Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier evaded journalists, slipping out at a backdoor at the Hotel Karibe Thursday and heading to a private residence in the hills above Port-au-Prince. In so doing, the AP reports, JCD and his advisers missed their originally scheduled flight out of Haiti. With his passport allegedly confiscated and court investigations into financial crimes as well as recently filed human rights abuses set in motion, it remains unclear if the former dictator will be leaving the country any time soon.
The New York Times Ginger Thompson, meanwhile, explores one theory – mentioned by the LA Times yesterday – about why Duvalier may have returned last Sunday. The story begins in Switzerland where that country’s top court, in a ruling made just hours before last January’s devastating earthquake, decided that at least $4.6 million under Mr. Duvalier’s name and still frozen in a Swiss bank account could be released back to Mr. Duvalier. In a response to the high court’s decision, Swiss officials promptly passed new legislation, calling it the “Duvalier Law,” which would allow the Swiss government “greater discretion” in deciding to whom it should return frozen assets that lingered in its world-famous bank accounts. That law will go into effect on Feb. 1. But, says the paper, until Feb. 1, states making claims to money in Switzerland “must show that they have begun a criminal investigation against the suspected offender before any funds can be returned.” Since a crippled Haitian state had not made any move on the matter before this week, the Times arrives at this speculative conclusion about how Duvalier may have thought he could get into Haiti, claim his money, and be gone – all before Feb. 1:
“[If] Mr. Duvalier had been able to slip into the country and then quietly leave without incident, as he was originally scheduled to do on Thursday, he may have been able to argue that Haiti was no longer interested in prosecuting him — and that the money should be his.”
Lawyer and Human Rights Watch spokesman Reed Brody says that sounds like a plausible theory. Brody:
“This was probably a calculation on Duvalier’s part, that the state was so weak that he could return to Haiti and leave without being charged with anything. Then he could go back to Swiss authorities and argue that he should get his money because Haiti’s not after him anymore.”
If that was indeed Baby Doc’s plan, it now would seem to have gone terribly wrong. After opening an investigation of Duvalier for embezzlement, a group of journalists and community activists, including the journalist and former spokeswoman for the UN Secretary General, Michele Montas, filed formal complaints Wednesday against the former dictator for human rights abuses.
Asked by a Times reporter whether or not Duvalier was still glad he had returned home Sunday, his lawyer, Gervais Charles tells the Times that JCD “must have mixed feelings about it” now.
Continuing in Haiti:
· The Miami Herald today says the US is stepping up its pressure on the government of Rene Preval to accept the recommendations of an OAS report that would drop government-backed candidate Jude Celestin from a second-round runoff in favor of pop singer, Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly. (In both the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council and the OAS’s second-round scenario, Mirlande Manigat would also advance.) US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice said Thursday the United States expects Haiti to “outline a very clear way forward that will lead promptly to the inauguration of a legitimate and democratically elected government.” The ambassador adds that “sustained support from the international community, including the United States, will require a credible process that represents the will of the Haitian people, as expressed by their votes.” Haiti’s Prime Minister reacted to those statements Thursday, telling the Herald the Preval government is “following exactly” the OAS’s suggestions. (Those words seem to contradict earlier rumors that the CEP would go ahead with a second round between Celestin and Manigat). Bellerive continues, saying he does not understand the added pressure by the US, unless it means “somebody wants us to impose a specific result.” The Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington DC issued a detailed report earlier this week, analyzing how the OAS arrived at is conclusions. It is critical of the OAS for offering recommendations without a full recount and based on a “statistically flawed and arbitrary” methodology. At least one US member of congress, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) says she is backing calls for a completely new election to be held, citing the CEPR report. For his part, Senate Foreign Relations chairman, John Kerry (D-MA) tells the Herald his office continues to monitor the situation “very closely.”
· The Herald also reports on a written statement from Jean-Claude Duvalier himself on Thursday, contradicting earlier statements by his lawyer and other advisers which indicated he had interest in re-assuming the presidency in Haiti. JCD: “I formally deny all political statements, vague or otherwise that are attributed to me.''
· The AP this morning with a new report on the Marisela Escobedo case in Chihuahua, Mexico. Escobedo, a Mexican anti-crime activist, was killed on Dec. 16 while demanding that the individual who murdered her daughter be brought to justice. The AP’s focus is on how the original trial of Sergio Barraza, the man accused of murdering Ms. Escobedo’s daughter, was supposed to showcase Mexico’s adoption of US-supported judicial reforms in which “three judges, in the presence of the victim's family, the defendant and their lawyers would announce their verdict in open court.” Instead, the case has become a symbol of impunity in Mexico as Mr. Barraza, who admitted to the murder while speaking with various acquaintances as well as the police, was acquitted during the trial. The judges in the case are now the subjects of an impeachment trial which they claim is a “political witch hunt.” The judges’ lawyer says the case will only hide the real problems of the Mexican justice system: a lack of funding, training and support for police to do sound investigations. The Rubi case and the murder of Marisela Escobedo are also the topic of Laura Carlsen’s most recent column at Foreign Policy in Focus.
· Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca speaks with BBC Mundo as he continues his travels through Europe, attempting to garner support for his country’s bid to amend the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The Bolivian proposal seeks to end an international prohibition on coca-leaf chewing. Choquehuanca has already visited officials in Spain, France, and Belgium. He arrived yesterday in the UK where he speaks with the BBC.
· Colombia’s El Tiempo reports on the upcoming agenda of its Vice President, Angelino Garzón, who travels to Washington next week. Garzón plans to meet with Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the House and Senate chairs responsible for trade issues (Rep. David Camp and Sen. Max Baucus) as well as labor and human rights leaders. According to the paper, the latter include Teamsters president Jim Hoffa and Liz Schuler of the AFL-CIO, as well as Human Rights Watch.
· The Economist with a report this week on the growing penetration of drug trafficking organizations in Central America. “Organized crime is now the main cause of the bloodshed” in the sub-region, the magazine writes. The reasons: the earlier movement of Colombian traffickers out of Colombia and now the more recent mass arrival of Mexican syndicates being squeezed out of Central America’s immediate neighbor to the North. The Economist adds that growing links between foreign DTOs and “homegrown” street gangs like the Maras are a particularly worrisome development – but also one which may lead to the “undoing” of Mexican cartels. The Economist:
“Mexico’s cartels, now the most powerful in Latin America, began as runners for the Colombians and were paid in product. They promptly seized control of distribution in the United States, and turned the Colombians into mere suppliers. The maras of Central America, which have close ties to inner-city gangs in el norte, could yet pull off the same trick. Roy David Urtecho, Honduras’s attorney-general, recently warned that the maras were seeking “to establish themselves as legitimate traffickers instead of street-level thugs”. The battleground in the war on drugs may be about to shift again.”
· Venezuela’s El Universal reports on doubts about whether ousted former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya will ever testify before the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias was the most recent individual to be interviewed by the commission headed by former Guatemalan VP Eduardo Stein.
· The AP suggests Hugo Chavez will continue to keep his critics guessing about whether or not he will reduce the term of his controversial decree powers down to five months.
· A handful of somewhat unsavory additions to the Fuerza 2011 ballot line headed by Keiko Fujimori, daughter of jailed former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimorui. Peru’s La Republica says Cmdte. Óscar Cáceres, former bodyguard to Alberto Fujmori’s intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, has entered Ms. Fujimori’s coalition as a congressional candidate. The paper also says Sergio Tapia Tapia, the former defense lawyer Álvaro Artaza Adrianzén (aka “Camión), is a congressional candidate for Fujimori’s “Fuerza 2011.” Tapia’s one-time client, Artaza, was convicted of murdering a La Republica correspondent in 1984. El Comercio reported earlier this week that Keiko Fujimori’s brother, Kenji Fujimori, will also appear as a congressional candidate on the Fuerza 2011 ticket. The most recent poll numbers from Peru put former President Alejandro Toledo with a slight lead over both Luis Castaneda and Keiko Fujimori ahead of April elections.
· The Wilson Center with a new report on what it calls the “new triangle” of relations between Latin America, China, and the United States.
· The Inter-American Dialogue’s Michael Shifter, in the Journal of Democracy, argues the current political landscape across the region has been defined by a “surge” to the political center.
· And finally, two recommended opinions – one briefly mentioned yesterday – about the return of Jean-Claude Duvalier and the living legacies of Duvalierism in Haiti: Author and longtime Haiti analyst Amy Wilentz at Politico and historian Elizabeth Abbott at Foreign Policy.
UPDATE: One additional point from the NYT reporting on Duvalier today is mention of health problems. There has been a great deal of speculation in recent days about this issue, as video of the former dictator has shown an individual who appears at times confused and certainly less mobile than a typical 59-year-old. According to the Times, JCD has long suffered from Lupus -- a chronic autoimmune disorder that can cause long-term inflammation of joints. There is new speculation that he may too be suffering from pancreatic cancer. I've seen other reports that have mentioned a possible stroke. All of this may have factored into his decision to now seek to regain what remains of his frozen assets.