The handshake: Jean-Claude Duvalier, right

Tomorrow, Jean-Claude Duvalier is supposed to appear at a hearing concerning human-rights charges against him. This is not a hearing put together by people who just feel like demanding justice from the former Haitian dictator; it’s a hearing ordered by an appellate judge   — a real judicial hearing.

Of course, Duvalier was also supposed to appear at this hearing on February 7, but simply failed to show up, demonstrating for any who doubted it his habitual disregard for Haitian institutions of justice. Rather than sending a paddy wagon to round him up  and bring him in, the judge merely rescheduled the hearing.

At the end of January, 2012, showing how very fluid the judicial system is in Haiti, a judge ruled that Duvalier could not be charged for human-rights violations but permitted the corruption charges against him to stand. (The appeals court is attempting to revise that decision.) 

The January 2012 decision was a shocking one, no matter how corrupt you think the current Haitian government is, no matter how close to Jean-Claude you might imagine the current Haitian president Micky Martelly to be (since Duvalier’s unthinkable return to Haiti, after 25 years in exile, Martelly has hugged him, and invited him to formal events, and shaken his hand and generally shown pleasure in his presence).

So a year ago, the court ruled there could be no charge for human-rights abuses against Jean-Claude, even though during his almost 15-year rule, Baby Doc mimicked his father’s regime, crushing dissent, imprisoning opponents, running his prisons like gulags where prisoners where beaten, starved, and neglected, and allowing his secret police, the infamous Tonton Macoutes, to shake down the population, and to imprison and torture on personal whim. 

Amnesty International and Human RIghts Watch have said that the whole world is watching tomorrow’s hearing and its outcome.

I doubt it. This is what Hillary Clinton said after Duvalier returned to Haiti:

Well, we are very clear going back many years about the abuses of that regime. And certainly, we believe that his record is one of repression of the Haitian people. Ultimately, a decision about what is to be done is left to the government and people of Haiti. But we’re focused on trying to maintain stability, prevent chaos and violence in this very unpredictable period with his return, with cholera still raging, with the challenges of reconstruction, with an election that’s been challenged.

Hmmm. That’s ominous. The U.S. government almost never leaves anything up to “the government and the people of Haiti.” When Clinton says that, what she means is that the Obama Administration washes its hands of the whole Duvalier affair, and that the Haitian government can do as it wishes (the Haitian people have very little to do with what the Haitian government does, at this point; Martelly won the 2011 election with about 16.7 percent of the electorate).

This from the U.S., which essentially forced Duvalier out of power back in 1986, when the wave of Haitians fleeing his regime for Florida and other points north became too huge.

This, more particularly, from Hillary Clinton, someone whose husband recently shook hands in friendly-like manner with Duvalier. A warm little handshake from Bill Clinton for the former dictator. The — to Haitian commentators — notorious handshake took place at a commemoration for the earthquake dead. President Martelly had invited Duvalier and Clinton, a regular at such affairs, to remember the hundreds of thousands of victims at a seaside area called Titanyen, which is the very spot where Papa Doc and Baby Doc’s secret police used to dump the bodies of their victims. Martelly might possibly not know that (a lot of the victims of the earthquake were also dumped at Titanyen), and Clinton might not know it. But Duvalier knew it. DId he smirk inwardly, I wonder — or is he past that?


Portrait of Baby Doc’s father by the roadside in Port-au-Prince, appearing just after Martelly’s election

Sometimes, when I think of such events, I wonder what it is that Sean Penn likes so much about Martelly.

Just for the historical record, the same Bill Clinton who shook Duvalier’s hand is the one who reinstated Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after Aristide was ousted by the very friends of Duvalier who override justice so arrogantly in Haiti once again.

I’m getting sidetracked here. Bill Clinton will do that to you, he’s so charming and smart and hamisch. Sometimes, when I think of events like the handshake at Titanyen, I wonder what it is Paul Farmer likes so much about Clinton. Maybe it’s that the former president Built Haiti Back Better after the earthquake, with Farmer as his deputy.

In the event, I’m hoping that Duvalier will actually show some respect and go to his hearing tomorrow. If he were forced by this hearing to revisit his human-rights crimes and do the time other dictators around the world have done for similar abuses, it would actually signal a new day for Haiti. It would actually be a way to build Haiti back better. 

But I have watched Haiti for a long time, and I am not optimistic on this one. 

Back tomorrow or Friday for a post-game analysis.