Haiti's president suggested Thursday that he might pardon former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, saying reconciliation for his nation is more important than making the man known as “Baby Doc” pay for his bloody rule.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Michel Martelly pledged to respect the independence of the judge expected to rule within days whether Duvalier should face trial on corruption and human rights violations. Duvalier was driven into exile in 1986 and returned to Haiti a year ago.
But Martelly suggested he has little appetite for a trial that could be explosive for the Caribbean nation, recovering from decades of political turmoil and a devastating earthquake two years ago.
“My way of thinking is to create a situation where we rally everyone together and create peace and pardon people, to not forget about the past — because we need to learn from it — but to mainly think about the future,” he said, adding: “You cannot forget those who suffered in that time, but I do believe that we need that reconciliation in Haiti.”
Duvalier assumed power in 1971 at age 19 following the death of his notorious father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. The two presided over a dark period in which their private militia of thugs in sunglasses, known as the Tonton Macoute, tortured and killed opponents. The younger Duvalier has been accused of stealing millions of dollars from public funds; he denies the accusations.
Martelly said any decision on a possible pardon would come only with “a consensus among all leaders, all political parties.”
Martelly also pledged to build a new Haitian security force to maintain order without the U.N. peacekeepers — about 11,000 foreign military and police officers have patrolled Haiti since 2004. They have recently come under fire for allegations of sexual abuse and suspicion of being the source of a cholera outbreak that has killed nearly 7,000 people and sickened a half-million.
The president refused to blame the United Nations for the problems, saying individual troops should be held accountable for their own misdeeds. But he said he will replace the peacekeepers with a Haitian security force that will create jobs for 3,000-5,000 Haitian youths and help Haiti become self-sustaining.
Martelly said he'll need foreign cooperation to fund and train the security force, but pledged to have it at least partially in place by the end of his term in 2016. He has run into opposition from donor countries that criticized earlier pledges to build a new Haitian army — disbanded in disgrace in 1995 — and he acknowledged Thursday that a new army wasn't realistic.
He refused to put a time frame on an exit for the peacekeepers.
“We are working with them to establish a calendar where they can retreat,” he said. “I don't want to force the peacekeeping nations to feel like I'm pushing them out.”
The Haitian president spoke on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of global power brokers at the Swiss ski resort of Davos, where he came to meet with potential investors.
Martelly, a popular musician sworn in as president in May, said he has already provided new homes to thousands of earthquake refugees, sent nearly 1 million more children to free schools and made progress on rebuilding the airport and the ports. Investment, he said, is booming.
His main priority, he said, is to create jobs so Haiti can support itself without being dependent on foreign aid.
“The Haiti that has been waiting for help and not moving no longer exists,” he said. “Enough handouts; we need hands up. Enough aid; we need trade.”
Part of that mission will involve helping Haitians to take over the earthquake reconstruction work, which has been dominated by foreigners working for non-governmental organizations.
“When I came in, Haiti was not governed by Haitians anymore. Probably mostly by NGOs. And that has done what to Haiti? It has weakened our institutions,” he said. “We need to focus on the plan that Haiti has today. We have a plan. When we want to go somewhere we are going to have them accompany us. … We need to organize and better use that aid.
A key part of that will be drawing home well-educated Haitians who have abandoned their country amid corruption and lack of opportunity. This week the foreign affairs minister in Paris appealed to Haitians abroad to return.
“The diaspora will be put back to work. We need them,” Martelly said.
But he said he wouldn't be offering them specific incentives: “It's not we have anything to offer. They need to have something to offer too. They need to come back and understand that Haiti is their country. By going away…” He broke off and sighed.
“Don't they always come back?”