PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti-In the latest twist in a high-stakes drama unfolding here in the capital city, Haitian authorities filed embezzlement and corruption charges against former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier on Tuesday. Attorneys questioned Duvalier-also known as "Baby Doc"-in a hearing that lasted five hours. A Haitian judge will decide if the charges warrant a trial-a process that could last months.
Authorities allowed Duvalier to return Tuesday night to the posh Karibe Hotel in Petionville, an upper class suburb of Port-au-Prince that boasts tony restaurants and modern homes for wealthy Haitians. The area is also home to a sprawling, post-quake tent city in a once-green public park, where homeless mothers hunch over small pots of rice, hoping to feed whole families.
It's an apropos setting for the former leader: Duvalier infamously lived a lavish presidential lifestyle while Haitian masses suffered grinding poverty.
Indeed, while the Duvalier saga grabbed international headlines, Haitians continued to struggle under the everyday drama of life in Haiti. In a make-shift cholera clinic in Cité Soleil-one of the largest and most dangerous slums in the Western Hemisphere-weak patients lie on low cots, suffering from a disease that has killed as many as 3,500 Haitians since an outbreak began last year.
Cholera is particularly brutal in Haiti: The waterborne disease spreads quickly in communities lacking clean drinking water or basic sanitation-a scenario painfully common before and after last year's earthquake. The illness that often induces severe diarrhea often descends quickly, killing victims who don't rehydrate quickly.
Relief organizations have set up scores of cholera clinics around Haiti, including the Cité Soleil clinic run by Samaritan's Purse. The North Carolina-based Christian relief group has treated more than 7,500 patients at centers and mobile units across the region since the outbreak began.
During a morning shift earlier this week, doctors tended to 34 patients-a low number compared to the peak season late last year. Rows of cots revealed the disease's severity: The narrow cots' design includes a triangular hole with a bucket underneath for patients to cope with the severe diarrhea the disease often brings.
In the children's ward, a baby girl in a tattered dress sat over the hole in her cot, fingering her IV and curiously staring at a pink piece of paper above her bed that carried her name and age: "Rene, 19-months."
Nearby, Manita Dada sat next to the cot of her 9-year-old cousin, Stanley, a cholera patient who arrived three days before. The family lives in Cité Soleil and heard about the clinic through friends. Dada said she's sitting with Stanley while the boy's mother has gone to Port-au-Prince to try to sell a bag of rice for a small profit. The young woman held a small copy of the New Testament and Psalms that she had been quietly reading aloud while her cousin slept. When asked what she was reading, she replied: "Psalm 23."
Hopefully, Stanley has escaped the valley of the shadow of death, but doctors worry that Haiti's approaching rainy season could bring a resurgence of the disease. Samaritan's Purse workers have joined other organizations in extensive information campaigns to educate Haitians on how to avoid cholera. Each patient leaving this clinic takes home a packet that includes a clean bucket and solution for cleaning water, antibiotics, and pamphlets on hygiene and food preparation.
With the plight of Haitians like Rene and Stanley buried beneath the distractions of Baby Doc's return and contentious presidential runoffs, many worry that an already crippled government will allow its people to sink deeper into the abyss.
Rene Marie Ange, a mother of two who has lived in Cité Soleil since 1989, said she's relieved the clinic was available when she suddenly grew ill on Sunday. With no other access to medical care, Ange was blunt about what would have happened if she hadn't come here: "I probably would have died."