PORT-AU-PRINCE Haitians said farewell Saturday to former President-for-life Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier in a simple, Catholic Mass that had no official State presence except for a blue and red Haitian flag draping his coffin.
The flag actually used by the Duvalier regime during its 29 year father-and-son rule was red and black. The blue and red flag was re-introduced after the fall of Duvalier on Feb. 7, 1986 -- and has come to symbolized anti-Duvalierism.
Duvalier died on Oct. 4, while eating cornflakes and milk at the home of a friend. He was 63.
There was no attendance by neither Haitian President Michel Martelly nor Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, or members of the foreign diplomatic corps. But there were former cabinet members of Duvalier’s government, some of whom either currently hold or held posts in Martelly’s government.
“He should have at least had the national anthem, they owed him that,” said Simon Saint-Vil, a mourner, disappointed by the government’s absence.
Those who crowded the church remembered him as a leader who brought law and order to an impoverished Haiti. Roman Catholic Priest Occide “Père Sicot” Jean remembered him as supporter of Haitian farmers.
"Only God can judge the soul," said Jean, a friend of the deceased leader who recalled their friendship during this 11 minute eulogy in French. "The judgment of a man does not go beyond the physical -- which is an envelope that rots and decomposes after man’s transformation following his physical death.”
Outside of the church, however, Duvalier was being judged – and remembered not as a supporter of Haitians but as an iron-fist dictator with blood on his hands. Dozens of demonstrators -- mostly the young offsprings of his victims who were either killed, jailed, tortured, disappeared or forced into exile during his 15-year reign -- held a sit-in in front of the Citizens Protection Office, a government agency that is supposed to register grievances. They carried signs that read, “You cannot forget what the Duvalier dictatorship did to the country,” and wore shirts stained with red ink, symbolizing blood.
“A national funeral would have dishonored the victims, and we wanted to make sure we marked this moment,’’ said Elisabeth Pierre-Louis, one of the demonstrators. “He was not the wise and nice president that they have made him out to be.”
The demonstration was symbolic and organized by Asire, which lobbied against a State funeral for Duvalier.
Back at the church, the grieving crowd remembered Duvalier differently. One man threw himself across the casket, while the congregation gave Jean a standing ovation with applause after his speech about Duvalier. As he spoke, his ex-wife Michele Bennett, and the couple’s two children, Francois Nicolas and Anya, listened from a front pew. Across from them, sitting in another front pew facing the draped coffin, Duvalier’s long-time companion Veronique Roy.
Dressed in a simple black suit with her trademark dark shades, Roy was barely acknowledged during the ceremony other than by Duvalier’s good friend and the last person to see him alive, Colonel Joseph Baguidy.
“Jean-Claude Duvalier was of a very good upbringing. He had a quiet temperament, and he was incapable of impoliteness,” said Haiti Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Fritz Cineas, who served in Duvalier’s cabinet, at the end of the service. “Recently, his allure was that of a wise man, and we had all noticed on his face, the beauty of this wisdom.”
Duvalier’s body was taken back to the funeral home, where friends said he was to be cremated.