Haiti’s former President-for-life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier will have to settle for a low-key, non-official affair when he is laid to rest Saturday.
The State will not be sponsoring his funeral, a government source familiar with the decision told the Miami Herald.
The source said the government did not want to be the one rehabilitating Duvalier’s image, and that its responsibility must be to the tens of thousands who were killed, tortured, disappeared and forced into exile during his and his father’s 29-year dictatorial rule in an impoverished Haiti.
“Having a state funeral for a man accused of the human rights abuses and crimes against humanity sends a terrible message to the country, and particularly his victims,” said Amanda Klasing, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “There has been no truth or justice in their case. … Some people want to forget Duvalier’s crimes and move on, but justice and his victims deserve more.”
The decision, relayed to the family, settles the most daunting question that faced Haiti after Duvalier’s heart attack death Saturday morning while eating a bowl of corn flakes and milk: Would he get a national funeral or a more subdued official send-off.
President Michel Martelly said earlier this week that the question was being evaluated by members of his cabinet, but a tweet he sent after Duvalier’s death — he called him an “authentic child of the country” — led many to fear he would provide all of the State’s apparatuses for the funeral Mass at Saint-Louis Gonzague, the Catholic school where Duvalier graduated from.
In light of that, Haitians took to the radio and social media to let their opinions be heard. Duvalier’s critics even started an online petition asking Martelly to respect the memory and dignity of the victims, whose deaths until now have never been officially recognized by the country.
Robert Fatton, a Haiti born political science professor, said Martelly’s decision is “a sign that he is attentive to public opinion and thus prepared to reevaluate his position.”
But Fatton stopped short of seeing it as reconciliation because it came after the tweet.
“There is no reconciliation without a public account of the crimes committed under the Duvaliers. While this is long overdue, it may not be too late to do so.”
Some welcome Martelly’s decision, seeing the move as an attempt to avoid additional friction at a sensitive political time for Haiti.
Haiti’s elections are more than three years overdue, and Martelly has been meeting with opposition senators and parties in hopes of breaking the political impasse.
The decision shows that maybe Martelly “heard those many voices saying, Duvalier as a dictator doesn't deserve our respect,” said Rachèle Magloire, a Haitian filmmaker who filed human rights allegations against the ailing dictator. Her aunt, gynecologist Nicole Magloire, was a victim of the regime.
Rachèle Magloire, who religiously attended the Duvalier court hearings in the last three years, is among the group who started the online petition demanding that Duvalier not receive any state funeral.
“This petition signed now by almost 1,600 individuals and associations, shows that the country exists, that we remember our recent history and as a people we have the right to raise issues,” she said.