Boy prince finds life in exile less than charming

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The Independent Online
His father, Francois Duvalier, had been known as "Papa Doc," a paternalistic nickname he received as a popular black country doctor, a name which later belied the terror of his regime. He called himself "president-for-life," a title he relinquished by passing away in 1971.

When Jean-Claude Duvalier took on the title, he was only 19. His nickname had an even more euphemistic ring to it. They dubbed him "Baby Doc". He had not studied medicine but the name went well with his baby face.

The boy ruled like a prince in the white-painted, fairy-tale presidential palace and he looked like living happily ever after, with his beautiful mulatto (mixed-race) wife, Michelle Bennet. But as he got richer, his people got poorer. They revolted against him and his terrorising thugs, known as the Tontons Macoute, or bogeymen.

After widespread protests, the couple fled the country on 7 February 1986. Just before dawn, unnoticed by their subjects but watched by journalists at Port-au-Prince airport, they set off for exile in France on board a military aircraft laid on by the country that had long supported him and his father but which was forced, finally, to bow to the popular will - the United States of America.

On their way to the airport, the Duvaliers stopped to dig up Papa Doc's remains in an eerie voodoo ceremony, and to empty the contents of the Central Bank. Haiti is a poor country and the deposed young dictator got away only with a few hundred million dollars in cash.

Still, a few hundred million goes a long way, even in the south of France, where the couple settled in idyllic exile on the Riviera, near Grasse. The word was that a courier used to travel every six weeks to Zurich and come back with a suitcase containing $100,000 in cash.

Jean-Claude was a man of relatively simple tastes. He liked to eat Haitian lambi (conch) in the Creole style but Michelle had a taste for lobster, champagne and exclusive designer clothes from Paris. When she divorced him in 1991, she had blown much of the fortune.

His town pad, the Chateau de Themericourt, outside Paris, which he had bought for pounds 1.2m, was repossessed in 1993, after he failed to meet its bills.

When the local butcher and wine store near Grasse began suing him for unpaid bills, he and his octogenarian mother, Simone, were forced to move out of the Grasse mansion and into a modest bungalow with no telephone, in nearby Vallauris.

His Pakistani chauffeur complained he was not being paid and neighbours reported to police that the four Duvalier dogs were becoming as scraggy as those in the former dictator's own country.

The word was that a certain "Jean" who put an ad on a local grocer's door saying he was looking for work as an odd-job man was the former president- for-life himself.

He is still in France, said to be moving between Haitian friends' apartments in Paris and elsewhere. He was not able to vote in yesterday's Haitianelections, which will put a new face in the presidential palace next 7 February, the 10th anniversary of his departure.

"I think I would like to go back to my country when the security conditions permit," he said in an interview in France's Journal du Dimanche. "My personal ambition above all is to work to improve the living conditions of my compatriots."