From TIME's Archive: A Visit with Haiti's President-for-Life, age 20

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HAITI Pooh-Bah By invitation of the President, about 30 young Haitians leaped astride their yammering motorcycles one recent Sunday afternoon and raced wildly up and down the broad avenues beside the gleaming white national palace and the mustard-yellow army barracks in the center of Port-au-Prince. Afterward, President for Life Jean-Claude Duvalier happily shook hands all around and basked in the cheers of 15,000 spectators, who were clearly enjoying an event that would have been unimaginable in the days of his father, the late Francois ("Papa Doc") Duvalier.

At 20, "Baby Doc" is the youngest President and most implausible statesman in the world. His country, with its 3.5 to 5 million wretchedly impoverished black and mulatto peasants —no one knows exactly how many there are—has long been a pariah of the Western Hemisphere, ripe for almost any sort of political chaos. Thus when he assumed office after his father's death in April, Baby Doc was widely voted the Pooh-Bah least likely to succeed. However, Baby Doc—or at least the government that operates in his name—has presided over five months of unlikely tranquillity and even initiated a few cautious reforms.

Mild Boom. Haiti now pays its foreign debts promptly, in contrast to its dismal credit record in the past. Foreign investment is encouraged, and Haiti is enjoying a mild business and tourism boom, thanks in part to a new quickie-divorce law that allows anyone to get a decree in 24 hours, for $825 and up, including air fare from New York City (TIME, Aug. 30). To meet the demand for hotel space, the government last month called in leaders of the local Italian and Lebanese communities and ordered them to foot the bill for two new hotels. The casinos too are once again raking in big money. More important, the dread Tonton Macoutes, or "bogeymen," who served as Papa Doc's private army of extortionists, are being relegated to the background. The warden of the notorious Fort Dimanche prison has been replaced, although an unknown number of political prisoners are still held there.

Great Special Cordon. Could even that much change have been accomplished by a roly-poly young playboy known to his critics as "Baskethead"? Hardly, and there are signs that Jean-Claude is not even enjoying the role of figurehead. He is not allowed to ride his Harley-Davidson and has to settle instead for joyrides in his sporty blue Toyota or flashy Lamborghini, usually escorted by a caravan of scowling secret policemen. One of the few pleasures of office was his acceptance recently of the Chinese Nationalist Order of the Propitious Clouds, Great Special Cordon grade, bestowed as part of Taiwan's diplomatic offensive to garner anti-Peking votes in the United Nations. As one sign of his restricted power, Jean-Claude reportedly told some youths that Afro haircuts were all right with him—then had to retract the statement in a newspaper announcement and call for everyone to adopt the prescribed crew cut.

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