When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Lawyered Up

by Charles Krakoff on January 21, 2011

in Crime & Punishment, Crisis, Democracy and Governance, High Crimes and Misdemeanors, Politics, poverty

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc) has finally broken his silence, five days after returning without warning to the country he brutally misruled for 15 years after succeeding his late father, the notorious François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc. Apparently having learned a thing or two during his 25 years of exile, Jean-Claude Duvalier was flanked by three American lawyers when he finally spoke to the press this afternoon.

In addition to several prominent Haitian lawyers, the former dictator’s legal team now includes Mike Puglise, a former Georgia policeman twice investigated for shooting people, who now specializes in representing people suing police departments; Ed Marger, another Georgia lawyer who used to represent Papa Doc; and Bob Barr, former U.S. Congressman from Georgia and the 2008 Libertarian Party Presidential candidate.

Duvalier spoke for less than eight minutes, delivering prepared remarks and refusing to respond to questions. He said he had expected to suffer all kinds of persecution on his return, but his desire to pay tribute to the victims of the January 2010 earthquake and to participate in the collective reconstruction effort far outweighed any personal hassles he might encounter, and that the reception he had received from the Haitian people had warmed his heart.

“I take this occasion to present publicly my sympathy to the millions of my supporters who, after I left voluntarily to prevent a bloodbath and to facilitate a rapid resolution of the political crisis, were left to their own resources,” also noting with regret that many of those supporters had subsequently been assassinated. “I also take this occasion to express once more my profound sadness for those of my compatriots who justly claim to have been victims of my government.”  The ex-President closed his remarks by paraphrasing Martin Luther King: “When you make it possible for the bell of national reconciliation to ring in everyone’s heart, and when we let it ring in every village and every household, then we can hasten the coming of the day when all children of Haiti, men and women, old and young, rich and poor, those within the country and those in the Diaspora, can march forward, hand in hand and without exclusion, to participate together in the renaissance of Haiti. Vive Haiti! May God bless you.”

The former dictator’s lawyers may have been less eloquent, but were considerably more voluble, responding to questions, bantering among themselves, and making free with their advice and opinions.

Marger said of Baby Doc, “His father told him if you ever have a problem with the United States, call me.” He continued, “Regardless of what many people think or do or say about Duvalier regimes, at least there was stability in the country and the people in great measure were progressive. That progress has come to a screeching halt.” Mr. Barr, as befits a former candidate for the Presidency, sought to achieve a loftier tone, though at the expense of some clarity. “I was deeply moved as I listened to his words a few minutes ago,” Barr said of Baby Doc’s address. “I am also reminded of those who have risen from the ashes. The city of Atlanta is the Phoenix City. The people of Haiti likewise will rise from the problems created by last year’s earthquake and will emerge stronger, better for it.”

According to Marger, Duvalier has no intention of returning to politics, and will support no candidate for the Presidency. Instead, said Marger, “He is interested in getting some method by which we can collect the monies that are coming into Haiti, getting it to an independent, acceptable entity that everyone can agree on.” When asked if that meant he does not trust Bill Clinton who, together with the Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, heads a joint commission intended to do just that with the nearly $10 billion that have been pledged by the international community, Marger replied, “Listen, I was in Port au Prince when Bill Clinton sent in bombers to bomb Port au Prince. I have no further comment on that.”

Many lawyers, of course, will say nearly anything they are paid to say, but most recognize some limits. Not in this case, apparently. It is beyond outrageous to suggest that Jean-Clause Duvalier, who is said to have pilfered anywhere from $100 million to $800 million from Haiti’s Treasury, should be given the keys to this particular piggy bank. Maybe they should also hire Bernie Madoff as a co-trustee.

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