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Jean-Claude Duvalier

In office
April 21, 1971 – February 6, 1986
Preceded by François Duvalier
Succeeded by Henri Namphy

Born July 3, 1951 (1951-07-03) (aged 58)
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Spouse(s) Michèle Bennett
Children One daughter and one son

Jean-Claude Duvalier (nicknamed Bébé Doc or Baby Doc) (born July 3, 1951) succeeded his father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier as the ruler of Haiti from his father's death in 1971 until his overthrow by a popular uprising in 1986.


Early life

He was born in Port-au-Prince, and was raised in an isolated environment. He attended the most prestigious Haitian schools, College Bird and the Saint-Louis de Gonzague. Later, under the direction of several prominent professors, including Maitre Gerard Gourgue, at the University of Haiti, he studied law. During April, 1971, he assumed the presidency of Haiti at the age of 19 upon the death of his father, François Duvalier (nicknamed "Papa Doc"), becoming the world's youngest president. He initially resisted the dynastic arrangement that had made him Haiti's leader, having preferred that the presidency go to his older sister Marie-Denise Duvalier, and was content to leave substantive and administrative matters in the hands of his mother, Simone Ovide Duvalier, and a committee led by Luckner Cambronne, his father's Interior Minister, while he attended ceremonial functions, and lived as a playboy.[1]

Political and economic factors

Duvalier was invested with near-absolute power by the Constitution. He took some steps to blunt the harsher edges of the regime. For instance, he released some political prisoners and eased press censorship. However, there were no substantive changes to the regime's basic character. Opposition was not tolerated, and the legislature remained a rubber stamp.

Much of the Duvaliers' wealth came from the Régie du Tabac (Tobacco Administration). Duvalier used this "nonfiscal account," established decades earlier, as a tobacco monopoly, but he later expanded it to include the proceeds from other government enterprises and used it as a slush fund for which no balance sheets were ever kept.[2]

By neglecting his role in government, Duvalier squandered considerable domestic and foreign goodwill and facilitated the dominance of Haitian affairs by a clique of hardline Duvalierist cronies known as the dinosaurs. The public displayed more affection toward the president than they had displayed for his more formidable father. Foreign officials and observers also seemed more tolerant toward "Baby Doc," in areas such as human-rights monitoring, and foreign countries were more generous to him with economic assistance. The United States restored its aid program for Haiti in 1971.[2]


Jean-Claude miscalculated the ramifications of his May 1980 wedding to Michèle Bennett Pasquet, a mulatto divorcée with an unsavory reputation. Her first husband, Alix Pasquet, was the son of a well-known mulatto officer who had led an attempt to overthrow Papa Doc Duvalier. Although Jean-Claude himself was light-skinned, his father's legacy of support for the black middle class and antipathy toward the mulatto elite had enhanced the appeal of Duvalierism among the black majority of the population. By marrying a mulatto, Jean-Claude appeared to be abandoning the informal bond that his father had labored to establish. The marriage also estranged the old-line Duvalierists in the government from the younger technocrats whom Jean-Claude had appointed, including Jean-Marie Chanoine, Fritz Merceron, Frantz-Robert Monde, and Theo Achille. The Duvalierists' spiritual leader, Jean-Claude's mother, Simone, was eventually expelled from Haiti, reportedly at the request of Michèle Duvalier. With his wife Duvalier had two children, Francois Nicolas and Anya.[3]

The extravagance of the couple's wedding, which cost an estimated $3 million, further alienated the people. Discontent among the business community and elite intensified in response to increased corruption among the Duvaliers and the Bennetts, as well as the repulsive nature of the Bennetts' dealings, which included selling Haitian cadavers to foreign medical schools and trafficking in narcotics. Increased political repression added to the volatility of the situation. [1]


In response to an outbreak of African swine fever virus, U.S. agricultural authorities insisted upon total eradication of Haiti's pig population. The Program for the Eradication of Porcine Swine Fever and Development of Pig Raising (PEPPADEP) caused widespread hardship among the peasant population, who bred pigs as an investment. Some 8.5 million pigs were slaughtered.[4]

Widespread discontent began in March 1983, when Pope John Paul II visited Haiti. The pontiff declared that "Something must change here." He went on to call for a more equitable distribution of income, a more egalitarian social structure, more concern among the elite for the well-being of the masses, and increased popular participation in public life. This message revitalized both laymen and clergy, and it contributed to increased popular mobilization and to expanded political and social activism.[2]

A revolt began in the provinces two years later. The city of Gonaïves was the first to have street demonstrations and raids on food-distribution warehouses. From October 1985 to January 1986, the protests spread to six other cities, including Cap Haïtien. By the end of that month, Haitians in the south had revolted. The most significant rioting there broke out in Les Cayes.[2]

Jean-Claude responded with a 10 percent cut in staple food prices, the closing of independent radio stations, a cabinet reshuffle, and a crackdown by police and army units, but these moves failed to dampen the momentum of the popular uprising against the dynastic dictatorship. Jean-Claude's wife and advisers, intent on maintaining their grip on power, urged him to put down the rebellion and remain in office.[2]

In January 1986, the Reagan administration began to pressure Duvalier to renounce his rule and to leave Haiti. Representatives appointed by Jamaican prime minister Edward Seaga served as intermediaries who carried out the negotiations. At this point a number of Duvalierists, and business leaders, met with the Duvaliers and pressed for their departure. The United States rejected a request to provide asylum for Duvalier, but offered to assist with the Duvalier’s departure. Duvalier had initially accepted on January 30, 1986 and President Reagan actually announced his departure, based on a report from the Haitian CIA Station Chief who saw Duvalier’s car head for the airport. En route, there was gunfire and Duvalier’s party returned to the palace unnoticed by the American intelligence team.[5] Duvalier declared “we are as firm as a monkey tail.” He departed on February 7, flying to France in an American Air Force aircraft.[3]


The Duvaliers settled in France. For a time they lived a luxurious life. Although he formally applied for political asylum, his request was denied by French authorities. Jean-Claude lost most of his wealth with his 1993 divorce from Michèle.[6] While apparently living modestly in exile, Duvalier does have supporters, who founded the Francois Duvalier Foundation in 2006 to promote positive aspects of the Duvalier presidency, including the creation of most of Haiti's state institutions and improved access to education for the country's black majority. [7]

A private citizen, Jacques Samyn, unsuccessfully sued to expel Duvalier as an illegal immigrant (the Duvaliers were never officially granted asylum in France). Then, in 1998, a Haitian-born photographer, Gerard Bloncourt, formed a committee in Paris to bring Duvalier to trial. At the time, the French Ministry of the Interior said that it could not verify whether Duvalier still remained in the country due to the recently enacted Schengen Agreement which had abolished systematic border controls between the participating countries.[8] However, Duvalier's lawyer Sauveur Vaisse said that his client was still in France and denied that the exiled leader had fallen on hard times. [9]

Following the resignation of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, Duvalier announced his intention to return to Haiti. In 2004, he announced his intentions to run for president of Haiti in the 2006 elections for the Party of National Unity; however, he did not become a candidate.[10]

On September 22–September 23, 2007, an address by Duvalier to Haitians was broadcast by radio. Although he said exile had "broken" him, he also said that what he described as the improving fortunes of the National Unity Party had "reinvigorated" him, and he urged readiness among his supporters, without saying whether he intended to return to Haiti.[11] President René Préval rejected Duvalier's apology and, on September 28, he said that while Duvalier was constitutionally free to return to Haiti, he would face trial if he did so.[12]

Duvalier reportedly lives modestly in Paris with Veronique Roy, his longtime companion and chief public-relations representative. [6]


  1. ^ a b Abbott, Elizabeth. Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy McGraw-Hill New York 1988 ISBN 0-07-046029-9
  2. ^ a b c d e [Metz, Helen Chapin Dominican Republic and Haiti : Country Studies Federal Research Division, Library of Congress Washington, DC December 1989 ISBN 0-8444-1044-6]
  3. ^ a b Haiti Bad Times for Baby Doc
  4. ^ Porkbarreling Pigs in Haiti
  5. ^ Comparative Criminology| North America: Haiti
  6. ^ a b Exile in France Takes Toll On Ex-Tyrant 'Baby Doc'
  7. ^ Haiti: Loyalists Seek Dictator's Return
  8. ^ Haitian exiles want to take ``Baby Doc to court
  9. ^ Not just fade away
  10. ^ "Haiti vote attracts 30 candidates", BBC News, September 16, 2005.
  11. ^ Stevenson Jacobs, "Exiled dictator apologizes for 'wrongs' in rare address to Haitians", Associated Press (, September 24, 2007.
  12. ^ "Haiti's president says ex-dictator must face justice if he returns from exile", Associated Press (International Herald Tribune), September 28, 2007.

External links

Preceded by
François Duvalier
President of Haiti
Succeeded by
Henri Namphy


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