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I made the front page in Baby Doc's Haiti

Haiti, wracked by anarchy and gang violence today, is a strange and troubled country where my arrival to report made front-page news in 1973. Reuters sent me from Mexico to cover Haiti’s first parliamentary elections since President Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier died in 1971 after 14 years of despotic rule laced with voodoo.

The Tonton Macoute, Duvalier’s undercover death squad, tortured or killed his opponents. When a chief rival was rumoured to have turned into a black dog, Papa Doc ordered all black dogs to be killed.  He claimed that John F. Kennedy was shot dead because he had put a curse on the US president.

Chief news editor Ian Macdowall thought it would be a good idea to interview Duvalier’s successor, his 22-year-old son Jean Claude, who was nicknamed Baby Doc.

Our Haiti stringer Eric Etienne used to work in the president’s press office and knew what had to be done to secure an interview.  He had resigned for a safer job as a school teacher after a rebel pilot dropped a bomb on the presidential palace in a failed attempt to assassinate Papa Doc.   

“We have to announce your presence,” Eric said and took me to see the editor of the Haitian daily Le Matin which published an article about me on its front page the next morning. 

At Eric’s request, the palace set a date for the interview.  On the day an apologetic palace official called to say it was cancelled -- Baby Doc had tonsilitis and had lost his voice.