Haiti arrests linked to power struggle between Duvalier and mother

Behind the current wave of arrests and the closing of four radio stations in Haiti lies a continuing power struggle between President Jean-Claude Duvalier and his mother, Simone.

Ever since the young Duvalier became Haiti's president for life almost 10 years ago upon the passing of his father, Francois Duvalier, there has been tension between mother and son. Mrs. Duvalier has not been happy over her son's efforts to relax the autocratic rule he inherited from his father. The tension was heightened earlier this year when President Duvalier married against Simone's wishes.

For Haitians loyal to the memory of the father, there has been a natural tendency to side with Simone against the younger Duvalier. But with improving economic conditions and other positive factors through most of the 1970s, Jean-Claude Duvalier was able to resist their pressures.

But the economy has suffered serious losses in recent months, including a shortage of foreign exchange, and the plight of the Haitian "boat people" fleeing the island for economic reasons has left the Duvalier government weakened. There even have been rumors of a coup against the President -- ostensibly to be led by people who regard Simone the truer heir to her husband.

Haitian observers say the arrests taking place on the Caribbean island nation were ordered by Port-au-Prince police chief Jean Valme, a former close associate of President Duvalier's father and now a confidant of Mrs. Duvalier. He went on radio Dec. 1 and said that "all those arrested are communists."

At least 40 Haitians were jailed over the weekend. They include Gregoire Eugene, leader of the Christian Social Democratic Party; Lafontant Joseph, secretary of the Haitian League for Human Rights; and most of Haiti's leading journalists.

The arrests began late Nov. 28 with the disappearance of Jean Dominique, director of Radio Haiti-Inter, the island's leading radio station. He was later said to be in Desallines Barracks behind the presidential palace. Richard Brisson, the station manager, was taken to the barracks Nov. 29.

The roundup was the largest since the days of Francois Duvalier. The younger Duvalier has not made any public pronouncements since the arrests began. But a spokesman said he would have something to say "in the next day or so." He was last seen publicly at a fair in Cap Haitien a week ago.

With his bride, Michele, President Duvalier has traveled around the island since their wedding. They have talked of improving social and economic conditions for their fellow Haitians. Such comments, however, have been roundly criticized by Haitians loyal to President Duvalier's father.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.