Haitian President Michel Martelly on Friday backed off a suggestion from an interview a day earlier that he might be open to a pardon for former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. He said he meant only that he wanted an end to the internal conflict that has long afflicted his country.
Martelly, speaking in a radio interview in Dublin, said that "I never proposed to pardon" the dictator known as "Baby Doc," who is under a judicial investigation for crimes committed during his brutal 15-year rule in the 1970s and 1980s. The judge is expected to rule soon on whether Duvalier will face trial on corruption and human rights charges.
A day earlier, The Associated Press interviewed Martelly on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and asked about the former dictator and the pending decision. The president suggested he had little appetite for a trial, saying reconciliation for his nation is more important than punishing Duvalier.
"My way of thinking is to create a situation where we rally everyone together and create peace and pardon people, to not forget about the past _ because we need to learn from it _ but to mainly think about the future," he said.
Martelly added that any decision on a possible pardon would come only with "a consensus among all leaders, all political parties."
In the Friday interview with Ireland's Newstalk FM, Martelly was asked by the host why he would pardon Duvalier. The president said he was misunderstood by the AP.
"When I mentioned reconciliation it has nothing to do with Duvalier," he said. "Duvalier is a case where only the justice (system) can decide on it."
He said that years of often violent struggle among the various factions in Haitian society have left the country in shambles and that the conflict has to end for there to be any progress in Haiti.
"The problem is the Haitian people fighting among themselves. So I mentioned my will to reconcile the Haitian people, not pardon Duvalier," he said.
After the AP interview was broadcast and published, Martelly presidential adviser Damian Merlo faulted its tone but not the content, saying in an email that he "just wish you would have focused on the positive aspects of the interview and not make such a big deal about Duvalier."
Asked about the issue Friday, Merlo responded in an email from Dublin: "A Duvalier pardon is not part of the agenda."
Duvalier has posed a challenge to Haiti since his surprise return home in 2011 after 25 years in exile.
The country has a weak judicial system, with little history of successfully prosecuting even simple crimes, and the government is preoccupied with reconstruction from the devastating January 2010 earthquake. A majority of Haitians are now too young to have lived under Duvalier but many still remember his government's nightmarish prisons and violent special militia, known as the Tonton Macoute, which killed and tortured political opponents with impunity.
Human rights groups have faulted the Haitian government for appearing to delay a decision in the Duvalier case and many older Haitians and Martelly opponents have expressed alarm that his government includes several people who worked in the administration of the former dictator.
Duvalier's lawyers have argued that the statute of limitations for the crimes alleged against the former leader has expired and say their client can't be charged for alleged crimes committed while he held office.
Martelly traveled to Dublin on Friday to attend "Irish Haiti Week," an event organized by the Irish charity Haven, which is trying to raise money for earthquake recovery efforts. He also met with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to discuss ways to build ties between Haiti and Ireland.