One week ago, former Haitian dictator/”president-for-life” Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti from exile in France. There’s been much speculation as to why Duvalier, the son of the infamous François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, chose this time to return. Whatever the reason, two days later he was charged with corruption by a Haitian court, though human rights organizations also want him charged for his role in the torture and death of thousands of Haitians. Duvalier, while president of Haiti, was head of a paramilitary force known as the “Tonton Macoutes,” who enforced the will of their leader and used Vodou as an element of psychological warfare against the populace.
Vodou leaders were also members, giving what came to be called the Militia of National Security Volunteers (known as MVSN, for its French acronym) an almost-religious aura. Opponents were killed in the night and their bodies were often placed on public display. “The Duvaliers are estimated to have ordered the deaths of between twenty and thirty thousand Haitian civilians,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement this week.
Employing vodou leaders and illiterate peasants was integral to the Duvalier’s method of overseeing the torture and murder of political opponents and robbed public funds, biographer Elizabeth Abbott writes in Foreign Policy. “Duvalier’s genius lay in how he designed their hierarchical structure, chose their (usually humble) social origins, and included priests (voodoon and Christian) and rural section chiefs who ruled their fiefdoms with iron fists and reported personally to him any subversive activity or even thought.”
Despite this, some Haitians, including Vodouisants, have welcomed the return of Duvalier, seeing his family’s reign as a time of relative stability, and preferable to the policies of left-leaning president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (currently in exile) and his supporters. That number may include Max Beauvoir, the appointed “supreme master” of a coalition of Haitian houngans, who has been linked to Baby Doc by the New York Times.
“Voodoo and politics have long been intertwined in Haiti, with some past leaders reaching out to voodooists as a way of burnishing their populist credentials. Beauvoir has himself been linked with François Duvalier, or Baby Doc, the dictator who fled the country in 1986 after a popular uprising against him. And Beauvoir opposed Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s rule, becoming a hated figure among loyalists of the former Catholic priest.”
So the return of Duvalier has introduced a new element of instability in an already unstable situation. Dredging up a past that is still fresh for many Haitians. Into this morass comes conservative Libertarian politician Bob Barr, who is now acting as the former dictator’s “voice to the world.”
“Now, with Duvalier once again seeking to become a public figure in Haiti, he is working to rebuild his public image in the eyes of both Haitians and the international community. In order to do this, he has enlisted the help of numerous U.S. attorneys, including none other than former Libertarian Party presidential candidate and Clinton impeachment champion former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA). Barr will serve as the former dictator’s “voice to the world,” and he told CNN that he plans to bring Duvalier’s “message of hope to the world“ [...] One has to wonder how Barr — who ran for president in 2008 to “deliver a refreshing message of liberty” — can reconcile his supposed right-libertarian beliefs with being on the payroll of a notorious autocrat who shut down elections and the free press and tortured nonviolent dissidents.”
Barr is a known quantity to many in the modern Pagan community for his 1999 campaign to have Wiccans banned from military service. A stance he (somewhat) recanted in 2008 when running for president on the Libertarian party ticket, only to re-embrace it once he longer had to curry political favor.
“… if I were in the Air Force and was being commanded by an officer who practices hedonism as a religion (another part of the definition of “pagan”), and who dances around a circle of stones in the woods carrying a lighted candle, I would be more than a little worried about following him into battle.”
So it seems that Pagans serving in (and receiving fair accommodation from) the United States military is something he doesn’t like, but acting as an ambassador for an ousted ruler who happily employed practitioners of Vodou in a paramilitary organization that terrorized Haiti is just fine. As for the well-documented crimes against humanity and his country perpetrated by Duvalier, they are, according to Barr, mere “allegations.”
Barr, who represented Georgia’s 7th District from 1995 to 2003, and was the Libertarian Party’s 2008 presidential nominee, said Saturday that the allegations against Duvalier are just that. “I deal with allegations all the time,” he said. “They are the cheapest commodity on the market.”
What we are witnessing is a desperate PR campaign by a fallen dictator, one who is already cynically manipulating an already desperate people. Whether Duvalier came of his own accord, or was manipulated into place by the Haitian government or the international community, few can determine what the results of introducing this wild card may be. However this goes, his presence does not signal the salvation of any community in Haiti, certainly not those who practice Vodou, and his alliance with Barr should raise many troubling questions as to how this came about and who exactly benefits.