PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti (CBS4) – A judge will decide whether former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier will be tried on charges that include corruption and embezzlement for allegedly pilfering the treasury before his 1986 ouster, a lawyer for the ex-strongman said Tuesday.
A judge questioned the former dictator known as “Baby Doc” in an hours-long, closed-door court session, defense attorney Gervais Charles said. The decision to move toward a trial makes clear that whatever Duvalier’s reasons were for returning to Haiti on Sunday, the government is poised to take the opportunity to seek justice for his 15-year regime, widely regarded as brutal and corrupt.
Charles said the case is now in the hands of a judge of instruction who will decide whether there is enough evidence to go to trial, a process that can take up to three months.
At a small meeting in Little Haiti Tuesday night, Haitian-Americans sang the Haitian national anthem proudly hoping the Judge will find enough evidence to try Duvalier. Haitian-American, and North Miami Council Member Jean Marcellus told CBS4’s Natalia Zea he hopes to see Duvalier behind bars.
“He should be brought to justice for what he’s done to the Haitian people. All the killing, the mass killing, and the stealing.”
And local Haitians have theories on why Duvalier showed up in Haiti in the first place.
“Maybe tomorrow people put him in the White House to say Jean Claude should be president. That’s why people are so mad,” said Yanin Jolique.
Marcellus thinks outgoing President Rene Preval brought Duvalier in to distract the public.
“We might say hey, just for the distractions of the elections that are going on, that Preval has a problem with…Preval is against the wall with the elections. That is probably the main reason (Duvalier) came to Haiti,” he told Zea.
Flanked by police, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was taken into custody Tuesday morning at his hotel room in Petionville.
Around 10 a.m. a judge and a chief prosecutor arrived at the Karibe hotel flanked by armed guards. The judge refused to say if he had an arrest warrant as he entered the hotel. Forty minutes later attorney Reynold Georges arrived at the Karibe and said Gervais Charles is expected to represent Duvalier.
After spending much of the day in court Duvalier left amidst word that he will not face detention during the inquiry.
Henry Robert Sterlin, a former ambassador under Duvalier who has said in recent days that he was speaking as a spokesman for the former dictator, told reporters at the scene he was shocked by the developments.\
“Let’s see if they put him in prison,” he said.
None of the officials present would comment on what was being discussed at the meeting. Asked by journalists why he was going to meet Duvalier, Judge Gabriel Amboisse said, “I’m here to assist the prosecutor because he asked me to be here with him.”
When asked by journalists if he had been arrested, his longtime companion Veronique Roy, laughed and said, “Absolutely not.”
Shortly before noon Duvalier was escorted out of the hotel by police; he was not in handcuffs and didn’t talk to reporters. A senate candidate said Duvalier was taken to court in Port au Prince.
Duvalier and his late father, former dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, were known for torturing and killing political opponents and maintaining a brutal secret police force. After being forced out of Haiti, Duvalier has lived in exile in France for the last 25 years. While Duvalier has not publically given a reason for his return, in the past he has offered his services to help resolve Haiti’s problems.
While both the U.S. and Canada have denounced his return, Haiti’s government has remained relative quite on it; instead they say the focus should be on who will replace President Rene Preval who is nearing the end of his five year term.
Election results have been hotly, sometime violently, contested and both Preval and Prim Minister Jean-Max Bellerive have disputed the Organization of American States report which will be given to the Provisional Electoral Council which will determine which candidates will face off in a final election.
While Duvalier still holds some support amongst a faction in Haiti, many Haitian-Americans living in South Florida say he should be held accountable for his crimes.
“Those of us who grew up in the era of the dictatorship, we still remember those nights, we still remember those shootings,” said Haitian activist Jean LaFortune in Miami.
Many Haitian-American activists say one of their greatest fears is that Duvalier’s return will lead to a civil war in a country already caught in the grip of political turmoil and still dealing with the aftermath of last year’s devastating earthquake.
Haitian Activist Marleine Bastien said denying that justice would be a travesty.
“I would be gravely disappointed for the people who have been waiting for so long for justice,” Bastien said. “We do know that Haiti’s stability depends on how well we carry out justice.”
(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)