A former Haitian prisoner says 'Baby Doc' Duvalier's criminal legacy should never be forgotten

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and you’re listening to The World. We’re a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH here in Boston. Kleptocracy, or in other words, rule by thieves - that may be the best word to describe how Jean-Claude Duvalier ran Haiti. ‘Baby Doc,’ as he was known, was Haiti’s brutal dictator for 15 years. During that time, he’s believed to have made off with hundreds of millions of dollars of his countries money. In exile after he fled Haiti, he owned a luxury villa on the French Riviera, and a chateau outside Paris. Remember, we’re talking about the former leader of the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. His death over the weekend at the age of 63 ends a painful chapter in Haiti’s history. Bobby Duval knew the former dictator. Duval was an up and coming soccer player in Haiti back in the 1970’s. He’d had a privileged childhood - he went to prep school in the US and then university in Canada. But when he returned to Haiti, his life took a turn. He got on the wrong side of Duvalier and ended up in prison.

 

Robert Duval: I was just taken one day from my place of work, which was my family’s business, and I was asked about incidents that I had no idea had gone on. And so I was put in jail and I was condemned, apparently, to die, to be sent to a jail where it’s reserved for the highest political opponents, and the only thing they had for them was death. I spent over 17 months in jail where I witnessed 180 people die in front of me in the cells that I was in. Also, they starved you to death, they only gave you 300 calories. You slept in a cell of 13 by 14 feet, with 40 other prisoners inside at times. So, we were dying 2 or 3 a day because of the lack of food.

 

Werman: You got out after those 17 months. Why did you stay in Haiti?

 

Duval: I didn’t want to run away. I never did anything, why should I? I worked all my life, I studied all my life with this idea of coming back and trying to be helpful, to change my country. If you leave, what are you going to do?

 

Werman: And now you’re bringing sports to Haitian kids and trying to build an infrastructure so they can enjoy the same things you enjoyed in North America.

 

Duval: I’ve developed, in the last 20 years, 6 sites around the country where we are serving almost 2,000 boys and girls. We just opened a school today, as a matter of fact. I’m very happy about that. It’s using sports to touch the hearts and minds of the kids. It’s to make them experience, to an extent, what has made me, because that’s one of the things I loved about the US and Canada, is the abundance of sports that you do. It keeps you healthy, it keeps you active and you don’t get involved in other unproductive activities and you therefore make an impact on the country itself. It’s very simple, it’s not rocket science, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years, and I want to keep doing that too.

 

Werman: A lot of people look at the historical ledger between the father, Francois Duvalier, and the son, Jean-Claude Duvalier - they disappeared and killed 30,000 people, amassed between $300 and $800 million, nobody really knows for sure - when Baby Doc returned in 2011, he was actually formally charged but only showed up in court in 2013. How disappointed are you that Baby Doc never saw the inside of a jail cell like you did?

 

Duval: That’s one of the things that intrigues me very much, is how he was able to come back. He had a lot of accomplices and he has accumulated a lot of goods, a lot of properties and lots of money that he gave to other people. So he does have a good base of support, they were kind of protecting him - the establishment protects him quite a bit. I think it’s a very fine line that someone like me, who’s from a background of privilege and business, I’ve been educated that if you don’t do something for the future, your future is not going to be secure. So you have to do for others, and that’s why you’re a privileged person. You have to be able to take some of those privileges, to be able to put it at the service of the greater good.

 

Werman: Yeah, the greater good for the people of Haiti. Final question Bobby Duval, should Baby Doc have a state funeral? Do you think his living accomplices will guarantee a state funeral?

 

Duval: I’m totally against it. That’s a clear thing. But whether I have the relation of forces or the opinion to stop it, I don’t know about that. I question that. But I think that he should not be revered at all whatsoever and we should keep denouncing him for future generations to learn what not to do and not repeat it ever.

 

Werman: That was Bobby Duval speaking with me from Port Au Prince. Duval runs a nonprofit organization called L’Athletique D’Haiti. His group gives kids living in poor neighborhoods an opportunity to play a sport and receive a daily meal.