Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Duvalier Funds May Be Returning Home to Haiti

Duvalier Funds May Be Returning Home to Haiti

The impoverished country of Haiti may be getting a windfall in a few months as the Swiss government may be handing over millions in unclaimed funds. According to news reports, if no one comes forward by September to claim the US$7.52 million (some news reports state up to US$12 million) in a Swiss account, and also prove that the money was legally obtained, it will be repatriated to Haiti. The Swiss Justice Ministry said that the funds have been linked to former dictator of Haiti, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. It is believed that the younger Duvalier and his cronies embezzled well over US$100 million from the country before fleeing to France in 1986.

The Duvalier Era

A couple of years ago the name of Papa Doc and Baby Doc were synonymous with Haiti. For years the country was ruled with the iron fist of this father and son team, from 1957 to 1986. Papa Doc was Dr. Francois Duvalier, who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971. A medical doctor by training, Duvalier captured the imagination of black Haitians and garnered their support during a time when the country was controlled by the small, but powerful group of mulattoes.

During the reign of his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier or Baby Doc, the country was even worse off, as the young ruler was not interested in politics and allowed the corruption to continue. He gained the name Baby Doc (Bebe Doc) because he was just 19-years old when he became Haiti’s president upon his father’s death in 1971. However during his rule Haiti sank further into decay and the people suffered greatly from the lack of infrastructure and economic development.

Proceedings for the return of the money began from as far back as 1986, but were only just finalized in May 2008.

The return of the funds, while late, is a welcome event. Haiti is one of, if not the most impoverished country in the region with a staggering illiteracy and HIV/AIDS rate. However, with the current instability in the country I find myself worrying that the money may well go the way of such funds – in the pocket of yet more corrupt politicians and their cronies, with nothing going towards alleviating the suffering of the people who need it most.

-Jessica McCurdy Crooks

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