Omaj pou Ayiti

Duvalierism For Haitians Today

Behind the cash register at O’Brasileiro in Pétionville, the wealthy town that lies above the wreckage of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, a peculiar item is wedged, hidden from the view of the diners and drinkers. It’s a color photograph of Jean-Claude Duvalier and his grown son, Nicolas, relaxing at a table not long after they returned from twenty-five years in French exile, with O’Brasileiro’s owner behind them, leaning proprietarily on the backs of their chairs. Everyone in the picture is beaming. Happy days, apparently.

Usually, such pictures hang on a restaurant’s wall. Not this one. This one—well, you have to know it’s there to have a chance to see it, and it is brought out by the staff reluctantly. One wonders what moment the restaurant’s owner is waiting for before he puts the picture on the wall. Or does he keep it where it is only so that when Duvalier himself stops by, it can be rushed into a place of honor? At any rate, the restaurant keeps this piece of history in reserve; yet simply having it is shameful.

This is what Duvalierism is for Haitians today. A piece of their history that might rise resurgent at any moment, but that for the time being must be kept under embarrassed wraps.

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