For nearly three decades, the Duvalier family reigned over the nation of Haiti, which came at the expense of several thousand lives and others being forced into exile. On this day in 1986, Haiti’s president Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled to France with his wife to avoid a military coup.
From 1957 to 1971, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier ruled Haiti under the mysterious guise of framing himself as a voodoo deity. The elder Duvalier’s iron hand and secret police force, the Tontons Macoutes, executed anyone who dared oppose him and delivered on none of the promises to help the poor. Further, Papa Doc squeezed funds from local businesses without proper approval.
After the death of his father in 1971, Doc became president at just 19 years of age. A reluctant leader, the younger Duvalier delegated power to his sister, his mother, and others who were better suited for leadership while he lived the playboy life. Like his father, the concerns of the Haitian poor never became a priority and he became just as vilified.
As the country continued to spiral into deeper poverty, becoming the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere under his rule, Duvalier lived the high life and did not change the harmful policies that kept the country in ruin. In 1980, Duvalier married Michelle Bennett in a lavish $2 million wedding in the United States.
The First Lady herself became an infamous figure with her furs and big spending, often speaking in place of her husband during meetings as he paid little attention.
The United States enjoyed a relationship with Haiti due to shared anti-communist ideology, but President Ronald Reagan was forced to advise the leader to resign when a coup was imminent. Duvalier’s family fled on a U.S. Air Force cargo plane to France under reported gunfire and continued their lavish lifestyle in exile. The pair split in 1990 and divorced in 1993, leaving Duvalier essentially broke. He returned home in 2011 and faced jail time due to corruption and misuse of state funds under his 15-year rule.
Duvalier managed to evade both jail and harm in his return, but died in the 2014 at the age of 63 from a heart attack.
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