Jean-Claude Duvalier is dead. I never met him. I saw him just once, at the airport in Port-au-Prince, in the early morning hours of a day that then seemed fateful: February 7, 1986. He was driving up to a U.S. cargo plane, and then heading into exile in France. His whole family was in the car with him. It was a brief moment. He whizzed by and was gone. The next day hundreds of thousands of Haitians came out into the streets of Port-au-Prince to celebrate.
But that was not the end of the affair, not by far. The effects of Duvalierism, as conceived by Jean-Claude’s father, François (Papa Doc) Duvalier and continued by Jean-Claude, resonate to this day.
Haiti and the island of Hispaniola have been studied by botanists and naturalists for centuries, not all of them looking for zombie powder. One of the best known naturalists to visit Haiti was Erik Ekman, a Swede who was in the country in 1917, and then later spent four more years there, from 1924 to 1928, and another four in the Dominican Republic (where he died), discovering — or at least naming – some 2,000 species previously unknown to Western science, including the exceptional bird above, which in camouflage resembles a lizard. Ekman was yet another among the eccentric self-exiled lovers of Haiti, a white king, a mobile sovereign, able to live any which way in this place that forced no rules upon him.
Just so everyone can see the hypocrisy of the Jalousie paint job I wrote about earlier, here’s a picture my brother, a cardiologist who has been working in Haiti, took from the rue Panamericaine a little more than a month ago. To the left, the nicely painted, festive, cheerful, postcard-ready slum of Jalousie. To the right, the continuation of the hillside, Jalousie adjacent slums, as they truly are, without the rouge and mascara. The perky houses on the left, painted by the municipality of Petionville, a town just up the hill from Port-au-Prince, can be seen from the new Royal Oasis hotel, built with post-earthquake loans from the World Bank and the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund. The honest, unpainted, nonbotoxed true shantytown cannot.
I counted Jean Dominique among my friends. I listened to his show on Radio Haiti Inter every morning when I lived in Haiti in the mid-1980s, and we were on friendly terms up until the day he was assassinated at his radio station on Delmas in Port-au-Prince on April 3, 2000, along with the station’s security guard, Jean-Claude Louissaint. Now that a Haitian court has handed down a nine person indictment, how much closer are we to the truth about these killings? If he were alive, Jean Dominique would be the first to point the finger at his killers and say their names out loud into a live microphone.
“…One question, though, continues to irk us. Can we finally purge the dirty words ‘fundamentalist secularist’ from our political and intellectual vocabulary? Can we finally stop inventing wise semantic circumlocutions in order to make parallels between the assassins and their victims?”