Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier had lived a quiet, and by all accounts pleasant, life in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, since 2011. Although the Haitian government feinted at the possibility of prosecuting him for corruption and and embezzlement during that time, the threats never amounted to much. And now they never will.
On Saturday, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier quietly died from a heart attack at the age of 63. Despite the persistent agitation of international human rights groups, he died without ever having to formally answer for his crimes.
Those crimes began in 1971, when a 19-year-old Duvalier inherited the Haitian presidency from his father, the feared Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Although Baby Doc never quite matched the elder Duvalier’s brutality, he certainly held his own. According to the group Human Rights Watch, father and son put to death some 30,000 Haitians during their combined reigns.
During some brief, desultory legal proceedings in February 2013, Jean-Claude Duvalier was asked whether “deaths and summary executions” had taken place under his reign. He replied: “Death exists in all countries. I didn’t intervene in the activities of the police.”
But those activities didn’t just stop at summary executions. Duvalier also continued his father’s practice of torturing political prisoners at Fort Dimanche, the so-called “Auschwitz of Haiti.” There, thousands of accused Communists and other prisoners were either “disappeared” or permanently mutilated as an example to other potential dissidents.
In addition to presiding over an abattoir, Baby Doc has a hard-earned reputation as one of the modern era’s preeminent kleptocrats. Transparency International’s 2004 Global Corruption Report listed Duvalier as one of the 10 most corrupt leaders of the past 20 years, a distinction which put him in the same category as Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic, Indonesia’s Mohamed Suharto, and Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko. According to the report, Duvalier may have personally embezzled somewhere between $300 million and $800 million.
He did so in a relatively short time period, as well. Duvalier the younger’s reign lasted barely a decade and a half before popular revolt forced him to forfeit the presidential palace in 1986 and abscond to a life of comfortable exile. He landed in France, where he spent 25 years before his eventual return to Haiti.