Just when you think things couldn't possibly get worse in Haiti, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier shows up at the airport. The former dictator, exiled to France for most of the last 25 years, stepped from an Air France jet on Sunday, dropped to his knees, kissed the tarmac and announced, "I've come to help."
No good can come of this.
With the government paralyzed by an unresolved presidential election and the capital still in ruins more than a year after a devastating earthquake, the last thing Haitians need is the "help" of a murderous kleptocrat.
Yet hundreds turned out to greet Duvalier at the airport. They gathered in the streets outside the Karibe, one of the few luxury hotels left standing in Port au Prince, and chanted his name as he met with a stream of loyalists inside.
The relentless misery in Haiti — 1.5 million still living in tents, 3,800 dead from cholera — is feeding a dangerously twisted revisionism: Yes, Duvalier stomped out dissent and stole hundreds of millions in public money. But things were better back then.
"He did bad things, but since he left, we have not had stability," one Haitian told a reporter for a London newspaper.
"I don't know much about Jean-Claude Duvalier, but I've heard he did good things for the country," another said.
It's worth noting that more than half of Haiti's population was not yet born when Duvalier fled to France in 1986. Some others apparently have short memories.
But here are the facts: Duvalier became "president for life" at age 19, at the death of his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Lavish spending and brutal repression were the hallmarks of their 30-year dynasty. Their police force, the Tonton Macoute, tortured and killed political opponents and frightened untold thousands — including much of the middle class — into exile. Journalists and dissidents disappeared from the streets, or were sent to prison and never came out.
The younger Duvalier is believed to have diverted as much as $300 million to foreign bank accounts before he was ousted in a pro-democracy uprising.
His return prompted human rights groups and many Haitians to demand that he be prosecuted. On Tuesday, charges of corruption, embezzlement and criminal conspiracy were filed, but he remains free while a judge decides if there is enough evidence to go to trial.
That's no sure thing, given that 25 years have elapsed and the justice system is as corrupt and ineffective as the rest of Haiti's government. His lawyer scoffed at the charges — "blah, blah, blah" were his exact words — and said Duvalier was home to stay.
That's alarming. Duvalier has hinted of a political comeback, releasing a recorded statement three years ago asking Haitian to forgive his "mistakes." His party has been revived by loyalists who speak of restoring him to power democratically. And Haiti is at an electoral impasse, with voters charging that the Nov. 28 presidential election was rigged by the ruling party and three candidates insisting they earned one of two available spots on the runoff ballot. International election monitors are working to help sort things out.
It goes without saying that billions in promised disaster relief money aren't going to materialize until a legitimate government is in place. Duvalier has no business in that picture.