As part of our commemorations of Black History month, we asked Millery Polyné, author of From Douglass to Duvalier: U.S. African Americans, Haiti, and Pan Americanism, 1870–1964 for his thoughts on Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s return to Haiti:

“After 25 years in exile Jean-Claude Duvalier’s arrival in Haiti has sparked a mixture of emotions and concerns from Haitians and the international community. Jean-Claude Duvalier’s return is both predictable and suspicious. Baby Doc claims he wants to be of “service to [his] country” and that he was “homesick,” but he arrived empty handed, providing no word to the Preval administration and no material goods to help Haitians living in tent camps.

Duvalier’s return is unsurprising–given his financial troubles and the potential of billions of dollars flowing into Haiti by multinational corporations, foreign governments and aid groups who are willing to invest in Haiti, but need the appearance of order. Baby Doc’s dictatorship is well-known for the surge of low wage manufacturing jobs and its cozy relationship to the U.S. business community and U.S. Republican leadership.  Manufacturing jobs and open markets seem to be the business model of those leading the reconstruction efforts.  At the same time, Barack Obama’s emphasis on human rights with China’s President Hu Jintao should provide a litmus test to how the current administration would respond to a prolonged stay by Duvalier.

The majority of Haitians seek a new beginning and remember the horrors and political missteps and corruption by the Duvalier regime. The mainstream U.S. press is spreading a myth that Haiti’s population, 60% of which is under 30 years of age, don’t know of or feel the effects of Duvalierism. If a Haitian under 30 knows a family member that migrated to the U.S. and the Bahamas during the 1970s and 1980s, they understand the deleterious effects of Baby Doc. Yet, there are many who are inflicted with “dictatorship nostalgia”–a global and historical trend in places like Russia, Portugal and Italy–where various classes of people perceived their lives to be better off and orderly.  The Haitian government made a grave mistake by allowing Baby Doc into the country and releasing him [although he is on “house arrest”].  Allowing him the time to make alliances and shift the media’s attention away from reconstruction efforts only hurts the nation. At the same time, a critical view of his presidency (1971-1986) is a necessary building block to envisioning a new and stronger Haiti.” From Douglass to Duvalier will be available in paperback this APRIL (ISBN: 978-08130-3763-9). Contact us if you are interested in more information this book. “Most works on Haiti tend to focus either on the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) or the more recent era of Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-2004), and specifically the US-supported coup in 2004. In excluding these two seismic eras, Polyne (NYU) tells a more inportant story of the forging and gradual weakening of ties between US African Americans and Haitians. Impressive temporally and thematically, well researched, and destined to be an important work.”–Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

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