PORT-AU-PRINCE — Each time jailers returned him to his fortress of misery, Claude Rosier thought this might be it: the day he'd breathe his last breath, felled by a firing squad or wasted by dysentery.
"You knew you were there to die,'' he said.
But Rosier never gave up hope that he would make it out of the cramped, filthy cell he shared with 31 others. Ultimately he did.
He was freed in 1977 after a decade of being shifted from station-to-station in what he calls the Duvalier regime's "triangle of death:'' the National Penitentiary, the Casernes Dessalines on the grounds of the National Palace and Fort Dimanche, the most notorious torture chamber in the Caribbean.
The surprise return of Jean-Claude ``Baby Doc'' Duvalier has triggered mixed emotions among Haitians -- confusion and nostalgia among them.
The applause that greeted him at the international airport has been replaced with discussion and debate between those who lived under the regime, many of whom despise Duvalier, and those who did not.
Rosier, who chronicled his imprisonment in the French-language book The Triangle of Death -- Diary of a Haitian Political Prisoner, has waited 45 years to bring his tormentor to justice. Last week, he was among five Haitians who filed human-rights-abuse claims against Duvalier.
He calls it a teaching moment for a traumatized nation that has never come to terms publicly with the actions of previous leaders. (A truth and justice commission formed in 1995 by then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide failed to carry out recommendations and its mandate was restricted only to crimes during the 1991 coup d'etat period).
"There are a lot of people who don't know what took place under this government; a country where people could not speak, where children distrusted their fathers, parents distrusted their children, brother distrusted brother,'' Rosier, 79, said.
Half of the Haitian population was born after 1986, the year Duvalier and his wife, Michele Bennett, were forced into exile amid cheers. In the past 25 years, the country has been jolted by military dictatorships, chaotic democracy and natural disasters.
Meanwhile, all of the symbols of Duvalier repression are gone, including the regime's most infamous hellhole, Fort Dimanche. Today, it is overrun by squatters, a place where mothers survive by selling pies made of clay. The memories of the people who perished live on only in the minds of their loved ones and cellmates, and on the Internet (www.fordi9.com).
Defenders of Duvalier have said that he was only 19 when he assumed power upon the death of his father, Francois "Papa Doc'' Duvalier. He inherited a system that included a secret militia and military that specialized in terror, and, they say, he never personally killed anyone.
``If we revere Jean-Claude today, it is because the other people who came after him have not done much better,'' said Junior Cesar, who lives in the shadow of the crumbled prison and was a one-year-old when Duvalier fled. ``If they did, we would have been able to do a comparison. Democracy, has not been well-planned.''
In a rare appearance Friday, Duvalier, 59, underscored the failings of his successors and offered condolences to his ``millions of supporters'' who, he says, suffered in his absence.
"Thousands were brutally murdered, grilled, tortured or necklaced, their homes, their belongings looted, ransacked, burned. And all this under the lights of the cameras around the world,'' he said of his supporters in post-Duvalier Haiti.