Will Baby Doc's wedding change Haiti?

The ringing of wedding bells for Haitian President Jean-Claude Duvalier raises questions about his island nation's political future. Most immediate among them is how the marriage May 28 will affect the young President's relations with his mother, Simone. An ardent advocate of strong-arm tactics against Duvalier family opponents, she has been one of "Baby Doc's" closest advisers since he succeeded Francois ("Papa Doc") Duvalier as president for life nine years ago.

Sitting at her son's side during Cabinet meetings and often acting as though she were the president, Simone actively opposed his marriage to divorcee Michelle Bennett. Mrs. Bennett's former father-in-law, Alix Pasquet, led an attempted coup in 1959 that nearly toppled Simone's late husband from power.

Throughout his presidency, however, the young Duvalier gradually embraced a policy of conciliation toward opponents. To placate his mother, however, he occasionally reserved signals -- admitting openly on one occasion that he did so to "preserve family unity."

That unity has become increasingly frayed, according to Haitians close to the family, and mother and son reportedly have gotten into bitter arguments. In the past two or three years, there is little doubt that President Duvalier has moved away from his mother's influence.Still, she wields considerable power among elements in the government that were loyal to Papa Doc in the 1950s and 1960s.

While Simone becomes "first lady of the republic for life," as Jean-Claude marries, Haitian observers openly speculate that the president is likely to pay less and less attention to her wishes.

It is unlikely that Haiti at anytime soon will replace its image as a tightly run family dictatorship, but Jean-Claude's marriage does suggest that in defying his mother, he has taken a step that may eventually have major consequences for his island nation.

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