Haiti's 'Baby Doc' Duvalier Dead at 63

Ousted dictator had a heart attack
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 4, 2014 12:29 PM CDT
Haiti's 'Baby Doc' Duvalier Dead at 63
In this file photo dated Feb. 28, 2013, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier appears in court.   (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery, FILE)

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier is dead of a heart attack at age 63. He was better known as "Baby-Doc" Duvalier, so named because his father—a doctor-turned-dictator—was "Papa Doc." The regimes of both leaders tortured and killed political opponents and relied on a dreaded civilian militia known as the Tonton Macoutes. Jean-Claude took over from his deceased father in 1971 at age 19, becoming the world's youngest president. He ruled for 15 years, with his administration seen as less violent and repressive than his father's. Echoes of press freedom and personal criticism, never tolerated under his father, emerged—sporadically—because of international pressure. Still, human rights groups documented abuses and political persecution. And as the New York Times puts it, Duvalier "dominated the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere through a combination of brutality, intimidation and guile."

Under mounting pressure from the administration of US President Jimmy Carter, Duvalier made pretenses of improving the country's human rights record by releasing political prisoners. Still, journalists and activists were jailed or exiled. Haitians without visas or money left by boarding flimsy boats in a desperate effort to reach Florida shores. As Haiti's living conditions deteriorated, Pope John-Paul II made a visit in 1983 and famously declared: "Things must change." Three years later, they did. A popular uprising swept across Haiti, and Duvalier and his wife boarded a US-government C-141 for France. He remained in exile for 25 years, returning to Haiti in 2011. Efforts to prosecute him for his presidential abuses failed. (More Haiti stories.)

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