President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier fled to France aboard a U.S. Air Force plane today, ending 28 years of iron family rule and triggering wild celebrations that were swiftly followed by riots, looting and murder.
As news spread that the Duvalier dictatorship had ended and that a six-man military-civilian commission had taken over, a mob attacked the tomb of Jean-Claude’s father, Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier, dug out his coffin and trampled and scattered the remains.
By midday, there was anarchy in the capital. Heavy gunfire erupted in the city center as troops tried to disperse rioters by firing their automatic rifles into the air.
Thousands of people ransacked a car showroom owned by Jean-Claude’s wealthy father-in-law, dragging hundreds of cars away as troops looked on.
In numerous streets, crowds gathered around the battered bodies of men they said were members of the dreaded Tontons Macoutes secret police, who protected the Duvalier family’s power and often supplemented it with terror and Mafia-style racketeering.
Bodies in the Streets
Reporters saw almost a dozen bodies of alleged Tontons Macoutes members in the streets. Residents, saying they were overjoyed at the end of Duvalier rule, tried to take reporters to streets where there were even more bodies.
Looters took anything they could from shops and even took sticks of wood from burned-out buildings.
“I have decided to pass the destiny of the nation into the hands of the military . . . so a blood bath can be avoided for my people,” Duvalier said in a taped message broadcast on national television and radio at 7:20 a.m., almost four hours after he left the country.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Henri Namphy took charge as head of the military-civilian council, which said it will respect human rights and keep the military out of politics.
Before the rioting began, the council members were greeted by a 21-gun salute and shouts of joy when they appeared on the steps of the presidential palace. Thousands of people poured into the capital’s downtown shouting, “He flew away!” and “Down with the Macoutes, long live the army!”
Youths stood on their heads, shaking their legs in glee, while others jumped and wriggled in sheer delight as cars and pick-up trucks raced through city streets, packed with men and women waving and making V-for-victory signs.
Posters Pulled Down
Haitians celebrating Duvalier’s departure climbed on buses and pulled down posters left from a referendum last July 22, in which the government claimed that 99% of the voters approved Duvalier’s regime.
Duvalier arrived in Grenoble, in southeast France, late in the day and French government sources said he will be allowed to stay in the region until a third country agrees to grant him permanent refuge.
Diplomatic sources at first said the plan was for Duvalier to go on to Gabon, a former French colony in West Africa, but Gabon said it would not take him.
In Washington, the State Department said the Air Force plane was provided at the 34-year-old Duvalier’s request, to avoid further bloodshed. It said it is consulting with the new government about how the United States can “be helpful.”
President Reagan called Duvalier’s regime “authoritarian” and said, “We want to be of help in spreading democracy wherever we can.”
Duvalier’s flight came one week after the White House erroneously reported that he had fled the country, prompting him to declare he was “strong, as firm as a monkey’s tail.”
Asked French Asylum
U.S. Embassy spokesman Jeffrey Lite said Duvalier contacted the French Embassy on Thursday afternoon to seek temporary asylum, then met with U.S. Ambassador Clayton E. McManaway to ask for transportation.
Lite said the estimated 6,000 Americans currently in Haiti are being advised to stay indoors, even though the mood on the streets “seems to be somewhat festive.”
Duvalier drove his BMW sedan to Francois Duvalier International Airport before dawn today with his 26-year-old wife, Michele, at his side, calmly smoking a cigarette.
The eight-car motorcade of BMWs, Audis and military jeeps drove to the deserted airport watched by about 100 journalists who had come to witness the end of an era.
For several hours before, a steady procession of military vehicles had carried trunks of belongings, which were loaded onto the C-141 U.S. Air Force transport that flew Duvalier and his entourage of 23 people, including his mother, his son and two children from his wife’s previous marriage, out of the country.