The Buzz

10 World Figures Who Died in 2014

Last week, I wrote about ten Americans who died in 2014 who helped shape U.S. foreign policy during their lifetimes. Below are ten world figures who died in 2014. Each made a mark on history. Some were heroes; some were villains. And for some, whether they were hero or villain lies in the eye of the beholder.

Jean-Claude Duvalier (b. 1951) was the ruthless Haitian president ousted in a 1986 coup. Duvalier became “president for life” in 1971 at the age of nineteen when his father, President Francois Duvalier—or “Papa Doc”—suddenly died. “Baby Doc’s” rule was less brutal than his father’s, but that’s not saying much. He used his father’s militia, the Tonton Macoutes, to intimidate or eliminate his opponents. As many as 30,000 Haitians died as the country’s three main prisons became known as the “triangle of death.” While Haiti was (and is) the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Baby Doc lived lavishly; he stole as much as $800 million from the Haitian treasury. A severe economic crisis triggered the 1986 uprising that sent him into exile. He returned to Haiti 2011, having squandered his wealth during his twenty-five years in France. He claimed he wanted to help rebuild Haiti after it suffered a devastating earthquake; he did nothing of consequence to that end. Despite efforts by human rights groups, Duvalier wasnever brought to justice for his crimes. He lived well until his death this October.

Nadine Gordimer (b. 1923) was the Nobel Prize–winning South African writer whose novels and short stories educated the world about the reality of apartheid. Gordimer, the daughter of Jewish immigrants to South Africa, began writing young; she published her first short story when she was just fifteen. Her writing turned her into a forceful critic of apartheid. She joined the African National Congress and befriended Nelson Mandela. The South African government banned several of her works because of their anti-apartheid themes. Her 1979 book Burger’s Daughter, a story about “the problems, the humanity, the ruthlessness and the cost of political involvement,” was smuggled to Mandela while he was imprisoned at Robben Island. He subsequently wrote Gordimer “a letter of deep, understanding acceptance about the book.” Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. She continued to write about apartheid even after it was abolished in 1994. (If you’re looking to read some of Gordimer’s work, the Guardian has her five must-read books.)

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