Support Marketplace

The money trail in Haiti

Marjorie Valbrun

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: A lot of expatriates, no matter how long they've been away, watch the news from home pretty closely. For Saudis in London, it's whether promises of economic and political reform will become reality.

That's a familiar feeling for commentator Marjorie Valbrun. She's been away from Haiti for 20 years, but she still waits and watches.


Marjorie Valbrun: February 7, 1986. That day is etched in my memory. I was in New York City and I watched on television as Jean-Claude Duvalier and his wife left Haiti and went into exile in France. Duvalier's downfall had never seemed possible to me. I was born in Haiti during the presidency of his father and moved to the U.S. as a child when our family fled his brutal dictatorship. After his father died, Jean-Claude was named president for life.

Theirs was a time marked by political killings and disappearances, and a stunning level of corruption.

After Jean-Claude's exit, Haitians believed a better Haiti was on the horizon. But Duvalier was followed by one tyrant after another. The first democratically elected president was toppled in a bloody military coup after just nine months in office. Haiti has been unstable ever since. Most Haitians are jobless and live on less than $2 a day. The country relies heavily on some $1.2 billion sent home each year by Haitians living abroad. Last year's earthquake was a major blow to the fragile economy. A deadly cholera epidemic now claims hundreds of lives each week.

Then in January, Duvalier returned to Haiti. He said he came to help his weary countrymen, but I see a more selfish motive: money. Duvalier is broke even though he's accused of having looted more than $300 million from the Haitian treasury.

He has been trying for years to access a frozen Swiss bank account -- estimated at $6 million -- that belonged to his late mother. Going to Haiti was part of that effort. I believe the money should be returned to Haiti. It now seems unlikely Duvalier will get the $6 million. That's the way it should be.

For the one million Haitians like me who fled the Duvaliers, and for the millions more who stayed and suffered in Haiti, having the money returned would be a small, but symbolic victory for a people who were robbed of much, much more.

Ryssdal: Marjorie Valbrun is a writer and journalist. You can write to us and share your comments.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...