By Mackenzie Issler, Uptown Radio
Former Haitian President Jean Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc, gained a reputation of one of the most notorious dictators in the Americas. Duvalier fell from power in 1986 and went into exile.
It’s estimated Duvalier and his father, Francois “Papa Doc,” ordered the deaths of some 20,000 to 30,000 citizens during their 29-year rule, according to Human Rights Watch. Michele Montas is a prominent former radio journalist, who lived under the regimes of both Duvaliers. She recalled what happened to her cousin, a priest, who was working with refugees in the Dominican Republic. The government suspected he was conspiring against Duvalier.
“Without checking you know, they arrested my aunt, they arrested my four cousins, and we didn’t hear from them at all. One of them died of tuberculous but the others were executed,” Montas said.
Ricot Dupuy is the station manager at Brooklyn’s Radio Soleil. He also lived in Haiti when both Duvaliers were in power. Dupuy says physical violence wasn’t the only way the Duvalier regime maintained its control.
“I sacrificed my liberties. I made sure that I didn’t talk, I didn’t opine, I didn’t request, I didn’t make demands, so that is a form of victimization,” Dupuy said.
Dupuy moved to the United States in 1974 and immediately began to speak out against the Duvalier regime. “When I came to this country, one of the first things I said Duvalier silenced me in Haiti. I will not be silenced here and I gave them hell.”
Montas became a journalist, studying at Columbia University and returned to Haiti in 1972. She and her husband started Radio Haiti Inter. Duvalier was in power and the press was able to function more freely, but Montas heard from political prisoners about what was really happening.
“They told us about the state of the prisons. Most of them had been in a very famous prison called Fort Dimanche, where they were tortured, where deprived of food, where lived under subhuman conditions,” she said.
In 1980, Duvalier cracked down hard against his growing opposition. Montas and dozens of other journalists, academics, union organizers and activists were arrested and jailed. After five days in prison, Montas was taken to the airport and expelled. But the opposition continued in Haiti. There were yearly demonstrations protesting the crackdown. On Nov. 28, 1985, a protest started at a school and flooded into the streets.
“The army and the special militia opened fire and three children were killed. And, that was the beginning of the fall of Duvalier,” Montas said.
Riots erupted all over Haiti. In February, Duvalier fled the country to France and spent 25 years in exile. Then, abruptly, about a year after Haiti’s earthquake, he made his return. For Montas, it was quite a shock. “For all of us who had suffered from his regime felt it was a slap in the face.”
The United Nations’ human rights commission say Duvalier should be tried for human rights violations. Several organizations say these include torture, false imprisonment and political assassination. Montas and about 30 others have filed judicial complaints against him.
“If justice isn’t at least attempted in the case of Jean Claude Duvalier, Haiti will never have justice,” Montas said.
The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a Boston non-profit ,is representing eight of the victims who have filed complaints. Their allegations include torture, illegal detention and unlawful arrests. Brian Concannon, the organization’s director, says the main value of pursing Duvalier is deterrence.
“It is a way of showing current and future leaders of Haiti that if they steal money, if they engage in political violence, they will be brought to account,” Concannon said.
On Jan. 30, Investigative Judge Carves Jean recommended that Duvalier only face corruption charges. Jean said the statute of limitations had run out on any alleged human rights crimes committed by Duvalier. U.N. officials and rights groups disagree. They argue that under international law, the statute of limitations does not apply to crimes against humanity, which includes some allegations against Duvalier. Montas, now a New Yorker, is filing her appeal today (Feb. 17), challenging the judge’s recommendation.
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