PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti’s former dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, was laid to rest on Saturday, marking the end of a political dynasty notorious for its corruption and abuse of human rights.
At a private funeral on Saturday, family, friends and political allies filed by a coffin covered in a red and blue Haitian flag to pay their last respects to Duvalier, who died a week ago, aged 63. The self-proclaimed former “President for Life” was overthrown by a popular rebellion in 1986.
As a former head of state, Duvalier was potentially entitled to an official state funeral. But the government quietly quashed the idea, considered inappropriate by many Haitians for a man accused of widespread human rights abuses as well as looting the state’s coffers to indulge a jet set lifestyle, both in office and during a golden exile in France.
“Many loud voices rose to demonize this man and his time in power,” retired Colonel Joseph Baguidy, a close friend of Duvalier, told the mourners. “For us who have lived at his side, there is no doubt that this man who was so devoted to the service of his nation and its people will eventually benefit from the favorable judgment of history,” he added, to a standing ovation.
Among those absent at Saturday’s ceremony in a Catholic high school chapel were Haitian President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. Martelly’s administration is considered close to figures from the Duvalier era, and last Saturday the president paid tribute to Baby Doc on Twitter as “a true son of Haiti.”
In attendance were Duvalier’s ex-wife Michèle Bennett, his companion in later life, Véronique, and a smattering of former military officers.
Duvalier’s death marked the final chapter in a dynasty that ruled Haiti with an iron fist from 1957 to 1986. He inherited power in 1971, aged only 19, from his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and earned a reputation for wanton misrule in the western hemisphere’s poorest country. [ID:nL2N0RZ0KI].
After his bloody overthrow, Baby Doc spent 25 years in France. He returned to his Caribbean homeland in January 2011 to face charges of corruption and crimes against humanity for abuses by the army and paramilitary forces under his rule.
Duvalier consistently denied any responsibility for abuses committed while he was in office.
Writing by David Adams; Editing by Larry King and David Gregorio