Merten, embraced an international report rejecting the results of the presidential election in November, adding pressure on Haitian officials to reconsider the outcome.

Mr. Merten said in a telephone interview before word of Mr. Duvalier’s arrival that the report “makes sense.” He urged Haitian officials to accept its findings, including the conclusion that one candidate may have been denied a rightful spot in a runoff.

The report, delivered Thursday to Mr. Préval and prepared by a multinational team of experts convened by the Organization of American States, confirmed Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady, as the leader in the first round of voting in November. She did not win enough votes to avoid a runoff, though.

But the report said, based on a statistical analysis of ballot sheets, that Mr. Préval’s choice as his successor, Jude Célestin, had placed third, not second, as announced when the initial results were released in early December. Instead, the panel said Michel Martelly, a popular singer, had won second place and qualified to face Ms. Manigat in the second round of balloting.

Mr. Préval has not commented on the report, but his aides have been privately telling reporters that he is dissatisfied with it and questions its methodology.

With the leadership of the country and billions of dollars of disaster relief in the balance, José Miguel Insulza, the O.A.S. secretary general, plans to visit Haiti Monday to consult with officials.

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