I'm of the belief that a nation shouldn't feel an obligation to like their neighbors. People shouldn't *have* to like anyone. I do feel that nations and people are obligated to acknowledge and notice their neighbors. Here in the United States, I think we've been doing a less than stellar job at recognizing our neighbors.
I am not immune to this. I know basically nothing about Haiti beyond that they suffer greatly from earthquakes and were once a French colony. This article is at least a partial extension of my effort to learn a little bit more about our Haitian neighbors down in the Caribbean.
This entry of "Heroes & Villains" will be focusing on Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Until now, the subjects of these entries have been people who are either solidly Heroes, or who fall into a grey area between Heroism and Villainy. Duvalier very solidly falls into the category of Villain. Furthermore, I notice some striking similarities between Baby Doc and another, more current world leader. More on that later.
Let's begin with a brief history of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, Baby Doc's father. In the late 50's, François Duvalier took control of Haiti on the time-honored "terrifying nationalist" political platform. Within a few years, he had disposed of his political opponents and declared himself President-for-Life.
Between 1957 and his death in 1971, Papa Doc built up a private paramilitary police force, crushed all attempts to overthrow him, and ended the lives of over 30,000 Hatian citizens. He also kept the head of a political opponent in his closet and claimed he communicated with the spirits of the dead through it, which, while horrible and evil, is pretty fucking metal. After 20 years of running a well organized oppressive terrorist government, François died in 1971, and power was transfered to his 19 year old son, Jean-Claude.
Quietly, the people of Haiti hoped their new leader would prove less bloodthirsty than his father. Technically, he was. Unfortunately, this meant Jean-Claude Duvalier chose to stay aloof and ignorant of the evils of his father's established regime. His private army continued to menace the people of Haiti, and the nation continued to stagnate and suffer.
Papa Doc always put on a good show of claiming he was being misrepresented by the press of other nations. Throughout his run as president-for-life, he insisted that Haiti was a major economic and social power in the Caribbean and that shunning him was a mistake for his neighbors. I have my doubts that Francois Duvalier actually believed any of this, but then again, we're talking about a man who kept the severed head of a political enemy to facilitate communication with the dead.
Jean-Claude, on the other hand, truly believed he was the rightful heir to a glorious legacy that was the greatest thing to ever happen to the Haitian people. Baby Doc's was not a calculated, planned evil, but rather an evil born from delusion and egomania. His father's private army, the Tonton Macoute, continued its reign of terror over the people of Haiti. The Haitian economy continued to stagnate, and the nation fell yet further into poverty. As of the time of me writing this, Haiti continues to be in a very unhealthy economic position.
I feel that Baby Doc shares many traits with the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un. Both inherited control of their nation from their father. Both seem impossibly naive compared to their fathers. And both do not seem to understand what actually occurs during their own regimes.
Baby Doc and Kim Jong Un were taught from a very early age that they could do no wrong, that their regime was the greatest thing possible for their nations. They were taught their whole lives that objections from outsiders to their government were the result of those outsiders being evil, misguided, and jealous of their success. And in regards to both of them, the rest of the world is not at all sure how to handle the situation.
To be honest, I expected to have a lot more to say about Baby Doc, but he's actually kind of lackluster compared to his father. There is, however, one anecdote worth passing along. One that highlights Baby Doc's shortcomings when it comes to the world of villainy.
One of my main sources for this article was an article by Majorie Valbrun. Valbrun's family fled Baby Doc's Haiti when she was very young. For most of her life, he was the horrifying monster under the bed and in the closet, but also actually real. Valbrun grew up to be a successful American journalist, and, following his exile from Haiti in the 80's, she tried desperately hard for many years to get an interview with him.
Finally in 2003, she got that interview. Valbrun got to meet, shake hands with, and take some selfies with the monster that was behind pretty much everything bad that had ever happened to her or the people she cared about. It's not surprising that her first order of business at the venue of the interview, a hotel in Paris, was to have a nervous breakdown and contemplate avoiding the interview altogether.
But then Valbrun discovered something very perverse. Duvalier was a pretty poor excuse for a monster. He expressed pride that he could meet a successful American reporter who was born in his Haiti, which I imagine was pretty disarming. Then he spent a fair portion of the interview talking about how the rest of the world had it out for him, that they just didn't understand the good he was doing for his people. It became clear that he, himself, had no idea what sort of a regime he was in charge of. He had no idea that his private army was raping and murdering the population of Haiti into compliance. They were just his national guard.
Ignorance is never an acceptable excuse for terrorism, but given the parallels my mind draws between Jean-Claude Duvalier and Kim Jong Un.... perhaps it's an explanation for how casually it is administered.
Main Sources for this Article :
Valbrun, Majorie. "Baby Doc Duvalier terrorized my country and haunted me. Meeting him wasn’t what I expected." Washington Post . 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 8 June 2017. <https://goo.gl/YVihE5>.
Hanes, Stephanie. "Jean-Claude Duvalier, ex-Haitian leader known as Baby Doc, dies at 63." Washington Post. N.p., 4 Oct. 2014. Web. 8 June 2017. <https://goo.gl/qJpaU9>.