Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Baby Doc Comes Back: A Relic of Another Haitian Dream Dashed

The bizarre return of Jean-Claude Duvalier-Baby Doc--reminds me of the debt I ower to Haiti. In March 1973 my sister Laurie and her husband Mik invited me to accompany them there: the Turks and Caicos Islands were opening up to tourism then, and Mik wanted to explore the possiblities of building hotels or whatever. But the only way to get there was through Port-au-Prince, and Laurie didn't want to wait alone for a week while Mik did business stuff.

Mik ended up not going for reasons to complicated to recount here, so we spent the time looking around Port-au-Prince and region. They are late sleepers though, and I decided I couldn't wait around for them to get started, so I would get up when the church bells struck 5 a.m. and go out for a walk. I reasoned that at that hour, those who preyed on tourists wouldn't be around, and I'd be able to see a part of city life that I wouldn't otherwise. The courteous, curious greetings that I got from people going to work and school made a big impression. I came back with much respect for the Haitian people, and, in a real sense, they opened up the world to me: since then I've used the strategy often when traveling for my books.

Baby Doc at that point had been in power for only a couple of years and there was considerable optimism. Several people suggested that now great things were going to happen after the great darkness of his father's long reign. Sadly, that promise was never realized, with the consequences we see today: continued political instability, governmental paralysis, a people who are struggling with extraordinary bad luck--the earthquake, hurricanes, cholera--that would test the resources of much more prosperous and well-organized country.

And so now, what does Baby Doc propose to do? After 25 years of well-deserved, comfortable exile, does he expect to come back like Hamid Karzai did in Afghanistan, and lead the country into new depths of corruption and strife?

The Haitians deserve much more than this, and I thank them once again for what those whom I met so long ago gave to me.

Photo: Haiti's Presidential Palace as it looked when I was there, and, in fact, until it was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.

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