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When, after twenty-five years in exile, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier unexpectedly returned to Haiti on January 16, 2011, the polarized yet strikingly muted public response was in some ways eerily reminiscent of public reaction during the decades-long era of repression in which he and his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, ruled Haiti (1957-86). While hundreds of Haitians took to the streets in a “carnival-like atmosphere”1 to cheer the arrival of Baby Doc in Port-au-Prince, the apprehension of a large swath of Haiti’s population was, surprisingly, by and large indiscernible. In fact, Duvalier’s “unbelievable” reappearance on the Haitian scene resulted in remarkably few manifestations of outright public protest,2 and, in the days following his return, many of those who did speak out attributed his arrival in Haiti to a shrewd political maneuver on the part of outgoing President René Préval, who, it was suggested, wanted to divert attention from a highly critical report delivered only days earlier by the Joint Organization of American States‒ Caribbean Community Electoral Observation Mission.3 Such theories have remained speculative at best. However, the failure of the Préval administration to take an immediate stance on Duvalier’s homecoming is nonetheless surprising given Préval’s public statement in 2007 that Duvalier would face charges of political tyranny, corruption, and crimes against humanity should he choose to return.


Memory at Bay is in the CARAF Books: Caribbean and African Literature Translated from French series.

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