Just before I met Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier for the first time, I had a panic attack — a full-blown, heart-racing, chest-tightening, sweat-dripping, stomach-churning crisis. The year was 2003, and I was waiting on the second floor lobby of the Marriott Hotel on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
As Duvalier rode up the escalator to meet me, all the terrifying stories I’d grown up hearing as a little girl in Haiti came rushing back: My parents had long lamented the brutality of his father, President François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and later his son and heir, Baby Doc, who became president after we had moved to the United States. The families they’d killed, the men whom they’d made disappear, the political opponents they’d jailed and tortured, the women their militias had raped — all the violent events I’d read about and the bloody images I’d seen in news stories were suddenly there with me, too, because I was about to meet the man responsible for them. In the moment before he arrived, I actually considered taking off. It wasn’t too late for me to get on the nearest elevator, slink back to my room and hide. A friend back in the States had tried to steel me on the phone earlier that morning. “You’ve been waiting for this your whole career,” he had said. “You got this.” – The Washington Post