What's Behind Dictator 'Baby Doc' Duvalier's Return to Haiti?

After 25 years in exile, dictator returns under mysterious circumstances.

Jan 18, 2011 — -- Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the exiled despot who mysteriously arrived in Haiti this weekend, is expected to address the country today to explain why he has returned amid cholera, destruction and political instability.

Duvalier, a former dictator exiled to France 25 years ago amid allegations of corruption and murder, returned unannounced to Haiti Sunday. His arrival is expected to further complicate an already unstable political climate, with many observers inside and out wondering why he would choose to return now amid so much chaos in the wake of last year's earthquake.

"I'm not here for politics," Duvalier told Radio Caraibes Sunday after arriving at the airport. "I'm here for the reconstruction of Haiti."

Duvalier cancelled a news conference Monday in which he was expected to explain why he chose now to leave his exile in France and what he plans to do in Haiti.

Haiti has long been the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and the very definition of a failed state, with a revolving case of dictators running the country for decades.

But with more than 1 million people left homeless after the earthquake and another 3,500 recently dead from cholera, some Haitians may be nostalgic for the stability that Duvalier brought the country; even if that reliability came with death squads and reckless corruption.

Against that backdrop, Haiti finds itself in the midst of an already problematic presidential election. Three candidates are deadlocked since a contested first round of elections in November and current President Rene Preval is accused of fixing the election.

While Preval has not commented on Duvalier's return, his office told ABC News he had the right to be in the country "like any other Haitian citizen."

Meanwhile, officials say of Duvalier's return that "this is going to backfire" and hint at an intentional "destabilization campaign."

"People are nostalgic for Duvalier. They are nostalgic for something slightly better," said author Amy Wilentz, whose book "The Rainy Season" chronicled the aftermath of Duvalier's exile.

Haitians Desperate for Stability

"Average Haitians who weren't intellectuals or political figures might be nostalgic for the life they knew under Duvalier. They knew what was up and what was down," she said. "There was law and order imposed, for better or worse."

But that law and order came with a steep price. Duvalier's Haiti came with prison camps, torture, the absence of due process and the constant threat of the dictator's paramilitary goon squad, the Tonton Macoutes.

The Macoutes -- Creole for boogeymen -- were kidnappers and killers who carried out the president's orders and used that power to intimidate even the poorest people.

"The Macoutes were like the Gestapo; not just police but abusive at every level," Wilentz said. "They abused power as taxation officers, stealing money from even the lady selling mangoes from the smallest stand in the market.

"Duvalier did not do anything for the economy. If anything, he was a break on the economy because he was so corrupt. If he wasn't stealing money directly, members of his administration were," she said.

Duvalier is accused of stealing millions of dollars and squirreling away the ill-gotten fortune in secret Swiss bank accounts.

Although Duvalier had previously been threatened with arrest if he returned, President Preval has more recently said he would be allowed to come back. There appeared to be no threat of arrest Sunday, although it remains unknown if Preval even knew Duvalier had planned to return.

When Duvalier was exiled to France in 1986, Haitians celebrated the boy-tyrant's overthrow and the end of a bloody, terror-filled regime that began under his late father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier in 1957.

Amnesty International criticized the Haitian government for allowing Duvalier to return without facing prosecution.

"The widespread and systematic human rights violations committed in Haiti during Duvalier's rule amount to crimes against humanity," the group said. "Haiti is under the obligation to prosecute him and anyone else responsible for such crimes."

ABC News Matt Gutman contributed to this report.