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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Duvalier's First and Worse Half (Pt 2)

I know that, not being a Haitian (and endlessly glad of it), I shouldn't feel so confident when it comes to speaking of its former rulers who were chased out 25 years ago, and now the supposedly main actor in that little drama, the hapless Jean-Claude Duvalier, has unaccountably left the balmy clime of the French Riviera and returned to his home country even though it is in the midst of being wracked by a bunch of the catastrophes that it is usually wracked by, in this case a bad earthquake a month ago, and now he is facing charges, a development that I am confident he did not expect.   In fact, now he is doing so badly that after just a few days he isn't even in the news any more, his still unexplained return to the chronic Haitian hellfires having already been heavily eclipsed by the brushfires of revolt that have just now driven out another unpopular ruler, this time in Tunisia, a man named Ben Ali, and now show every sign of spreading to a great deal of the rest of the Arab world and in the process giving the big hotfoot to a number of other emulators not of Jean-Claude but of a very different type, his long deceased father, the notorious Francois Duvalier, who when speaking of brutal dictators (is there any other type?) was very much the real thing.

  Yet, when it comes to the Duvaliers, I feel myself to be on more solid footing than ever, and it must be because, as I've mentioned, I've been thinking about that royal couple and painting  pictures of them in words since even before J-C fled Haiti one night in 1986, accompanied by his sultry, salty, and some might say beautiful wife, and by a bunch of others, and also with a large amount of money that somehow he and that wife had managed to drain out of a country that you would think never has enough in resources to keep alive even as much as  two mangy dogs tied to a tree.

(If you click here with great good luck you will see what strikes me as being a truly weird though highly interesting picture of J-C, the big, round-cheeked guy over to the right, and next to him his wife, in attendance at some event during their heyday in Haiti.   Along with a bunch of their leading cohorts, they have momentarily risen from their thrones, and they are all standing frozen in attitudes of attention., with Madam Michele wearing what appears to be a set of granny glasses and primly holding what appears to be a book a purse, a plaque, or something of that sort, and without the best set of ankles I've ever seen.)

Well, I've been painting in my head not a picture of J-C, though, but instead of his wife, nee Michele Bennett, for it had always been perfectly obvious to me that she and not he was always the villain in the piece, though for a time she had to share that role with J-C's hard-bitten mother, the widow of "Papa Doc," Simone, and J-C was just going along for the ride.   He was only the unconscious inheritor of the results of his father's brutal ways, and of a bunch of unofficial thugs called the "Ton-Ton Macoutes," who went around terrorizing everybody in sight in the name of the Duvaliers and were in some ways even more powerful than the Haitian Army or the Police.  

I am dumbfounded that in the articles I have read on the matter since Duvalier's mysterious reappearance in Haiti, even though the authorities there had been trying for years to get their hands on him, and, more urgently, on the several mil that that he is said to still have in his name though not in his hands, because most of it is tied up in those infamous Swiss bank accounts in such a way that he can't get at it, not one has mentioned  that wife, Michele, though to my mind it was always  perfectly obvious that she was the real main villain of the piece.    As far as I know they not yet even called her name, though they have mentioned the divorce that stripped him of so much of what he and those acting with him had extracted from Haiti, a place that so often seems to be totally forgotten by God and in which destitute people living in the mountains now totally stripped of trees have, among other huge indignities, been reduced to eating biscuits made with mud.

If there is any doubt of this, J-C and his bride dispelled it right at the start, when they were married, in 1980.   That cost somebody, most likely the ever luckless Haitian people, a cool three million dollars!   At that time it was said to be the most expensive wedding ever, and it might still hold that record.   And this in damn Haiti, the place where all the hurricanes that come through head for first, to see what the Haitians have put up since the last runthrough, that they, the storms, can have fun knocking down again and thereby adding fresh Haitian tears and blood to the warm, blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.

And now J-C has returned.

People scratch their heads and wonder why he did this, when many in Haiti have been crying for his scalp, though probably much more for the several million that is said to be in existence and still in his name, despite the fact that most of it is sitting in those  bank accounts that are accessible only to the Swiss, and then I guess only as curiosities.    So one theory is that he came back just to stay in Haiti for a few days to fulfil a legal technicality that will allow him to get his hands on more of what was left after his former spouse soaked him for all the rest.

In my mind always is the well-known picture of this man when he was 19, when he became the youngest sovereign in the world, or even the photo of him in the military togs for which I just gave a link, and I have too much trouble seeing him as having been the vicious dictator that he is so widely spoken of as having been.

His appearance at 19 was of a pudgy, round-cheeked, biright-eyed bird without a semblance of cruelty in him, and nowadays, when he is 60, I still don't see it there..   In fact, I am not even sure that the picture you can see here is of the same man.   The man shown there looks benign to a fault.   It is a photo instead of a college professor, perhaps of classics, and close to retirement.

To me Duvalier's story is one that has occurred many times, so that in fact it is a classic -- of a happy-go-lucky scion of a royal roughneck, who has no disposition or the ability to follow in his father's bloody footsteps but instead is forever looking for just one thing, and that is where his next good times are coming from.  And seeing this, a much more tough-minded female relative takes over, though usually things end up going to pot anyway.

So here we find him falling into the clutches of all sorts of rowdies with guns, and also in that of a halfway attractive and ruthless young woman, and it is recorded that he often dozed during the deliberations of his cabinet and was much more interested in racing cars and  in sailing his yacht, and that eventually that wife became so fed up with his inattention to the details of running Haiti into the ground that she would call the shots instead, while shoving her similarly rapacious mother-in-law far into the background.

So I know why J-C returned to Haiti.   It was because he has no sense that he ever did anything wrong.   And after all, hadn't it turned out that his far guiltier and seductive  ex-spouse,  that money-grubber par excellence, had already ventured out of France for not one but a couple of short runs to Haiti, to see about the remains of a brother who had had the bad luck to share the catastrophes with his countrymen, in his case dying in the collapse of a hotel?   If she could get away with her millions, her liberty, and her life scott-free, why not he, and with just a few mil?

The poor guy claims to be living on the generosity of friends.


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