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Editorial

Send 'Baby Doc' packing

The former dictator is the last thing Haiti needs as it tries to select a new leader and win international aid.

January 18, 2011

Haitians are in desperate need of help. They need the help of their president, who must oversee legitimate runoff elections in the next few weeks, and the help of the international community, which is understandably hesitant to provide billions of dollars in aid while the earthquake- and cholera-ravaged nation remains in political turmoil. What they don't need is the help offered — or should that be threatened? — by former President-for-life Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who should either be held to account for his crimes or escorted to the next plane off the island.

In a move of extraordinary chutzpah, Duvalier returned to Haiti on Sunday, 25 years after being forced into exile. The former dictator arrived at a tumultuous moment, just after the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and destroyed much of the capital city, and in the wake of a bungled presidential election that has left a political vacuum. The election remains undecided: Jude Celestin, the favored candidate of current President Rene Preval, was at first reported to have made it to the second round of voting, but now an investigation by the Organization of American States has found rampant fraud. The OAS recommended that Celestin be removed from the running and that Michel Martelly, a popular musician, should face off against the top vote-getter, Mirlande Manigat.

No election is going to "solve" Haiti, steeped as it is in poverty, illness, illiteracy and government corruption, much of it the legacy of a brutal colonial history. But the situation certainly won't be improved by the reappearance of a onetime strongman whose regime was known for torturing and killing its opponents and who has been accused of stealing millions of dollars from the Haitian people. Since arriving, Duvalier has been vague about his plans, saying only that he had "come to help." It's hard to imagine how he could do that or why Haitian authorities admitted him into the country in the first place, after he arrived via a first-class seat on Air France. Already, his presence is causing disruption, with a contingent of Duvalier loyalists rallying to support him. It seems self-evident that Haiti's ability to win the foreign aid it needs to rebuild can only be diminished by the presence of an infamous kleptocrat.

Preval can best bring a measure of calm to his country — and the prospect of international help — by embracing the OAS report and holding a legitimate runoff election. But first he should either bring Duvalier to justice or, if the judiciary isn't up to the chore, escort the former president to the Port-au-Prince airport and buy him a seat — economy class — back to France.

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