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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Hundreds of people attended the funeral of former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier on Saturday, honoring a man widely reviled for repression and corruption during his 15 years in power.
Mourners paused to pay their respects in front of Duvalier's coffin draped with Haiti's red-and-blue flag before greeting his partner Veronique Roy, his ex-wife Michele Bennett and their two children.
Members of Haiti's elite and former officials of Duvalier's regime arrived in luxury SUVs, joining more humble citizens in ill-fitting suits, and quickly filled the chapel on the grounds of the Saint-Louis du Gonzague school in the Delmas district of Port-au-Prince. Representatives for President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe attended, though both leaders were outside Haiti on official trips. Also attending was former President Boniface Alexandre.
Many wondered whether the self-proclaimed "president for life" would receive a state funeral following his death last Saturday from a heart attack at age 63, but Duvalier's attorney announced late this week that friends and family would arrange a simple and private funeral.
"It's a small victory in many ways for the opponents of the Duvalier regime that he's not being given the honor of a state funeral," Alex Dupuy, a Haiti-born sociologist who teaches at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said by telephone. "To have a state funeral for him would have signaled perhaps a sort of vindication of what that regime represented rather than a condemnation of it."
There were no protesters at Duvalier's funeral on Saturday, but victims of his regime organized a sit-in at his former party's headquarters.
Duvalier became president in 1971 at age 19 when his father, dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, died from a sudden illness. "Baby Doc" presided over a regime widely acknowledged as brutal and corrupt until he was ousted by a popular uprising in 1986. As many as 30,000 Haitians were killed, many by execution, under the regime of the two Duvaliers, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Duvalier lived in exile in France until his surprise return to Haiti on Jan. 16, 2011, prompting authorities to open a criminal inquiry into human rights abuses and allegations of corruption, but the case did not gain traction and Duvalier moved freely about Haiti before his death.
Laurent Dubois, a historian who teaches at Duke University and is author of "Haiti: The Aftershocks of History," said Duvalier's death doesn't offer any closure to victims and their families.
"While Duvalier's body will soon be buried, the legacy of his rule and that of his father remains as alive as ever in Haiti, and one way or another will continue to animate political life in the country," he said.
Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.