Baby Doc Duvalier trumps odds 14 years in.
Tom Tiede Duvalier fools experts PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — There was an audible groan when Jean-Claude Duvalier was installed as 'president-for-life here in 1971. Ajid small wonder. The chief executive was only 19 at the time; he was given the title title uppnuthe death of his father, the dictator Dr. Francois Duvalier. The father' had been known and feared as "Papa Doc" of Haiti. But the son seemed more like a baby in the jungle. He was an overweight and overbearing schoolboy, with no governmental governmental training, arid ' the wide assumption was that he would soon be laughed out of, or perhaps assassinated in, his new position. Wrong. Today, 14 -years later, Duvalier has confounded the odds and the experts. He is still firmly in charge of the Haitian half of Hispaniola. He remains at 34 the youngest head of state in the formally organized world, but even slowly, surely growing in office. Some claim he is growing in stature. Others/insist ttiiat,he's just getting "Stronger and more evilly entrenched. In either case, the young leader has beccme 'almost as imposing here as his late and totalitarian father; tie is the absolute sovereign of the estimated 6 million people in this long-suffering nation. He has, moreover, used the sovereignty for at least some good. Residents say Baby Doc has wrought important changes in Haiti. He has instituted a minimum wage for the eternally miserable working class, for one thing, and he has held the first municipal elections* in the country country in a quarter of a century. A U.S. Embassy executive says Duvalier has cleaned garbage garbage from the streets of Port-au- Prince. He has instituted hundreds hundreds of public works projects. He has also reduced the reign of police terror that was initiated by his father, and he has therefore- restored a degree of public composure hi the land. The embassy observer says the latter accomplishment is most significant: "The government government doesn't hav.e bogymen killing killing people anymore." Papa Doc Duvalier used secret agents known as the Tonton Macoutes to silence political opposition; Jean-Claude has replaced them with a Volunteer Police Corps. So doing, he has won a measure* of hemispheric favor. Several nations that would have nothing to do with the father, have begun to support the .son. The United States, for one, cut financial aid to Haiti in the last years of Papa Doc; it's now giving giving the young Duvalier more than $50 million per annum. , The money is not given without reservations, however. U.S. officers say they regret that Baby Doc's record is-obviously mixed. They say he's done little to relieve the shocking poverty here, for example; 4 million natives earn less than $150 a year each and the nation is, stastistically. the 21st poorest on earth. The nation is also the most politically oppressive in the Americas. Duvalier is indubitably indubitably a chip off the block in this regard. He has imposed restrictions on the news media, he has made wholesale arrests of philosophic adversaries, and he has enacted a law against criticism of the government. That law is popularly called "Shut Up or Else." It was created in 1979. The president- for-life does not allow complaints complaints against himself, his family family or his lesser authorities. People People have thus been arrested for making untoward comments; some of the victims have been thrown in the stockade and tortured. tortured. One violator is a former newspaper reporter who was rounded up in a 1980 crackdown. He says,he'was stripped of his clothes and locked away in the notorious Dessalines Prison: "They broke my thumb and they cut me all over,, so I had to promise promise allegiance; I got out by saying that I loved Baby Doc." Clearly, that's what Duvalier likes to hear. He says in inter- "views that he is idolized by the people. And he's responded by 'erecting his picture outside every government compound. He says he wants to "stand before the tribunal of history" as the person who sets Haiti on "an irreversible course to. democracy." No doubt he will be standing before the tribunal a long time. U.S. U.S. businessmen here say the ; Haitian government is the most fascist in the Caribbean. Corrup- _. tion is out of control, and _af- rogance is a high calling. "The . place is a sewer," says an^ American banker, "I can't see," how people have taken it so long." long." Neither can Baby Doc, apparently. apparently. And he has prepared accordingly. Opponents say he has secreted money into foreign bank accounts, and he keeps a get-away helicopter at the ready. He has also surrounded /' himself with armed protection, ; to be sure; security is the largest ; line item in the Haitian budget. Some people say the security is all that stands between the young Duvalier and revolution. Others say it is probably quite enough. Jean-Claude has now ruled the country for as long as,, his father did, and however he is,<-; growing in the job, fat or idealistically, no one can very well write him off anymore. Tom Tiede is a columnist for Newspaper Enterprise Enterprise Association