In 1986, CBS aired a piece by Ed Bradley on the fall of Haiti’s “President-for-Life,” Jean-Claude Duvalier.
“Baby Doc,” who ruled Haiti from 1971 until 1986, was probably the first leader in world history to be overthrown by a popular uprising triggered by his mulatto wife, Michèle Bennett, the First Lady of Haiti, who went on a whirlwind shopping spree at designer shops in New York, London, and Paris where she requested and spent $1.7 million dollars from the Haitian treasury on fancy outfits:
“She would buy truckloads of dresses from Valentino. She had Boucheron, the Paris jeweler, fly to Haiti to sell jewels to her—not $200,000 worth but millions, millions,” says a Haitian socialite. Another friend tells of buying dozens of pairs of $500 Susan Bennis Warren Edwards shoes for Michèle during a shopping foray on Park Avenue. “She wore earrings that looked like lanterns,” says Suzanne Seitz, a Port-au-Prince hotel owner.”
An acquaintance of her interior decorator reports, “She once saw a rare Louis XV chandelier and insisted on having several. She got 12.” Others talk of a $50,000-a-month flower order from Miami to decorate the palace and the President’s four villas.”
Bennett had a $75,000 refrigerated room installed in the National Palace to preserve in a tropical environment the fur coats she bought in Europe.
In 1980, the Duvaliers spent $3 million dollars on their lavish wedding which was televised live across Haiti to a population living on less than $200 a year. $100,000 was spent on the fireworks alone. Michèle imported a Givenchy gown and a hairdresser from Paris for the ceremony. It entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive wedding ever held.
Under “Baby Doc,” rail transport ceased to operate in Haiti:
“In the 1910s, Haiti had built at great expense a railroad intended to link Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien. The line was never completed, but three sections provided service in the plains. The regime ordered the line dismantled between Port-au-Prince and Verrettes, sold the tracks, and pocketed the money. The bank accounts of well-connected cronies grew by a few hundred thousand dollars; meanwhile, Haiti’s transportation network moved back half a century.” (Philippe Gerard, Haiti: The Tumultuous History – From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, p.112)
In Haiti, only about 12.5 percent of the population has access to electricity. In rural areas, Haitians depend upon charcoal for light, heat, and cooking – charcoal which is produced by cutting down trees, which is why 97 percent of Haiti is deforested. This is one of the many legacies of The Duvalierest Revolution:
“Bébé Doc, who still did not understand in the 1970s what Roumain had foreseen in the 1940s, did nothing to address this environmental catastrophe. Deforestation, fueled by a dual dynamic, reached an alarming rate under his rule. Overpopulation forced young farmers to clear ever more lands, even those substandard plots on Haiti’s steep hills; meanwhile, poverty pushed peasants to cut down trees and sell the charcoal that was Haiti’s favorite source of energy. The drought-ridden Northwest first experienced the full consequences of deforestation. After the last trees were cut, the soil turned to a baked crust under the brutal sun; rain became ever rarer, for clouds rarely formed over the deserted countryside; when a tropical downpour finally came, it washed away the rich topsoil that was no longer held together by roots. Within years, the Northwest became a desolate landscape of rocky outcrops led bare by water erosion. Other, more prosperous regions would follow suit a few years later.” (Philippe Gerard, Haiti: The Tumultuous History – From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, p.110)
In spite of “the legacy of slavery,” 88 percent of the population in the Dominican Republic has access to electricity, 92 percent of the population in Jamaica, 97 percent of the population in Cuba, 100 percent of the population in Puerto Rico, and 93 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole.
“Before they fled the country they had plundered and brutalized, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, 34, Haiti’s shy and weak-willed “President-for-Life,” and Michèle Bennett Duvalier, 35, his beautiful and flamboyant wife, threw one last party. They invited their closest friends to the elegant white National Palace for a final midnight champagne toast, and then hopped into a BMW for a ride to the airport that was named after Baby Doc’s father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, the notorious dictator who had ruled with voodoo and violence for 14 years before his death in 1971. At the airport the Duvaliers drove through a gauntlet of photographers. Baby Doc, at the wheel, was characteristically impassive, but Michèle, wearing a chic white turban, flicked the cigarette she held in her long fingers and exhaled theatrically for the paparazzi. And then, after a perfunctory ceremony, they stepped aboard a U.S. Air Force C-141 cargo plane and flew to France.”
Jean-Claude and Michèle fled to live a life in exile in the French Riveria where they had stashed anywhere between $300 to $800 million dollars:
“Duvalier reportedly had a residence outside Paris, a villa on the French Riviera, speedboats, and sports cars in his first years in France. The Wall Street Journal, in a 2003 article that interviews a – by then – down-and-out Duvalier, details the lavish life that he lived until losing much of his fortune in a 1993 divorce to his wife, Michele. “Home was a villa in Mougins in the hills above Cannes. He and his family drove through the French Riviera in a BMW and a Ferrari Testarossa and shopped at expensive boutiques. They owned a chateau outside Paris and two apartments in the city.”
In 1993, the happy couple divorced and Michèle, one of the biggest gold diggers in world history, took Jean-Claude for all he was worth. In 2011, “Baby Doc” returned to Haiti to assist the reconstruction effort following the 2010 earthquake.