Haitians wonder which advisers will have Duvalier's ear
Francois Duvalier International Airport, Haiti — The somewhat portly young man was nattily dressed in a double-breasted light blue suit. The young woman at his right side could easily have passed as a fashion model, dressed in an off-white linen suit with a light red Paris scarf tied loosely around her neck.
They made a handsome couple as they gingerly stepped over and around construction materials at a new passenger facility being built at Francois Duvalier International Airport.
From the crowd of watching workmen, there were mumurings of appreciation that their visitors had come and were spending about 15 minutes at the site.
"Jean-Claude, he a good man," said one in flavorful Englist to several obvious foreigners in the crowd. "And his wife is real beauty."
A day later, the workmen were still talking approvingly about their visitors -- Haitian President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier and his wife, Michele, whom he married May 28.
In the six weeks since the glittering $2 million wedding, Jean-Claude and Michele have flitted about their impoverished land, turning up surprising at meetings, in market places and just about anywhere that Haitians are gathered. And they are getting approving glances and words most everywhere.
There are certainly many Haitians who look on their Jean-Claude and his rule with disdain -- recalling that his succession to the presidency was designed by his late father, Francois, who like seven other Haitians presidents of the past had styled himself "president-for-life." But at the moment, their dislike of the arrangement is subordinated to tremendous speculation here on the role of Michele, not only in Jean-Claude's life, but also in the gleaming white presidential palace here, which, during the nine year's of Jean-Claude's rule, has been dominated by his willful mother, Simone.
She has sat at his right side during Cabinet meetings. She has been with him on tours around the country. She has been seen as his closest confidant. But in the wake of his marriage to Michele Bennett, a divorcee whom Jean-Claude had known since both were in high school a decade ago, Simone has been less evident and her influence appears to be in eclipse.
"My woman," says Jean-Claude, "goes at my right side." The symbolism is obvious -- Michele will be at his right, usurping the place of his mother.
The Duvalier wedding was one of the most glittering events this capital city had ever seen. It cost perhaps $2 million, and while some Haitians in this poorest of Latin American countries question such an expenditure, the event in the view of longtime observers was enthusiastically received by a majority of Haitians.
The wedding itself took place in the Metropolitan Roman Catholic Cathedral. It posed no particular religious problem over Michele's divorce from Port-au-Prince businessman Alix Pasquet because they had been married not in a Roman Catholic ceremony, but in an Episcopalian service.
"There appears little doubt that, by appearing so frequently with Michele at his side, Jean-Claude is making every effort to let Haitians know that she is now his closest confidant," says a Cabinet member, wishing to remain anonymous.
"Mrs. Simone dulavier has been named "first lady" of the republic, and I am sure Jean-Claude expects that to be symbolic, but Simone may have other things in mind. She never approved of the marriage, and in her eyes Jean-Claude was very much a selfwilled son to defy her in this regard.
"but anyone who knows Jean-Claude knows he has a mind of his own. He would acquiese to his mother's views on many issues just to keep peace, but now things are going to be different."
Part of that difference is the series of visits that he and Michele are making -- the stop at the new American Airlines passenger facility at Francois Duvalier Airport being merely one of many examples.