Hundreds attend funeral for ‘Baby Doc’ in Haiti

By Evens Sanon and Danica Coto, AP

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti–Hundreds of people attended the funeral of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier on Saturday, displaying lingering respect for a man who was widely reviled for repression and corruption during his 15 years in power.

Mourners paused to pay their respects in front of Duvalier’s coffin draped with Haiti’s red-and-blue flag as they greeted his partner Veronique Roy, his ex-wife Michele Bennett and their two children.

Members of Haiti’s elite and former officials of Duvalier’s regime arrived in luxury SUVs, joining more humble citizens in ill-fitting suits, and quickly filled the chapel on the grounds of the Saint-Louis de Gonzague school in the Delmas district of Port-au-Prince.

Former President Boniface Alexandre attended as did some officials of President Michel Martelly’s administration, including one of his advisers, the chief of protocol for the National Palace and the delegate of Port-au-Prince. However, Damian Merlo, an adviser to Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, said no one went in an official capacity for Lamothe or Martelly. Lamothe was out of the country, while Martelly was in Haiti, but did not attend the funeral.

Some officials in Martelly’s administration have ties to Duvalier’s regime, but Merlo said the government has not given any special treatment to former members of that regime.

The “Martelly-Lamothe government does not share those values,” he said.

After the service ended, former members of the military under Duvalier’s regime carried his coffin from the chapel while a crowd chanted “Long live Duvalier! He’s not dead!”

Jean Ronald Lerison, 20, said he attended the service at the request of his ailing father.

“He asked me to come, to pay respects to Jean-Claude Duvalier,” Lerison said, adding that his father had told him that crime was rare under Duvalier’s regime and that people could sleep with their doors unlocked.

In the crowd outside was 19-year-old Mark Etienne, who said members of Duvalier’s Tonton Macoutes civilian militia killed his father in 1984 because he had supported a movement to oust Duvalier.

“I was curious to see the people who were part of the regime,” Etienne said. “They should hold trials for the rest of the criminals.”

Many had wondered whether Duvalier, the self-proclaimed “president for life,” would receive a state funeral following his death last Saturday from a heart attack at age 63. But Duvalier’s attorney announced late this week that friends and family would arrange a simple and private funeral.

“It’s a small victory in many ways for the opponents of the Duvalier regime that he’s not being given the honor of a state funeral,” Alex Dupuy, a Haiti-born sociologist who teaches at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said by telephone. “To have a state funeral for him would have signaled perhaps a sort of vindication of what that regime represented rather than a condemnation of it.”

There were no protests at Duvalier’s funeral, although a couple of men outside the chapel yelled “Down with Duvalier!” as his coffin was carried away. Some victims of his regime organized a sit-in outside a government agency.