No national funeral for Haiti's Duvalier

Clarens Renois
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Former Haitian president Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier ruled the impoverished Caribbean nation from 1971 until his overthrow in 1986

Former Haitian president Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier ruled the impoverished Caribbean nation from 1971 until his overthrow in 1986 (AFP Photo/Hector Retamal)

Port-au-Prince (AFP) - Haiti's former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier will not receive a state funeral after all, his lawyer said Thursday, after public outrage that a man accused of corruption and mass killings could receive such an honor.

Duvalier will instead be remembered at a family ceremony on Saturday in the chapel of his former Catholic school Saint-Louis de Gonzague in Port-au-Prince, more than a quarter-century after he was driven into exile by a popular uprising.

When the 63-year-old died of a heart attack last week, Haiti's President Michel Martelly declared in a tweet that he had been "an authentic son of Haiti," and his spokesman told AFP that a national funeral would be the appropriate protocol.

But the idea that a man accused of overseeing the looting of Haiti by a corrupt elite and of unleashing the murderous Tonton Macoute militia against his opponents be honored in such a way outraged opposition groups and surviving victims of his regime.

It could also have embarrassed Haiti's international partners, who have stuck by Martelly's government despite its ties to figures from the former Duvalier regime.

The Duvalier family lawyer, Reynold George, expressed bitterness that the government, "rather than stand by its principles, has ceded to pressure from certain figures."

"There will be no official ceremony. The government has reversed its decision. The funeral will be organized by the family," he told AFP.

A state protocol official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he did not expect there to be an official announcement about the funeral.

- 'The ultimate insult' -

Duvalier came to office in 1971 aged only 19 after the death of his still more feared father and fellow president for life, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. He ruled the impoverished Caribbean nation for 15 years until driven into exile by protests.

He returned in 2011 on the first anniversary of a devastating earthquake, saying that he wanted to help Haiti rebuild, but found himself exposed to lawsuits from the victims of his rule accusing him of graft and human rights abuses.

The victims were dismayed when Duvalier's surprise death deprived them of a chance to confront him with his alleged crimes in court, and human rights groups have vowed to keep the cases alive as an act of national memory.

They were even more angry when it emerged that Duvalier might receive state honors, and joined opposition political groups in taking to social media and the radio to denounce the idea, gathering thousands of signatures to an online petition.

A civil society umbrella group -- "in name of the blood of the victims, of the broken families, of the exiled brain power, and of our country forever battered" -- said such a national funeral would be "the ultimate insult."

In abandoning talk of honors for Duvalier, Haiti avoids an immediate political crisis that could have touched off street protests, but the western hemisphere's poorest country still has difficult months ahead.

The January 2010 earthquake devastated vast tracts of the capital, and a cholera epidemic blamed on poor sanitation at a UN peacekeeping base has since killed 8,500 people and made 700,000 sick.

Pedro Medrano, the UN coordinator overseeing cholera response in Haiti, told AFP on Wednesday that the outbreak was "still an emergency situation."

Legislative and municipal elections have now been delayed for three years. Martelly decreed in June that they should be held October 26, but no electoral law has been passed and the election commission admits it has no time to organize them.

The mandates of a third of the senators in the 30-strong body have already expired, leaving it struggling to find a quorum, and Martelly has already imposed 120 municipal leaders on towns to replace elected councils.

Legislators and the opposition are resisting attempts to hold a vote under rules they say have been rigged by Martelly's camp, but if the terms of all 99 members of the lower house and another 10 senators expire next year, he would effectively be free to rule by decree.