Duvaliers fleeing Haiti on 7 February 1986
|First Lady of Haiti|
27 May 1980 – 7 February 1986
|Preceded by||Simone Duvalier|
|Succeeded by||Gabrielle Namphy|
15 January 1950 |
Michèle Bennett (born 15 January 1950) is the former First Lady of Haiti and the ex‑wife of former President for Life of Haiti, Jean‑Claude Duvalier. They fled to France together when he resigned in 1986; they divorced in 1990.
Michèle Bennett was born in Port‑au‑Prince, Haiti, in 1950, the daughter of Aurore ( Ligondé) and Ernest Bennett, a Haitian businessman and descendant of King Henry I of Haiti. Her father owned more than 50,000 acres (20,000 ha) of land, growing mostly coffee, and employing 1,600 estate workers in addition to 900 more in his business. Her uncle was Haiti's Roman Catholic Archbishop Monsignor François‑Wolff Ligondé. The Bennetts are light‑skinned mulattoes (of mixed race) from a largely black country.
At 15, Bennett moved to rural New York state, where she was educated at St. Mary's School in Peekskill. She went on to work as a secretary at a slipper company in New York City’s Garment District. In 1973, she married Alix Pasquet, Jr., the son of Captain Alix Pasquet, a well known mulatto officer and Tuskegee Airman who in 1958 led a coup attempt against François Duvalier. By Pasquet she had two children, Alix, III and Sacha. After her 1978 divorce from Pasquet, she had a career in public relations for Habitation LeClerc, an upscale hotel in Port‑au‑Prince.
Although Bennett met Jean‑Claude Duvalier in high school, the pair did not become romantically engaged until ten years later. In 1980, Bennett married President Duvalier. Their wedding, Haiti's social event of the decade, cost an unprecedented US$ 2 million and was received enthusiastically by the majority of Haitians. Mrs. Duvalier at first endeared herself to the population by distributing clothes and food to the needy as well as opening several medical clinics and schools for the poor. In the six weeks following the wedding, Michèle and Jean‑Claude toured Haiti, turning up unannounced at meetings, marketplaces, and other gathering places, which garnered “approving glances and words most everywhere”. On a visit to Haiti, Mother Teresa remarked that she had “never seen the poor people being so familiar with their head of state as they were with [Michèle]”. With Jean‑Claude, Michèle had her third and fourth children: Nicolas and Anya.
The marriage represented a symbolic alliance with the mulatto elite—the very families Jean‑Claude’s father had opposed. This resulted in her husband's mother, Simone Duvalier, who opposed the match, being sidelined politically, which in turn created new factional alliances within the ruling group since the Duvalierist Old Guard opined that the new First Lady's power appeared to exceed her husband's. While Jean‑Claude often dozed through Cabinet meetings, his wife, frustrated at his political ineptitude, reprimanded ministers herself.
Criticism of regime
Accusations of or associations with corruption plagued the Duvalier–Bennett marriage. Michèle's father, Ernest Bennett, took advantage of his presidential connection to extend interests into his businesses, from his BMW dealership, to his coffee and cocoa export concerns, to Air Haiti, in whose planes Bennett was rumored to be transporting drugs. In 1982, Frantz Bennett, Michèle's brother, was arrested in Puerto Rico for drug trafficking, and began a three‑year jail term.
Mrs. Duvalier's family amassed wealth during the later part of Jean‑Claude’s dictatorship. By the end of his fifteen‑year rule, Duvalier and his wife had become famous for their corruption. The National Palace became the scene of opulent costume parties, where the young President once appeared dressed as a Turkish sultan to dole out ten‑thousand‑dollar jewels as door prizes.
While on a visit to Haiti in 1983, Pope John Paul II declared that “things must change in Haiti”, and he called on “all those who have power, riches and culture so that they can understand the serious and urgent responsibility to help their brothers and sisters”. Popular uprising against the regime began soon after that. Duvalier responded with a 10% reduction in staple food prices, the closing of independent radio stations, a cabinet reshuffle, and a crackdown by police and army units, but these moves failed to dampen the momentum of the popular uprising. Jean‑Claude’s wife and advisers urged him to put down the rebellion in order to remain in office. In response to widening opposition to 28 years of Duvalier rule, on 7 February 1986, the Duvaliers fled the rioting country in an American plane accompanied by 19 other people.
The governments of Greece, Spain, Switzerland, Gabon and Morocco all refused the Duvalier family's requests for asylum. France agreed to give the Duvaliers temporary entry but also denied them asylum. Soon after their arrival in France, their home was raided as part of an investigation into pillaging Haiti’s treasury. They found her trying to flush documentation down a toilet. Her papers documented recent spending including US$ 168,780 for Givenchy clothing, US$ 270,200 for Boucheron jewelry and US$ 9,752 for two children's horse saddles at Hermès. In 1987, a French civil court dismissed Haiti’s lawsuit against the Duvaliers, which sought to have the Duvaliers held responsible to repay money to Haiti.
In 1990, Jean‑Claude Duvalier filed for divorce from Bennett in the Dominican Republic, accusing her of immoral acts. Bennett, who was living with another man in Cannes at the time, contested the decision, flying to the Dominican Republic to obtain a reversal before her husband prevailed in a third court. She was awarded alimony and child support.
In the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Bennett returned to Haiti and joined a search‑and‑rescue team to look for her brother Rudy Bennett in the rubble of the Hôtel Montana. Bennett returned to Haiti for Jean‑Claude Duvalier's funeral on 11 October 2014. She attended with her two children from their marriage, at a chapel on the grounds of the Saint‑Louis de Gonzague school in the Delmas district of Port‑au‑Prince.
- Abbott, Elizabeth (2011). "Jean‑Claude and Michèle, Honeymoon". Haiti: A Shattered Nation. Rev. and updated from Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy (1988). New York: The Overlook Press. p. 185. ASIN B013JQLXKW. ISBN 978-1-59020-989-9. LCCN 2013496344. OCLC 859201061. OL 25772018M.
On January 15, her birthday, Michèle announced the creation of the Michèle B. Duvalier Foundation, which would build clinics, orphanages, schools, and a hospital.
- "Duvalier’s wife claims full partnership". Ottawa Citizen. 4 January 1986.
- Cloutier, Jean‑Pierre (18 May 1997) [1st pub. 1986 in the Haiti Times]. "C‑141 Passenger List". The Haitian Files. Archived from the original on 22 October 2014.
When former President Jean‑Claude Duvalier flew away on the United States Air Force C‑141 jet in the night of February 7 , he was accompanied by 20 other persons. We have been able to obtain the list of passengers on the night flight.
- "Divorced for Life". The New York Times. 24 June 1990. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 25 May 2015.
From their home in France, Mr. Duvalier filed for divorce in the Dominican Republic, accusing his wife of immoral acts. . . . The divorce was granted [in October 1989], but [Bennett] contested the decision, flying to the Dominican Republic to obtain a reversal before her husband prevailed in a third court. . . . [Bennett] is [as of 1990[update]] living with another man in Cannes, according to a report in Le Figaro, and she was awarded alimony and child support.
- Roumain, Maryse Noël (2013). "‘Bébé Doc’ devient président. (1971–1986)". Haïti : Une Transition Bloquée [Haiti: A Blocked Transition] (in French). Xlibris Corporation. p. 18. ASIN B00DMZ5N6Q. ISBN 978-1-4836-4996-2.
Michèle Bennett était la fille d’un exportateur de café et homme d’affaires mulâtre [Ernest] Bennett. Elle était la divorcée d’Alix Pasquet [Jr.], fils d’une famille mulâtre ayant participé à une tentative de renverser Duvalier‑Père. Elle était aussi la fille d’Aurore Ligondé, sœur de Monseigneur Ligondé, grand duvaliériste.
- Hall, Michael R. (2012). Woronoff, Jon, ed. Historical Dictionary of Haiti. Historical Dictionaries of the Americas. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 38. ASIN B007P5WH5O. ISBN 978-0-8108-7549-4. LCCN 2011035933. OCLC 751922123. OL 25025684M.
Born in 1950 in Port‑au‑Prince, she is the light‑skinned daughter of Ernest Bennett (1926–2008), a mulatto businessman who was a descendant of Henri Christophe. As such, she is Christophe’s great‑great‑great‑granddaughter.
- Vine, Brian (5 July 1981). "In Opulent Cocoon, Haiti’s First Lady Talks of Poverty". The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Florida). ISSN 1528-5758.
- Reding, Andrew (2004). "Democracy and Human Rights in Haiti" (PDF). World Policy Reports. New York: World Policy Institute. pp. 93, 115. Archived (PDF) from the original on 12 September 2015.
- "Haiti today: tranquility on the abyss". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). 30 November 1981.
- Danner, Mark (11 December 1989). "Beyond the Mountains (Part III)". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 31 December 2014.
- Carlson, Peter; Cornell, Barbara; Sellinger, Margie Bonnett; Sindayen, Nelly; Wilhelm, Maria (3 March 1986). "Dragon Ladies Under Siege: While Their Countries Suffer From Poverty Imelda Marcos and Michèle Duvalier Live In Luxury". People. Vol. 25 no. 9. ISSN 0093-7673. Archived from the original on 22 June 2015.
- Goodsell, James Nelson (15 July 1980). "Haitians wonder which advisers will have Duvalier's ear". The Christian Science Monitor (Boston). ISSN 0882-7729. Archived from the original on 28 September 2015.
- Aikman, David (2002). "Mother Teresa: Compassion". Great Souls: Six who Changed the Century. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. p. 243. ISBN 978-0-7391-0438-5. LCCN 97-32773. OCLC 51524834. OL 7913209M.
- Stumbo, Bella (17 December 1985). "Powerful, Chic First Lady Generous to Poor, Herself: Haiti’s ‘Baby Doc’ Governs in Isolation". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Archived from the original on 2 November 2015.
- "‘First Lady of Haiti’: Baby Doc’s Bride Wins Power". Observer–Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania). Associated Press. 16 April 1981.
- Moody, John; Brelis, Dean; Diederich, Bernard (10 February 1986). "Haiti Bad Times for Baby Doc: As violent protests grow, a besieged dictator imposes martial law". Time. Vol. 127 no. 6. ISSN 0040-781X. Archived from the original on 30 March 2009.
While Jean‑Claude sometimes dozes through Cabinet meetings, his wife scolds ministers.
- Treaster, Joseph B. (14 June 1986). "U.S. Officials Link Duvalier Father‑in‑Law to Cocaine Trade". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 28 July 2015.
- "‘Things in Haiti must change,’ pope tells Duvalier". The Spokesman–Review (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. 10 March 1983. p. 15. ISSN 1064-7317.
The Roman Catholic pontiff responded with a stern lecture to the island country’s tiny moneyed elite, telling the 31‑year‑old president‑for‑life of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, ‘Things must change in Haiti.’ . . . ‘I call on all those who have power, riches and culture so that they can understand the serious and urgent responsibility to help their brothers and sisters,’ [Pope John Paul II] said.
- Wolff, Christine (12 June 1986). "Baby Doc to Walters: ‘Did best I could’". The Miami News. p. 4A.
- Moody, John; Brelis, Dean; Diederich, Bernard (17 February 1986). "Haiti End of the Duvalier Era". Time. Vol. 127 no. 7. ISSN 0040-781X. Archived from the original on 23 May 2010.
. . . the Greek, Spanish and Swiss governments had all rebuffed the Duvalier family’s requests for asylum. Two African countries, Gabon and Morocco, also said Duvalier would not be welcome. . . . Meanwhile, France had agreed to give Duvalier’s entourage temporary entry, while making it clear that permanent exile in the country was out of the question.
- Valbrun, Marjorie (16 April 2003). "A‑hed: Exile in France Takes Toll On Ex‑Tyrant ‘Baby Doc’". The Wall Street Journal (New York). ISSN 0099-9660. Archived from the original on 10 September 2015.
As part of an investigation into the looting allegations, authorities raided the villa Mr. Duvalier and his wife rented in [the town of] Mougins shortly after they arrived in France. The authorities say they caught Mrs. Duvalier trying to flush a notebook down the toilet. It logged recent spending – $168,780 for clothes at Givenchy, $270,200 for jewelry at Boucheron, $9,752 for two children’s horse saddles at [Hermès], $68,500 for a clock, [and] $13,000 for a week in a Paris hotel. . . . Mr. Duvalier’s former wife, [Michèle] Bennett, 53, who [as of 2003[update]] uses her family name, declined to respond to written questions posed to her through Sauveur Vaisse, a longtime Duvalier attorney in France.
- Randal, Jonathan C. (24 June 1987). "Haiti Loses Lawsuit Against Duvalier". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on 3 November 2015.
A French court today threw out Haiti’s request to force deposed president Jean‑Claude Duvalier to reimburse [US$ 120 million] that the new government said he looted from his poverty‑stricken Caribbean nation during 15 years in power. . . . The civil court in Grasse [France], near the Riviera, said it was unqualified to judge the case on technical grounds and suggested the Haitian government should have first brought suit against Duvalier in the Haitian Supreme Court.
- Sontag, Deborah; Lacey, Marc (14 February 2010). "Haiti Emerges From Its Shock, and Tears Roll". The New York Times. p. A1. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
In Haitian society, Rudy Bennett, 57, was a somebody, a prominent businessman and the younger brother of [Michèle] Bennett, the former first lady and ex‑wife of Jean‑Claude Duvalier. But his death got little notice here . . .
- Sanon, Evens (11 October 2014). "Hundreds in Haiti attend funeral for former dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier". Toronto Star. Associated Press. ISSN 0319-0781. Archived from the original on 30 September 2015.