The imported granite was smashed. The giant cupola was toppled. The grave of François Duvalier, the longtime dictator, is a wreck, much like the country he left behind. But Victor Planess, who works at the National Cemetery here, has a soft spot for Mr. Duvalier, the man known as Papa Doc. Standing graveside the other day, Mr. Planess reminisced about what he considered the good old days of Mr. Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, who together ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1986.
“I’d rather have Papa Doc here than all those guys,” Mr. Planess said, gesturing toward the presidential palace down the street. “I would have had a better life if they were still around.”
Mr. Planess, 53, who complains that hunger has become so much a part of his life that his stomach does not even growl anymore, is not alone in his nostalgia for Haiti’s dictatorial past. Other Haitians speak longingly of the security that existed then as well as the lack of garbage in the streets, the lower food prices and the scholarships for overseas study. Haiti may have made significant strides since President René Préval, elected in 2006, became the latest leader to pass through the revolving door of Haitian politics. But the changes he has pushed have been incremental, not fast enough for many down-and-out Haitians.
“It’s time to show people that democracy is not just about voting but changing their real lives,” said Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis, who survived a no-confidence vote in February pushed by critics of his handling of the economy.
Jean-Claude Duvalier, now in exile in France, sought recently to take advantage of the discontent by raising the possibility of a return to Haiti. In a radio address in September, he offered a tentative apology for his acts, saying, “If, during my presidential mandate, the government caused any physical, moral or economic wrongs to others, I solemnly take the historical responsibility.” Mr. Duvalier’s remarks, in which he also asked for “forgiveness from the people,” together with the nostalgia one hears on the streets of Port-au-Prince, the capital, these days provoke fury among present-day leaders. They say they cannot believe that Mr. Duvalier’s National Unity Party is attracting followers, and that a giant photograph of the elder Mr. Duvalier hangs from the party’s headquarters.
They wonder who is buying copies of a sympathetic new book about François Duvalier called “The Misunderstood” by Jean-Claude Duvalier’s former information minister, Rony Gilot.