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Beyond the Mountains (Part III) View other pieces in "The New Yorker"
By Mark Danner December 11, 1989
Tags: Haiti Print


ON February 7,1986, the day the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and his wife, Michèle Bennett, flew off to exile in France, a crowd of jubilant Haitians invaded the National Cemetery, a vast expanse of concrete crammed with bright-colored tombs — ivory and turquoise and rose—  bearing the names of Haiti’s great families. At the surprisingly modest memorial of François Duvalier, Jean-Claude’s father, who had ruled from 1957 to 1971, the crowd converged, extinguished the eternal flame, swarmed over the white brick structure, and began pounding on it frenziedly with thousands of stones. Within minutes, the tomb had been reduced to a dusty ruin — a crumpled roof balanced precariously on four battered struts. But when the doors of the vault beneath were finally ripped open, it seemed as if the great dictator, fifteen years dead, had played a final joke on his poor Haitians: the tomb was empty. Some said that the son had made room for his father aboard the plane filled with expensive luggage, others that Papa Doc had never been buried there at all; still others simply looked frightened and moved away.

Several months later, I passed through the yellow gates of the cemetery a little after dawn, when in the gray early light scores of emaciated Haitians — the graveyard’s living inhabitants — were just beginning to stir, crawling out in their rags from the shelter of the graves. A sweet high voice singing a strange, corrupted Latin, and in a moment I saw the houngan, a tall young voodoo priest dressed severely in white shirt and black slacks, As he sang the prayer in a sinuous, eerie voice, half a dozen of the faithful stood nodding behind him, all facing an old cemetery building — roofless now, its stone stained and rusty brown — that was jammed with a great confusion of wooden planks and splinters, coffins and parts of coffins. In a window, affixed to a sill splattered with white and black wax, a black candle flickered, and next to it stood a skull: it was Saturday, Baron Samedi’s day, and the faithful were honoring him, the loa (“spirit”) who watches over the land of the dead.

On the low walls surrounding the ruined tomb of Papa Doc — who, with his black suits and hats and his solemn undertaker’s manner, had embodied Baron Samedi for so many Haitians — the graffiti had by now grown into a barely legible palimpsest. Some of it was standard political stuff — “We was must punish all the bloodthirsty ones!’ — but most was obscene: coarse words scrawled in degraded Creole (“Michèle Bennett is an old used whore!” “Jean-Claude is a faggot!” “Going with faggots, snorting cocaine — no more in Haiti!”). Yet among the insults and crude drawings there was hardly a reference to the tomb’s former occupant, almost nothing about Papa Doc himself— the man who had killed the great majority of the forty thousand Haitians estimated to have been murdered during the Duvalier years. “The father was tough, very tough,” one of the worshipers explained. “He killed many, many. But he cared for the people. In the morning, he would give a speech saying the prices were too high, and in the afternoon the prices would go down. And” — he chuckled, touching his temple — “he was smart, so smart.”

A tall, thin man wearing only a pair of filthy brown trousers, who was reclining on a rose-colored tomb nearby, did not hesitate when I asked who had been the better ruler, father or son. “The father, the father,” he said.”The father gave us bread.”


THE father had been a Haitian ruler — the bloodiest in Haiti’s bloody history, but still a Haitian. He had made himself “sole lord and master” of a land where the overwhelming majority of the people, descendants of slaves, are still haunted by “the spectre of the master,” where the people nod in mute unsurprise when their rulers emerge as tyrants, and where those who wield power are themselves imprisoned in the relentless logic of the slave master, who must regard all those beneath his lash as potential rebels. But if the father had been awesome yet comprehensible, the son, inheriting power as nineteen-year-old cipher, had gradually emerged as something else, something foreign and decadent. By the end of his fifteen-year rule, Jean-Claude and his wife had become the ultimate bourgeois, the consummate arrivistes, ready to sell the country to the highest bidder. The National Palace had become the scene of opulent costume parties, where the young Président à vie appeared dressed as a Turkish sultan to dole out ten-thousand dollar jewels as door prizes, while the rabble outside were invited to watch the festivities on televisions that had been set up in the parks where they slept.

From the outset, Jean-Claude’s regime had been a “free-spinning wheel,” relying on the momentum conferred by his father’s power and, increasingly as time went on, by the United States. At Papa Doc’s death, the American Ambassador was called and asked to detail United States Navy ships to patrol Haitian waters in order to insure a peaceful transition. Soon the Americans were providing more than ships, for Haiti’s economic crisis was accelerating. Larger and larger numbers of starving peasants were migrating to the cities. Haiti’s soil had been eroding for decades, and, with it, the basis of the extortionist “squeeze and suck” economy on which the government rested; the countryside simply offered less and less to squeeze.

Papa Doc’s response had been to reinforce and strengthen the existing apparatus of repression, mainly with his ubiquitous Tontons Macoutes militia, and to close off Haiti from foreign influence. With the accession of Jean-Claude, the country was thrown open. During the first four years of his regime, foreign aid increased tenfold, and it continued to rise sharply. By 1981, when Haiti’s entire operating budget had just barely reached a hundred and fifty million dollars, the country was receiving well over a hundred million dollars in foreign aid. Having taken the money from the Americans and their International Monetary Fund and World Bank colleagues, Jean-Claude was forced, to some extent, to take their advice along with it. And the prescription of the planners, while simple in outline, was evolutionary in its implications. Haiti’s only hope, they said, lay in its becoming an export economy — what one enthusiastic Agency for International Development administrator described as “the Taiwan of the Caribbean.” In the countryside, Haiti must shift from a smallholder system to agroindustry — large-scale agriculture intended to produce winter fruits and vegetables for the American market. Haiti’s peasants would have to bow to the inevitable fact that, as a World Bank report said in 1983, “Haiti’s long run future will be urban.” As an AID report had conceded earlier, such a drastic reorientation of agriculture will cause a decline in income and nutritional status, especially for small farmers and peasants” and “a ‘massive’ displacement of peasant farmers.”

So the migration already begun would be accelerated; the slums would swell. Out near the Port-au-Prince airport, industrial parks sprang up, rows and rows of hangarlike buildings laid out behind chain-link fences, home to the American sporting-goods and clothing and electronics firms that, encouraged by tax breaks and other incentives, quickly arrived to make use of Haiti’s growing pool of cheap labor. Planes flew in each day with plastic and silk, and flew out each night with radios and brassieres. Before long, the assembly industries were employing sixty thousand Haitians, which meant they probably supported a quarter of the population of Port-au-Prince. The Black Republic, independent Haiti, was on its way to becoming a great productive engine, supplying labor to assemble products for American consumers, and depending on American imports for its food. The heir of the Duvalierist revolution had turned the cradle of black nationalism into the world’s leading manufacturer of baseballs.

Successfully carrying out such a wrenching economic and cultural evolution, with all its dislocations and anti-nationalist implications, would have demanded the greatest political talent, a skilled and efficient public administration, a consistently strong American economy, and a good deal of luck; Jean-Claude, as it happened, had none of these. The repressive instrumentsof the regime remained in place, but gradually, under American pressure, the terror died down, and its arbitrary character lessened. Subject to intense human-rights scrutiny by the Carter Administration, Jean-Claude let various independent power centers that his father had crushed regain some of their strength: the Army, whose position had been bolstered by the creation (under American auspices) of the élite Léopards counter-insurgency battalion; the traditional, largely mulatto élite, many of whom had been exile under Papa Doc, but whose technocratic expertise the young dictator now needed; the Church hierarchy, which, thanks to Papa Doc, was mostly Haitian-born; the intellectuals, who used the outlets provided by the Church radio station and Jean-Claude’s new state television and radio stations to push the political “opening” to its limits. When the father’s old-line noiriste henchmen — the Duvalierists pur et dur — made known their disapproval of these developments, they found themselves out of favor with the son.

Though within days of Reagan’s election the opening was slammed shut — a number of intellectuals were rounded up and imprisoned or, in some expelled — Duvalier’s Haiti had become a more predictable police state. The regime no longer murdered huge numbers of people; now it preferred to corrupt them.


THE First Family of Jean-Claude’s new, showily corrupt elite was unquestionably the Bennetts. They had risen very fast, bursting into prominence in 1980, with Jean-Claude and Michèle’s wedding. This huge celebration, in which everything was imported from Paris (gowns, food, hair stylists, fireworks) at a reported cost of million dollars, would be remembered as the young dictator’s symbolic declaration of independence: it was nothing less than an out-and-out alliance with the mulatto élite — the very families Jean-Claude’s ferocious father had decimated. Papa Doc’s widow, Simone Ovide, had been vehemently opposed to the match, and in this she joined almost all of the “dinosaurs,” the Duvalierist Old Guard. After all, Michèle, a former New York secretary, was not only a divorcée, who was much gossiped about among the Haitian élite for her reputed promiscuity, but, worst of all, she had previously been married to the son of Captain Alix Pasquet, a well-known mulatto officer who in 1958 had led the Dade County Deputy Sheriffs’ Invasion, the first of many buffoonish attempts to overthrow Papa Doc.

After the marriage, First Father-in-Law Ernest Bennett, who had never been a terribly successful businessman, became very wealthy very quickly and very conspicuously. He took advantage of his Presidential connection to extend his interests into almost every sector of the economy, from his BMW dealership, to his coffee and cocoa export concerns, to the tiny but surprisingly lucrative Haiti Air, whose planes the now untouchable Bennett was reportedly using to transship, among other things, the most remunerative cargo of all: cocaine.

Such blatant corruption did not amuse Jean-Claude’s American sponsors. In 1982, Frantz Bennett, Michèle’s brother, was arrested in Puerto Rico for drug trafficking, and began a three-year jail term. That same year saw the appointment, after vigorous pressure from the Americans and their friends at the lending agencies, of Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official, as Finance Minister. Bazin did not wait long before earning the nickname Mr. Clean, announcing that no less than thirty-six per cent of the government’s funds was being stolen, confiscating eighty luxury cars from wealthy families pending payment of duty, and refusing to purchase five thousand tons of sugar that Bennett had generously proposed to sell to his son-in-law’s government at roughly double the world price. Such “outrages” continued for almost five. months before the dictator fired his Finance Minister and sent him into exile.

“Haitians have been undemocratic not because they are inherently Fascist but because they are dishonest,” Bazin told me four years later. “The whole bloody business of repression, torture, and killing was developed to stay in office, in order to make money.”

The country has always been a “kleptocracy.” The élite occupy the powerful positions in the government bureaucracy, running the import and export firms, investing in the assembly industries — and paying very few taxes. Traditionally, the government has been supported by commodity and import taxes — paid disproportionately by the poor — and, more recently, by foreign aid. Peasants sell their coffee and other products to speculators at artificially low prices, and they in turn sell them to the exporters (the most powerful of whom, during the later Jean-Claude years, was Ernest Bennett, who — according to “Aiding Migration,” by Josh DeWind and David H. Kinley III — accounted for as much as forty per cent of coffee exports). The taxes that cut into the peasants’ profits go to fill the government coffers, and thence flow to the élite: squeeze and suck.

Upon this bedrock are constructed various levels of corruption. The first level is on display in any government ministry, where, in the tiny offices and hallways, hundreds and hundreds of idle people loiter, “working” only a few hours a day. “I went to see a friend of mine in the Education Ministry,”an acquaintance told me, “and I stuck my head through the door of her office and found about twenty people sitting there. So I said, `I’m sorry, are you busy?’ They all looked at one another and burst out laughing.” “Oh, you must try the Agriculture Ministry,” a foreign economist told me. “An absolute swamp. Crowds in the hallways, masses of people milling about. It’s like out in the street.” During-Jean Claude’s rule, the number of government employees doubled, to thirty-two thousand — officially, that is. A World Bank report estimated that in reality the government employed almost twice that number, noting delicately that “there are many non-existent and non-performing. employees on the public payroll.” Many public servants never come to work at all; many receive several checks, made out either in their own names or in the names of dead people — “zombie” checks.

Another level of corruption is hidden in the inflated prices that all Haitians pay for products, including many staples — inflated not only because of high government taxes but because powerful people in the government have awarded import franchises and monopolies to their friends and relatives in the importing business, who then charge Haitians what they please. Under Jean-Claude, so-called “national industries” — state monopolies of sugar, cooking oil, flour, and cement — quickly became sinkholes of corruption. In 1982, for example, the Haitian government purchased from an Italian company a prefabricated sugar mill, originally intended for Uganda. The Italians had managed to sell it to Haiti, in part by paying a huge “consultant’s fee” — reportedly more than ten million dollars — to Jean-Claude himself. The mill, unsuited to Haiti’s sugar crop, could never have been profitable; set up in Darbonne, south of the capital, and encumbered with many unneeded employees and with costly secondary contracts doled out to the dictator’s friends, it soon took its place as yet another perpetual drag on government funds — its losses consuming, together with those of the other “national industries,” almost four per cent of the country’s entire gross domestic product from 1982 to 1985.

Finally, there is the inelegant but time-honored technique of just plain stealing. Between 1978 and 1984, Jean-Claude, in addition to receiving an annual expense account of $2.4 million and a supplemental account of two million dollars, drew off an estimated thirty million dollars from the Régie du Tabac, which collected commodity taxes. In 1980, the I.M.F. gave Haiti twenty-two million dollars in budgetary support; twenty million simply vanished from the government’s account, to be used, as a 1981 United States Congress report put it, “for unknown purposes.” Under the Food for Peace program, AID donated to the Haitian government millions of dollars each year in food, including surplus wheat, which was then made into flour at the state mill. The flour was supposed to be sold to Haitians at low prices. In fact, it was sold at prices that, according to DeWind and Kinley, were up to twenty-seven per cent higher than what imported flour would have cost, in part because to each sack was added a ninety-three-cent surcharge, which went directly to the Duvaliers.

During the early nineteen-eighties, the risks of the American-designed development program became clear. Though a shakeout among computer manufacturers in the United States helped slow and then halt the growth of the assembly industries; the migrants continued to swell the slums. The numbers of desperate Haitian “boat people” streaming toward Florida increased dramatically. The discovery of African swine fever among Haitian pigs led to an American-sponsored eradication program that further devastated the countryside. (“When the pigs were destroyed, the school population dropped sixty per cent,” a United States government anthropologist told me. “For a peasant, a pig was a savings account: he’d slaughter a pig just before school started, and use the money to buy kids’ clothes and so on.”) The appearance of AIDS among Haitians, and rumors — bitterly resented by Haitians — that the disease had come to the United States from Haiti, led to the abrupt collapse of the tourist industry.

For Jean-Claude’s proclaimed “Decade of Development” the results were grim: from 1980 until Jean-Claude’s departure, six years later, the Haitian economy shrank by about fifteen per cent. His father’s regime, built on brutal repression applied by absolutely loyal retainers, might have withstood such a strain, but Jean-Claude’s government now depended on the support of the élite – a much more fickle and self-centered group. In the cities and towns, the old Duvalierists had already been partly cut out of the spoils, and in the countryside they were being dramatically impoverished. This impoverishment widened the fault line in the Duvalierist coalition into a gaping crevasse and exacerbated the cultural schizophrenia that had plagued the country since independence.

“Jeanclaudism was nothing more than a perversion of Duvalierism,” General Claude Raymond, Papa Doc’s godson and faithful aide, told me in January of 1988. “When you go into the countryside, as I have, and you see the lot of the peasants, growing more miserable, and poorer, and more desperate, every day, you know this is not Duvalierism. When you hear of the fifteen hundred houngans murdered in the countryside during the last two years, you know this is not Duvalierism.”


A
BLOCK or two from the National Cemetery stands an enormous house, four stories high, flat-roofed, of concrete painted yellow and orange and green. It serves as the home and the houmfort, or voodoo temple, of Mme. Pierre Toussaint, a.k.a. Mme. Pierrot, one of the richest mambos, or voodoo priestesses, in Haiti, and an early casualty of the voodoo wars that broke out during the spring of 1986, in the aftermath of the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Mme. Pierrot is a striking figure: a short, heavyset elderly woman with eyes so glaucous they appear almost entirely opaque; thick, fat lips that look bruised and swollen; and a disconcerting way of seizing her interlocutor’s arm and leaning in very close when she wants to make a point. When I spoke to her that April, she told me how, within days of Duvalier’s departure, two thousand people had invaded her house and stayed several days, looting and destroying. “It was when the priests began to preach against voodoo that they began to pillage,” Mme. Pierrot said, leading the way through the dozens of empty rooms, with bits of wire still peeping out from the walls where the light switches had been, and twisted shreds of cable remaining from television antennas. “You see, the Catholics, they made Duvalier leave, they made him fall,” she explained. “And now they have a lot of power, they’re organized.”

She pointed to graffiti — “Down with Voodoo!” “Liberation of Zombies!” — and laughed grimly. “They came here to steal, that’s all — to take things,” she said. “You know, ninety per cent of the Haitians practice voodoo; but very often they are ashamed — especially the richer ones — and they come at night.” She opened the door to the houmfort itself and pointed. It was a large room, with a center post and a carefully smoothed dirt floor, and it had hardly been disturbed.

“Everyone knows Duvalier killed a lot of people, but there are a lot more crimes now than under Duvalier, and the government” — the interim government of General Henri Namphy, the former Army chief of staff, whom the dictator left to rule in his place — “the government does nothing. No one talks about that,” she said bitterly.

Thirty feet from Mme. Pierrot’s front door, I was stopped by two teenagers. They had helped sack that house, they said. Didn’t I know that she was the richest mambo in the city, that she had been the preferred priestess of the Duvalier ministers? Yes, Roger Lafontant, the Interior Minister, used to come to Mme. Pierrot; even Jean-Claude himself came once, Didn’t I know that all the houngans had been in league with Duvalier?


I
N Jérémie, the beautiful City of Poets, on the tip of Haiti’s southern peninsula, I met a young lay worker named Bernardin Fleurvil, a pleasant-faced black in a button-down shirt and neatly pressed slacks. “You want to know about uprooting voodoo priests?” Fleurvil asked in response to my question, flashing a bright smile. “We did it ourselves. It was good work,” he went on, smiling again, and leaning back against the pale-orange wall of Ste. Hélène Church. “We crushed their houmforts and we forced them to recant. You see, all the houngans are evildoers. They make people sick, then demand money from them to make them well. And they kill people. All the time. And you know” — Fleurvil lowered his voice — “Duvalier was tied to the houngans. That’s how he was able to remain in power — he had an arrangement with the houngans. Everyone knows that.”

And so the déchoukaj, or uprooting, of Duvalier was directly followed by the déchoukaj of voodoo. Throughout the country, during the three months after Duvalier’s departure, many houngans died — hundreds, probably, though some said thousands. That much is clear, but from there on, as so often in Haiti, motives and ideologies become twisted, tangled, difficult to follow. (“Beyond the mountains, more mountains,” Haitians often say.) After the fall of Duvalier and the destruction of those who had served him — Macoutes, houngans, or, as was often the case, both — came the eruption of a deep-seated religious and cultural struggle that had inflamed the countryside for more than a century. To the churchmen, it was another battle in a war to the death, pitting their Godfearing Children of Light against the benighted peasants’ voodoo Children of Darkness, an ideological struggle to which the recent rise of the Church as a political opposition force had given fresh energy. To the voodoo practitioners — which is to say all the peasants and most of the poor of the cities, as well as nationalist intellectuals — voodoo was the central, life-giving force of Haitian culture, its wellspring. The voodoo priest was not only the Haitian peasant’s holy man but his wise man, his adviser, his artist, and — in those thousands of towns and villages that had no hope of ever glimpsing a medical doctor — his healer. But to churchmen, and to many development specialists, voodoo was a retardatory superstition that would disappear with “development.”

Fleurvil, twenty-one years old, was a member of Jérémie’s Jeunesse Chrétienne, a Catholic youth group. Sitting in the pews of Ste. Hélène’s lovely pale blue-and-white nave, he and several other young lay workers — Marie Danois, Pierre Décembre, Joël Paul — eagerly told me how they had carried out what they called their “moral uprooting, uprooting without killing,” against the voodoo priests.

“Right after Jean-Claude left, the people had been very brutal,” Fleurvil said. “In the countryside the people killed many houngans. Here in this parish, though, we killed only two evildoers — an old woman and a boy. The old woman had killed many, many people; everyone knew it. She was burned alive. Right in the middle of the street — it was a spectacle. Then the boy was decapitated.”

“And his ears —” Marie Danois put in.

“Yes, yes, his ears were cut off and dragged behind,” Fleurvil said.

Four days after Jean-Claude left, Fleurvil and his friends had a meeting. “We met here in Ste. Hélène School,” he told me. “And finally we worked out a method of ‘moral uprooting’ that would give a moral lesson, that would motivate the houngans and the evildoers to abandon their craft. Then we went to see the bishop.”

One Saturday in late February, a large crowd of young people, accompanied by a priest and a Protestant pastor and two soldiers in olive green, had proceeded down the narrow streets of Ste. Hélène parish, moving from houmfort to houmfort, demanding entrance and destroying what they found. “The houngans knew if they didn’t let us do this they would die,” Fleurvil said. “We crushed the houmforts. We smashed all the instruments of their craft — the rocks and powders, the little dolls, the bottles filled with foul-smelling liquids. We also found laissez-passers — secret passports for traveling at night. The writing on them was horribly deformed.”

“And we found a list of names,” Pierre Décembre said excitedly. “A hundred and sixty-three names — of those the evildoers had condemned to death. Three of them were already dead.”

“Of course, now we had destroyed their houmforts,” Fleurvil resumed, “but we knew that the craft itself reined in their heads. So we talked to them, and they agreed to give up their craft, to begin serving the Church. Thirteen came here and appeared before the congregation during Mass and rejected that profession.”

Had the priest cooperated in all this, I asked.

Fleurvil smiled. “Oh, yes,” he said. “Père Côté went everywhere with us, walking with us all day, from house to house. He is a priest who is very determined in carrying out his mission.”


I
N a fine two-story house perched on a knoll in Jérémie, overlooking the Gulf of Gonâve, sat Père Lucien Côté, a tough Québécois priest in his sixties, stocky, with a full head of iron-gray hair, and a big silver cross fastened to his buttonhole. “The people here have always been afraid of these … persons,” he began, in a gravelly voice, racking back and forth in an old wooden rocking chair on a second-floor porch. “Whenever anyone dies, they say one of these people has ‘eaten’ them — that’s the expression. After Duvalier left, ten were killed in Privilé, another ten in Buvet — they had been burned or ripped apart. Terrible. I remember I saw one boy riding his bicycle, and he’d tied something to the handlebars with some string, and when I looked closely it turned out to be two ears he was dragging behind him. Anyway, in my parish thirteen of these persons were supposed to die. When I heard, I said, ‘We can’t do that. There must be another way.’ So I gathered twenty of my young people and the Protestants — they are anti-Satanists par excellence, you know — and we paid them visits, moving over them one after another, like a great wave. We said, ‘Bonjour! We know there are some who want to kill you. But we want to help you.’

“We not only destroyed the houmforts,” Pere Côté went on, “but smashed the oratories and the altars, the small drums they used to call their friends, and the big drums for the ceremonies. We found their hidden bottles of herbs, their potions, their images of Erzulie —she’s the double of the Virgin Mary.”

Erzulie, the Black Virgin, is one of the key loas of the voodoo pantheon; the earth itself was born through her breast, as Christ was born to the Virgin. Yet Erzulie is a flirtatious, capricious romantic lady who adores fine presents, wine, perfume, chocolates. During ceremonies, she descends the center post in the houmfort to “mount’” or take possession of her worshippers, as do all the loas. Indeed, Père Côté would have found other familiar figures in the houmforts — bright chromolithographs, torn from Catholic prayer books, of St. James the Elder, clad in his steel helmet, who doubles for Ogu, the warrior god; St. Anthony the Hermit, who doubles as Legba, the lord of the road and the interpreter between men and spirits. Voodoo, as Père Côté well knew, is a syncretic, encompassing religion, which, upon its arrival with the slaves from West Africa, in the sixteenth century, began to absorb the Catholic iconography into its own practice. In Haiti today, the voodoo practitioner tends to think of himself as, above all, a good Catholic. Does he not, after all, worship one Bon Dje, one Good Lord, through the intercessions of his loas, his saints?

But the Church has always felt otherwise. So as Père Côté and his young helpers marched through Jérémie they would have torn down those pictures of their saints, and destroyed them along with the drums and the potions.

“And then,” Père Côté was saying, “we found the powders, made from the bones of children they killed. People said that Duvalier and his father used to ask these persons to give them the bones of babies so they could make ceremonies that would insure the power of the government.

“But our purpose in all this was to make the people’s fear of these persons disappear,” Père Côté went on. Only progress would eliminate these superstitions: “Gradually, as the people here become more enlightened and aware, they will abandon them. Literacy, for example, will bring us many gifts, and not the least of them will be that the people will be more scientific in their outlook.”

So, in the end, was voodoo just a matter of ignorance, benightedness, lack of education?

“Oh, no!” Père Côté said, raising his voice and leaning forward in his voice rocking chair. “It’s not only a psychological fact — it’s a spiritual fact! I do a great many exorcisms, and when I exorcise these spirits I know that afterward these people are healed. Healed! I know that the spirit is in them. I know because it speaks to me!”

Talking rapidly, Père Côté told of a religious meeting in a village near Les Cayes, on the southern peninsula, in which a twenty-six-year-old woman suddenly collapsed to the floor, possessed. “She thrashed about on the floor and tried to scratch me with her fingernails and to pull off my cross,” the priest said. “I began to pray, in Latin, and, of course, this peasant girl knew nothing of Latin. ‘Spirit, what is your name?’ I said, in Latin, and instantly from her mouth came a low voice intoning the word ‘Agwe.’ Of course, they have a spirit called Agwe; so I knew who the spirit was and I prayed and prayed, and finally”— Père Côté grasped the cross he wore — “finally, I cast him out. And at last the girl stood up — she was healed. The spirit was gone from her. And then I asked her in Latin what her name was, and if she knew Agwe, and, of course, she didn’t understand a word.

The priest silently rocked back and forth for a moment or two, his eyes closed. Then he looked at me and said, slowly and carefully, “I see these spirits as Satan, another form of Satan. Their own spirits could not act with so much spiritual force. You see, these people” — he swept his arm about to take in the tiny, crude houses below — “believe that they can’t talk to God, that He is too far, and that only these spirits can serve as intermediaries. Everything for them derives from their belief that God is too far away.”


“T
HE priest came and said, ‘Now Duvalier is gone and there are no more houngans, ” Camoniè, an ancient houngan, told me several months later. “He said that it was the houngans who had made the Duvaliers monkeys’ ” —given them power. “And then the priest took the drums.”

Camoniè is a small, wiry old man — perhaps seventy-five, perhaps older, he doesn’t know — who lives in a hut set on the edge of a deep gorge near the tiny village of Sainte-Rose, which lies on a footpath high above Marbial. Marbial itself is a cluster of houses in the mountains above Jacmel; only a few miles separate it from that beautiful city, on Haiti’s southern coast, but one needs a very sturdy four-wheel-drive jeep, a dry season, perfect weather, and a good deal of luck to make the teeth-chattering trip between them in two hours. Crunching over fields of sun-whitened boulders, constantly plowing back and forth through the quick-flowing river, one slowly climbs into the valley — into what feels like a prehistoric landscape, its steep walls molded into bizarre volcanic shapes. At Marbial, one leaves the overheated jeep and begins the long hike to Sainte-Rose, following the narrow, twisting path up the mountains. Three hours later, one arrives sweat-drenched, at the Church of Ste. Rose. It is here, in a tiny white stone building with red doors and a sheet-metal roof — before which a scattering of malnourished, listless people loiter, watching roosters peck about and skeletal dogs bask in the sun — that the voodoo drums and other “instruments” of Camoniè and his colleagues were stored in the weeks after the fall of Duvalier.

Three days after the fall of Duvalier, a peasant sitting in front of Ste. Rose confirmed, Père Marat Guiran had come up from Marbial, gathered the people at Ste. Rose, and announced that “anyone who didn’t bring in his drums would be uprooted.” And when Pere Guiran stopped to see Camoniè, the oldest and wisest houngan in the region, Camoniè did what he was told. “I didn’t argue, because he is a priest,” he said. “After all, I have no right to say what the state does.” For Camoniè, living high up in the mountains, there is no real difference between a priest and the state. Both are distant, both draw their power from outside, neither is to be argued with.

Along with the other houngans, Camoniè, who was old enough to remember the Church’s last great “anti-superstition” campaign, in the early nineteen-forties, had gone to Ste. Rose two weeks later, and had appeared at a big Mass where all the houngans promised they would no longer “serve Guinée” — that is, serve Africa, by practicing voodoo.

“They say we have no right to serve Guinée,” Camoniè told me, waving a hand across the great gorge. “But it’s something they can’t take away. I was born into this law. It’s what I am; it can’t be changed. It’s useless to try.”

Franck Étienne, a well-known Haitian novelist and painter, had told me, “Haitians live in a dream; they are a mysterious, mystical people. Theirs is the opposite of the Western mind, where all is rational, devoted to progress — which means, in the end, profit, ‘development.’ Our culture is not really a Western culture at all; and the source of it, the wellspring of the art and the way of life in Haiti, is voodoo.


A
T the height of the voodoo wars, a houngan named Max Beauvoir established a command center at his home, a large stone house and houmfort south of the capital. A handsome, articulate black man, Beauvoir was part politician, part crusader, part self-promoter, part charlatan. Educated in Paris and New York as a biochemist, he had returned to Haiti when his grandfather, a well-known houngan, died, having designated his grandson his successor. Though Beauvoir styled himself a radical noiriste — a fervent defender of voodoo and Haitian peasant culture against the encroachments of foreign influence — he was best known for performing voodoo “spectacles” in Port-au-Prince which were well frequented by tourists.

Ensconced in his study — its gray stone walls draped with beaded voodoo flags, its shelves lined with classics on religion and anthropology — Beauvoir worked at a computer, compiling a list of houngans who had been killed or attacked, printing out transcripts of inflammatory remarks that had been broadcast on Radio Soleil and Radio Lumière (the Protestant station), and, above all, keeping in touch with the press, both Haitian and international. To Beauvoir, the central issue was clear: the Catholic priests and, even more actively, the Protestant pastors were seizing their chance to wipe out voodoo once and for all.

One day that spring, I drove with Beauvoir to a houmfort near the town of Bognotte, in the sugarcane-growing region of Léogâne. An old houngan named Dieusibon came forward to greet us, and offered us chairs under a tree in front of his temple, a small mud building with walls gloriously painted in pale, chalky blue and salmon, covered with the gorgeous figures of Erzulie and her friends — a tribute from the old houngan to his loa.

Beauvoir listened intently as Dieusibon told how a group of five young people had come to his houmfort and demanded money “or else they would crush his place.” He had told the gang he had nothing to give but had begged them not to destroy his houmfort, promising to have some money when they returned.

“This is how they do it,” Beauvoir said to me. “They’ll come back later and take his money, then kill him.” He leaned forward and asked Dieusibon where the youths had come from, and received in response a gesture: over that hill. He asked again, and after hesitating the man said that he thought they had come from La Colline and, after more prodding, that they had been sent by a “Pastor Harris.” Beauvoir looked at me in triumph — La Colline was also known as Chrétienville, after its large Protestant mission.

Beauvoir handed the old man a card and instructed him to call if he had more trouble. “I can be here in an hour,” he said. “And if they come back, blow on the limbé” — the age-old Haitian tocsin, inscribed in the iconography of the Revolution: the black slaves blew on their conch shells, summoning their fellows from the plantations to revolt.


L
A COLLINE was a small town, but it had at its center a large new church, of pale-orange stone, and a sign informing the visitor that he had arrived in “CHRISTIANVILLE — JIM AND CAROL HERGET, DIRECTORS.” I asked a well-dressed, smiling young Haitian where I could find Pastor Harris and after a bit of discussion he led me up a little hill to a pretty American-style ranch house, built of the same orange stone. There I met Jim Herget, a plainspoken American in his mid-fifties from Buffalo, New York, who introduced himself as a founder and director of Christianville, a mission of the Churches of Christ.

Herget was proud to show me arand the mission, pointing out the fishpond, the chicken houses, and the pig farm, all the buildings so trim and new that they looked incongruous in the Haitian landscape, as did the smiling, well-scrubbed young Haitians walking about. In Christianville, Herget told me, they had established Haiti’s first 4-H Club; in the Christianville school they taught six hundred children; in Christianville’s special feeding program they cared for four hundred undernourished children. Two thousand meals a day were served at Christianville, Herget said; some of the food was raised right there, but much of it was supplied through Catholic Relief, the Church World Service, and other “non-government organizations” and “private voluntary organizations” — N.G.Os and P.V.O.s in development lingo — supported by American foreign aid.

I asked Herget about Dieusibon’s charge — that the youths who attacked him had been sent from Christianville. The missionary laughed. “These witch doctors,” he said, chuckling and shaking his head. “Well, it’s true we haven’t heard much of those drums these last few months.” He laughed again, then looked at me. “No, seriously, I don’t know anything about that. Look, we hope here that if these kids learn a little they won’t need that kind of superstition. Here we try to teach people reading and writing — real basic. We try to see they get fed every day. We try to teach sewing and cooking and other useful things.”

They were useful things, and many would certainly argue that Christianville greatly benefitted this part of Haiti, as did other Protestant missions that had sprung up in the country during the past few years, spurred on by the available American aid and welcomed by what a 1985 number of Christianville’s cheery newsletter, The Evangel, called “the beautiful ‘open door’ given missionaries by the Haitian Government.” The Evangel observed, in its boosterish tone, “Our ‘Missionary Army’ in Haiti is gaining strength” — an observation that, however ominous it might sound to Beauvoir, meant that the missionaries were feeding more people, helping to clothe them, trying to educate them.

But in so doing, of course, they were creating God-fearing Protestants. As a self-questioning technician at one of the international agencies bluntly put it, “when I hear myself tell someone I’m ‘in development,’ I always try to remember that what I’m really in is the culture-busting business.”

No other Caribbean country can boast a culture with the vibrancy, the purity, of Haiti’s, and, of the beautiful canvases in the galleries of Port-au-Prince, many of the best come from houngan painters and use the iconography of voodoo. And yet, the blunt missionary might have asked, do pretty pictures feed Haitians? “The poor are always with us,” André Pierre, a houngan renowned for his painting, told me, smiling a serene smile. “He who doesn’t live among the poor the loa doesn’t visit.” Which is why Pierre so hated the Protestants. “These pastors are rich,” he said angrily. “That’s all they think about — making money. They don’t truly believe in the spirit.” For Pierre, as for all Haitian peasants, to believe in the spirit is to believe in the earth — la terre. “Everything comes from the earth,” he told me, “Everything — even man. That is Haiti: agriculture, working the earth. The inspiration for the paintings,” he said, sweeping his hand about a small room, next to his houmfort, where an unfinished painting of Ibolélé, the cock loa, stood, “comes from the earth, from agriculture. Without it, I could not paint with the hand of God.”


T
HIS indomitable sentiment was now fighting against the accelerating decline of the countryside —against erosion, overpopulation, and the pressure of the “development experts,” the “culture-busters” from AID and the World Bank and elsewhere, who saw it as inevitable that impoverished, peasant Haiti would become an “urban country.” And yet thus far Haiti had had mostly slums and political upheaval to show for their efforts. “I don’t know any country that has moved toward this kind of development without crushing its own culture,” said Max Paul, the director of the Bureau of Ethnology, a large institution in Port-au-Prince which had grown, like Duvalier’s noirisme, out of the ethnological movement of the nineteen-thirties. “Televisions, big cars — is that development?” he asked. “We have same of it now, in any case.”

At bottom, he said, development was a political question. “Foreign industries of the sort Jean-Claude wanted come here only when you give them dirt-cheap labor, no unions, low taxes. This is a difficult combination to produce in a democracy. That is why we had la paix jeanclaudiste — no unions, no labor unrest, etc. The political system guaranteed it.”

And that is why, after the fall of Jean-Claude, strikes were not long in coming to the assembly plants, with the strikers demanding wages of up to six dollars a day — double the going rate — and why a fair number of factories responded, with predictable alacrity, by closing down. During the violent months following Jean-Claude’s departure, at least ten thousand jobs were lost. And more disappeared when Leslie Delatour, a young University of Chicago-trained Finance Minister appointed by General Namphy’s interim government, took advantage of the opening provided by the transition and the increase in American aid to close the Darbonne sugar mill and other corruption-ridden remnants of “Jeanclaudism.”

For Delatour and his American sponsors, as for the American sponsors of Jean-Claude Duvalier, Haiti represented an economic problem to be solved, and the only solution was the American market.

“Look, first, this country will not be able to survive without extensive foreign aid,” a high-ranking American diplomat told me. “Foreign assistance is just a fact of life for Haiti. And if you want jobs real quickly, the quickest way to do it is bring in factories. It’s that simple.”

But what about the overwhelming power it gives the United States?

The diplomat smiled and looked at the ceiling. “Look, I mean, let’s face it: America doesn’t really need Haiti,” he said. “The American interest in Haiti is to prevent things from getting really bad, to get a decent life for Haitians, so we can prevent all the things that could happen if we don’t: Haitians killing one another, Haitians killing Americans in Haiti, more Haitian boat people heading to Florida.”

When Haitians looked at the results of Jean-Claude’s rule, they saw not the new assembly plants but a ravaged countryside and a plundered economy. And when they looked at the interim regime of General Namphy they saw the same policies being applied with what seemed to be more efficiency and even more drastic results: large state-owned enterprises summarily closed, throwing Haitians out of work.

Another result was the wave of contraband, much of it from the United States, that suddenly flooded through the now “liberated” ports, thereby helping Delatour in his efforts to “liberalize” the heavily protected Haitian economy. In Gonaïves, Miragoâne, Saint-Marc, and other ports, ships from Miami would tie up at piers crowded with eager Haitians, and unload cargoes of cheap American rice, or used refrigerators, or secondhand bicycles, or even used Mercedes sedans. For each item that passed through his port the local Army commander would receive a fee: ten dollars, it was said, for each bicycle, from two to four dollars for each bag of rice, as much as a thousand dollars for each car. Though Delatour had stamped out some of the corruption tied to the state industries, smuggling provided the delighted officers with an entirely new cash flow — one that bypassed the government entirely.

Others were not so pleased. Delatour’s layoffs led to large demonstrations. The contraband rice and other products ruined Haitian farmers; peasants began attacking the convoys of smuggled Miami rice as they made their way to the capital. Namphy’s policies seemed only a more effective — and harmful — version of those of Jean-Claude Duvalier.

That is why it makes more sense to understand the real anti-Duvalier “revolution” as having happened not in 1986, with Jean-Claude’s fall, but in 1971, with his ascension. As the arch-Duvalierist General Claude Raymond told me bitterly, “Duvalierism died in 1971, along with François Duvalier.” A decade later, the extreme unpopularity of his son’s policies, and the corruption attached to them, had begun to engender a nationalist reaction in the countryside and the provincial cities. “The revolt started among the displaced peasantry,” Jean-Jacques Honorat, an agronomist and development theorist, told me. “In the slum of Raboteau, in Gonaïves, for example, it started among the displaced peasants.”

But this nationalist reaction produced only the interim regime of General Namphy; the strong nationalist aspirations that had helped overthrow Jean-Claude were left unfulfilled, and various groups sprang up to lay claim to them. Most prominent was the “democratic sector” — the intellectuals, organizations, and peasant groups that eventually formed the leftist Front National de Concertation.

There was also a darker claimant — an old-line Duvalierist counter-movement, which had begun as a movement of Duvalierists pur et dur against Jean-Claude and the American and mulatto encroachment he welcomed. These staunch black nationalists did not interpret the public disgust with Jean-Claude as extending to them — on the contrary, Jean-Claude’s policies disgusted them as well. And at least some of these Duvalierists actually believed that they could win an election.

Nine months after Jean-Claude’s flight, the old-liners tried to start a “neo-Duvalierist” — that is, “true Duvalierist” — party. But Haitians poured into the streets in huge protests — protests the Duvalierists believed were orchestrated by the left-wing opposition. The Duvalierists were forced to disband. They watched angrily as the opposition gained control of the electoral process, by drafting a constitution that stripped the Army or its power to run elections and gave it to an independent Electoral Council. Then, when the Council barred Clovis Désinor, Claude Raymond, and the other Duvalierists from competing in the elections, and when the Army under General Namphy stepped ostentatiously aside — to show that it would not defend the electoral process the Council was conducting — the Duvalierists at last had their say: in bloody massacres on Election Day, November 29, 1987, in which at least thirty-four people were killed as they waited to vote.

After the massacre, the Americans withdrew their aid from the traumatized country, and the four most popular candidates announced that they would refuse to take part in a second election, which the Army was hastily organizing. The officers would use this second election, many Haitians believed, to bring an old-line Duvalierist to power. But the officers, after three decades of serving Duvaliers, had little desire to see Désinor or Raymond in the Palace. Shortly before the election, an Army-controlled Electoral Council shocked Haitians by disallowing the Duvalierists’ candidacies one again. The Duvalierists’ ambitions were left unsatisfied.

In the days leading up to the new election, Haitians passed the time speculating about whom the Army would choose as its président marionnette. The candidates scurried and postured, making pronouncements and courting influential officers at diplomatic receptions. On January 17, 1988, perhaps one Haitian in ten stepped forward to vote, and after a delay proper to the gravity of the occasion it was announced that a world-renowned political scientist, scion of one of Haiti’s most distinguished families, a political leader who had spent a twenty-three year exile struggling to achieve democracy in his homeland, had been elected Haiti’s thirty-seventh ruler. And thus, two years to the day after Jean-Claude’s fall, Leslie F. Manigat came to power.


T
O say that Manigat came to power is to simplify matters somewhat, for the question of his power had yet to be decided. On Inauguration Day, the new President sat behind a tiny table in the Salle des Bustes, on the main floor of the National Palace, beaming as the chef de protocole brought forward well-wishers. As he waited, Manigat, looking less portly than usual in a smart black suit, toyed absently with the blue-and-red Presidential sash — placed over his shoulder only an hour before by General Namphy.

During the ceremony, the General’s light-colored moon-shaped face had repeatedly crinkled into a broad grin; indeed, it was remarked later that he had spent a good part of what was meant to be a solemn occasion smiling, even laughing — that he had seemed to regard it all as a big joke. After the ceremony, while the President finished greeting the well-wishers in the Salle des Bustes, General Namphy waited upstairs, in the Salon Jaune. The General, who was beginning a three-year term as Commander-in-Chief of the Haitian armed forces — a position to which he had prudently appointed himself three months before — watched as servants arranged three Louis XVI chairs carefully on the gold carpet: one for the new President; one for the smiling Commander-in-Chief, at his right hand; and, at his left, one for General Williams Régala, who for two years had served as General Namphy’s deputy in the interim regime, and also as his Minister of the Interior and of Defense. As holder of the latter position, General Régala — a handsome black man with an intelligent, if permanently smirking, face — had authority over the Army, the police, and the security services.

So the scene in the Salon Jaune — the newly elected President flanked by his self-proclaimed Commander-in-Chief and his Minister of Defense, as he greeted Haitian and foreign dignitaries — illustrated a central problem confronting Manigat: how, as a President who came to power in an election run by the military, in which so few eligible Haitians voted, could he find the support to counterbalance the generals and become anything more than their puppet?

As the men took their seats, a heavily built, very black officer with a frighteningly impassive face stepped forward and stood beside General Namphy: Colonel Jean-Claude Paul, the commander of the Dessalines Battalion, housed in the Casernes Dessalines, the mustard-colored barracks adjacent to the Palace. Today, however, Colonel Paul was serving as General Namphy’s bodyguard; he held, discreetly, almost swallowed up in one enormous hand, an Uzi submachine gun. Colonel Paul was known to be a great friend of many of the old Duvalierists; it had been his olive-green-clad troops who had stood by while voters were shot and hacked to pieces on November 29th. He was rumored to be involved in drugs, and would soon be indicted by a Miami court for cocaine trafficking. The new President, in his inaugural address, had surprised Haitians by lashing out at drug trafficking — an activity known to have become a lucrative pastime for a number of senior officers, and thus a preoccupation of Reagan Administration, officials, who had so far refused to restore American aid.

For President Manigat, assuming control of a country whose economy was being slowly strangled for lack of hard currency, Colonel Paul and his Uzi thus represented an interesting complication, as they also did for at least one member of the diplomatic corps who would shortly be brought forward to toast the new President: the American Ambassador, Brunson McKinley, a tall, distinguished, but on this occasion rather sheepish-looking man whose dexterous efforts to avoid speaking to the new President were later remarked upon by several guests. Only the week before, the Ambassador’s boss, Secretary of State George Shultz, had told Congress that the United States, in evaluating its support, would be waiting to see whether President Manigat would “in some way assert himself so that he isn’t simply a spokesman for the military.”

Others were waiting to see that question answered as well. Leslie Manigat, formidable scholar of Haitian history that he was, undoubtedly recognized his predicament as a variation on what during the eighteen-forties had come to be called la politique de doublure (“the politics of understudies”), whereby certain powerful elements in Haitian society would choose a figurehead a malleable person, through whom it would be convenient to rule. On the last occasion, in 1957, the Army had had the misfortune to choose Francois Duvalier.

As a protégé of Duvalier, Manigat had been on hand to see that episode played out. He had seen how the supposedly feeble Papa Doe moved swiftly to replace the preening chief of staff who had brought him to power, how he had cleverly played one officer off against another.

Of course, the officers (including Namphy, then a young second lieutenant) had seen it all as well. They chose Manigat at least partly because, having been so long in exile, “he was the one who had no electoral support, who had one behind him,” as a former high official in Jean-Claude Duvalier’s Interior Ministry told me. But of all the candidates Manigat was the last one anybody would pick as a malleable puppet. He was famously brilliant, famously charming, famously strong-willed. With so many politicians eager for a chance at the puppet’s role, why did Generals Nemphy and Régala single him out? Because, in the words of Leslie Delatour, “he was the most respectable, and his international connections were fantastic.” After the November 29th massacres, Haiti had become an international pariah. Who better than Manigat to bring the country in from the cold? But that, of course, raised the awkward matter of Ambassador McKinley and, behind him, the officials of the Reagan Administration, who were so concerned about drugs.

From what sources would Leslie Manigat be able to draw power? There were only three: from outside the country, by restoring the foreign-aid lifeline; from within, by somehow proving to Haitians that, despite the manner of his coming to office, he was an independent leader; and from the military itself, by playing the officers off against another. These strategies, as would soon become apparent, were irreconcilable. It was as if a kind of cats cradle had formed, a intricate trap that during the next months would shift and move, assume different configurations, but would always hold entangled at its center the struggling figure of the brilliant Leslie Manigat.


E
VEN before Manigat’s victory was officially announced, he had launched an appeal to the other candidates to join him in “a coalition,” which would include “not only those who took part in these elections but those who didn’t.” But the most popular of the opposition candidates remained aloof, demanding that the new President prove his good intentions by moving quickly to liberate political prisoners, halt the continuing arrests in the countryside, and appoint independent commissions to investigate the election violence. Meanwhile, “popular leaders” like Père Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic priest lionized by his parishioners, in the slums of Port-au-Prince, immediately began denouncing Manigat’s “gouvernement diabolique,” and warning ominously that “from now on the people will refuse to take to the streets empty-handed.”

This was just the sort of talk that the November 29th massacre had been meant to stifle. It was sure to be very unpopular with the officers — especially men like Colonel Paul. After the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the Colonel had disarmed at least one large unit of Macoutes and brought them back to the Dessalines Barracks, absorbing a substantial number into his battalion, according to a young lance corporal and former Macoute. And he employed hundreds of others as “attachés” of the Army.

And now Franck Romain, the newly reelected mayor of Port-au-Prince, established another Duvalierist power center, at City Hall. Remain, himself a former Army colonel and a Papa Doc protégé, had built up his own Macoute organization, drawn from the Cité Soleil slum.

Soon after Manigat took office, the capital began to endure what came to be called a “climate of insecurity.” Cars were stopped at roadblocks, and their occupants searched at gunpoint, there were arbitrary arrests, searches of opposition figures, armed robberies; and corpses littered the streets each morning. In the countryside, the extermination had continued steadily since the twenty-ninth. “They have cut off the heads of the democratic organizations that had emerged,” Père Freud Jean, a liberation priest from Belladère, a town near the border, told me. “Those organizations that existed have been systematically destroyed.” In the Artibonite region, a local priest said, the chefs de section were going after democratic leaders with machetes.

Manigat could do nothing about any of this; he had little power over his Commander-in-Chief or his Minister of Defense and, in any event, the nation’s recently adopted constitution gave the President no power to remove the Army commander before the end of his three-year term. The constitution had envisaged a weak Presidency and a strong legislature. Unfortunately for Manigat, his legislature had come to power the same way he had: the officers had had the Council declare those candidates most congenial to them the new senators and deputies. Since virtually all the deputies therefore owed their jobs to General Regala, Manigat’s own Defense Minister could reach around the President and block legislation as he saw fit.

The endless quarrels that resulted were carried on in an atmosphere of economic collapse.Though Manigat’s government would eventually obtain promises of small amounts of aid from France, Italy, Taiwan, and Japan, the Americans wouldn’t budge. The congressmen insisted on “free and open elections,” which the new President of Haiti was not in a position to provide. As a senior American diplomat told me, “We began the process of trying to do something for Manigat, but while we convinced the executive branch we couldn’t convince Congress; the people in the opposition whom Manigat had not managed to bring around had too strong an influence there.” The congressmen also demanded the extradition of Haiti’s allegedly No. 1 drug dealer — a man who also happened to command the most powerful unit in the Haitian Army. “Each time I met with the American Ambassador, he asked about Jean-Claude Paul,” Martial Celestin, Manigat’s Prime Minister, told me. “They were obsessed with him.” Of course, Manigat couldn’t deliver Colonel Paul; only other powerful officers could do that.


I
N May, 1988, President Manigat — with his treasury almost empty, no American money in sight, and his troubles with the legislature increasing —began to move against contraband and corruption. He appointed a customs official for the port city of Saint-Marc and fired the heads of the state flour mill — a notorious source of corruption — and Téléco, the state telephone monopoly. In Saint-Marc, Captain Ernst Ravix, the local Army commander, responded by organizing a demonstration against his President in which some three thousand residents marched, chanted, and burned barricades. In the capital, coup rumors flew, for the two executives Manigat had fired were associates of General Namphy. About thirty corpses appeared on the capital’s streets during May alone.

Early in June, Gérard Latortue, the Foreign Minister, visited Washington and asked State Department officials and members of Congress “to come to see and assess the situation” before they took further action against the Manigat government. He urged the United States to consider the alternatives: “If we go, it will not be democracy that comes.”

On June 14th, General Namphy summoned Colonel Paul and informed him that he was being “promoted” to head of intelligence at military headquarters — that is, to a desk job. There were rumors that Reagan Administration officials, who had been heavily criticized for the United States’ inability to unseat Panama’s Manuel Noriega, had promised Latortue a partial resumption of aid if Paul was transferred. Some people said that Namphy, annoyed by Manigat’s recent actions and impatient with his lack of results in dealing with the Americans, was preparing the ground for a coup against the President; others that Namphy had ordered the transfer at the urging of the President, who was setting a clever trap for the General.

In any event, Colonel Paul — no doubt with American prisons on his mind — left the General’s office and, finding the entrance to the Dessalines Barracks blocked by soldiers loyal to Namphy, went to the Palace and told his President that he would not accept the transfer. He then climbed over a wall of the barracks, regained control, and barricaded himself inside with his men. Paul’s vulnerability had provoked a split in the Army; at last, Manigat’s chance had come.

Early on June 15th, Manigat issued a communiqué. “To avert a major crisis,” it began, “from which democracy and the country will suffer the damage, I am ordering the withdrawal” of the transfer order, which, he said, violated the constitution, because General Namphy had not informed the President of it beforehand. This was bald defiance, and the capital braced for action; but now Manigat had the cornered Paul on his side, and the thousand Dessalines troops. A few hours later, the General publicly backed down, issuing a communique that rescinded Paul’s transfer “for the moment.”

The next day, Manigat told journalists that his action had had nothing to do with “individuals” but was a matter of “the supremacy of civilian power and respect for constitutional norms.” Yet the President’s demeanor seemed to belie his words. “He was all puffed up, pumped up with his power,” Jean-Claude Bajeux, a National Front leader, said later. “You could see it, this feeling of ‘Now, at last, I — I have taken power!’ And he immediately began to use it. On the evening of June 17th, Haitians were astonished to learn that Manigat, the puppet president, had fired General Henri Namphy, Commander-in-Chief.

It was a Friday night. “What I heard at parties that night from everyone was ‘Oh, Manigat’s a big man, he did it!”’ a longtime Port-au-Prince resident told me. “A lot of people started to respect him a little, because he had got rid of Namphy.” And though the streets of the capital quickly emptied in the expectation of trouble, there came not a sound from the officers of the Haitian armed forces, the powerful men who only four months before had installed the powerless Manigat in office.

But while the officers sat paralyzed in their houses there was anger in the ranks; among the troops of the Presidential Guard it had been brewing for a long time. From the beginning, the arrogant intellectual from the diaspora had shown little talent for the peculiar blend of condescension, diplomacy, and patriarchal largesse — the essence of military politics — that had bound Haiti’s praetorian guard, created under François Duvalier, to its President. The soldiers were mostly uneducated young men from the slums, peasants, or sons of peasants. Papa Doc had made sure he knew each soldier’s name, had listened to his problems, and, most important, had personally handed him his money, adding special bonuses to help pay for a corporal’s new house or for the car, of his sick child. Jean-Claude had continued this tradition, and so had General Namphy.

The troops who were stationed at Manigat’s house, a private told me later, “weren’t even given a place to sleep.” And he added, angrily, “His wife didn’t respect the soldiers of the Presidential Guard” Mme. Manigat, he said, on being told by one soldier that his daughter was about to take her first Communion, reached into her purse and handed him a dollar. The Guardsmen were not impressed with the President’s high-toned “foreign” scruples; in a country where power traditionally binds its servants fast with condescension and cash, they felt themselves spurned and deprived. And now, in siding with Paul over Namphy, the President had “favored the troops of the Dessalines Battalion” over those of his own Guard, and thereby upset the delicate balance of rivalries that held the Haitian armed forces together.

Saturday morning, hours after Manigat fired General Namphy, Paul sent about eighty of his soldiers to Namphy’s home, a walled house north of the city, where the General sat brooding. The Dessalines men, clad in their olive-green combat uniforms, surrounded both the house and Namphy’s regular contingent of twenty-three khaki-clad Presidential Guards. General Namphy was effectively under house arrest, imprisoned by the forces of the man he had tried to unseat only four days before.

By midmorning Sunday, the disgruntled Presidential Guardsmen had gathered in the inner courtyard of the National Palace. “You know, Manigat’s never done a thing for us, and Namphy’s done a lot,” one corporal told the men, according to several soldiers. “Let’s go out and get him.” The men agreed, resolved to rescue their chief, and spent the rest ofthe day readying two armored vehicles that were kept in the basement garage of the Palace.

Meanwhile, Manigat had determined to push his advantage. That afternoon, a major reshuffling of officers was announced. Among other dramatic changes, Colonel Prosper Avril, who had been a close aide to Jean-Claude Duvalier and remained a highly influential officer, was transferred to a minor post supervising Haitian military attaches abroad. Manigat had made a point of humiliating the officers, evoking memories of Papa Doc.

That evening, soldiers of the Presidential Guard piled into the two armored cars, rumbled out through the Palace gates, and headed north on Route Nationale 1. The departure of two armored vehicles from the Palace with no authorization during a time of political conflict seemed to attract no official attention. Manigat, whether because he didn’t trust the Guardsmen or because he thought he had won, had not come to the Palace.

When the armored cars reached Namphy’s house, the Guardsmen, finding the Dessalines troops still on guard, fired their cannons. “They ran like butterflies in the sugarcane,” a Guardsman told me later, laughing as he quoted the Creole saying. The armored cars pushed their way through the gate, and the sergeant in command clambered out and ran into the house. There he informed a startled and, by accounts, frightened General Namphy that he, Namphy, was on his way back to the Palace, and back to power. The imprisoned General, humiliated by Manigat, abandoned by his fellow-officers, had fallen into a deep depression; when the Guardsmen appeared, he did not believe them at first, suspecting a Manigat stratagem to send him into exile. His wife, it was reported, burst into tears. Finally, the Guardsmen managed to convince their general that it was not a trap. They helped him into his combat uniform, then put him and his wife, daughter, and brother into an armored car for the triumphant ride hack to the Palace.

Around this time, Port-au-Prince residents, unaware that anything unusual was happening, were plunged into darkness — troops sent to the electric company had “pulled the plug”and with the blackout came a barrage of gunfire from the Palace. Instantly, the streets emptied. Minutes later, the celebrating soldiers gathered in the courtyard to greet their still befuddled chief with gunfire and cannon bursts. It was only now, according to several participants, that Guardsmen were sent to fetch Colonel Avril and various other senior officers. (The five or six Guardsmen I spoke to insisted that they had acted on their own, and had not been manipulated
— as many Haitians, including Manigat, believe — by Avril and other officers.)

The excited Guardsmen continued firing, hoping to intimidate the Dessalines troops next door. By then, Haitians were convinced that a major battle was taking place. “Everyone was frantically calling all night,” a woman told me later. “I tried to call a friend to find out what the hell was going on, but all the circuits were busy.” At one o’clock in the morning, Haitians saw a grotesque image flicker to life on their television screens. There before them, surrounded by officers and troops, stood a furious and almost incoherent Henri Namphy, steel helmet askew on his head, machine gun in his hand, shouting Creole at the camera in his barking, stuttering voice.

“Haitian people, here is your general, General Namphy,” he said. “You know how we love our Haitian Army. .. You know that General Namphy loves you, too, that he loves the country. What happened is what they didn’t want … that the Army and the people, the people and the Army, are the same thing.”

High above the city, in the Villa d’Accueil, on the Petionville road, Leslie Manigat, his wife, his daughter, and a number of close aides watched in silence as the General rambled on. After the broadcast ended, the President turned to his family and associates and said simply, “You must prepare yourselves for anything, for now all is lost.” Soon two armored cars were roaring into the courtyard, and at the sight of them a unit of Dessalines troops stationed outside the villa turned and fled. The Guardsmen climbed down, and a soldier brought out a megaphone and announced to the now unguarded building, “Manigat, come down!” The President responded by turning off the lights. The soldiers fired a cannon, and “the whole house shook.” Finally, Manigat shouted, “All right, we will come down quietly.” When the President emerged with his wife and aides, their hands above their heads, the Guardsmen cursed them: “Band of pigs!” Then they lined up the twenty or so people and raised their guns. “I thought they were going to kill us all,” Mme. Manigat said later. But they contented themselves with firing in the air. The President and his family were then taken to the airport. In a few hours, the former First Family would be in Santo Domingo.

Meanwhile, Paul was on the telephone negotiating, first with Namphy, later with Avril. Avril offered him a deal: if Colonel Paul agreed to support Namphy’s new government, he could keep his command. Paul accepted — apparently persuaded not only by Avril’s appeal to military solidarity but also by the noise of the automatic rifles and cannons of the Presidential Guard. For all the shooting that night, there was only one casualty: a soldier shot himself in the leg. (“Against unarmed civilians,” Manigat said later, “the Army is strong. But … in its military function the Army is extraordinarily weak.”)

The next morning, Colonel Paul stood beside Namphy as the General informed Haitians that Manigat had been trying to make of the military “a docile instrument of his personal power,” as a first step on “an irreversible path toward dictatorship in its most brutal form.” Manigat, in other words, had tried to become Duvalier; Haitians should be grateful that this time their brave soldiers had been able to prevent it. The General proceeded to dissolve the legislature and name himself President. But it was his appearance a few hours earlier that Haitians remembered —when, with a steel helmet on his head, Henri Namphy had waved his Uzi, and shouted at the “Now the Army will rule with this!”

Namphy II had begun.


T
HE Henri Namphy who had returned to the Palace was a very different man from the gruff but genial officer who had greeted journalists after the fall of Duvalier. Bitter and angry and paranoid, he would brook no challenge to his power. “To understand anything about Namphy Deux, you have to realize that he had never been respected in the Army,” a former Duvalier official told me. “That is the main reason Duvalier made him chief of staff. The officers would say, ‘You know, Namphy’s brain is burned out by alcohol. At two in the afternoon he’s in civilian clothes. Friday to Monday he’s drunk.’ ” Thanks to Manigat (who remarked in Santo Domingo that the General was “mentally ill”), the other officers’ contempt for Namphy had been thrown into high relief: a puppet president had humiliated their commander, and not one of the officers had so much as raised his voice. Back in the Palace, and marvelling at his resurrection, the drunken, sickly General came to attribute it to nothing less than an act of God.

It was out of his isolation that Namphy made an alliance with Mayor Franck Romain. Like Papa Doc before him, Namphy had been set atop a fractious, plot-ridden military; like Papa Doc, Namphy tried to counterbalance the officers — in his case with Romain’s Macoutes. Speaking at the Palace on July 8th, the General formally welcomed the Duvalierists back into official national politics. He declared that the 1987 constitution, which remained hugely popular, “introduces foreign elements into our history and traditions.” It would be set aside; he, Namphy, would give the nation a new charter, one that would “take account of the Haitian reality.”

In early July, Lafontant Joseph, an internationally known human-rights activist, was found murdered in his car; he had been beaten, and stabbed numerous times, and one of his ears had been severed. In the weeks that followed, Namphy’s “Haitian reality” became increasingly clear: churches were strafed and burned, priests were beaten and intimidated, and corpses were left on the streets each morning. In early August, a group of bishops issued a statement that detailed a numbing list of shootings, burnings, assaults, and other “atrocities,” and bluntly concluded that “no one can live peacefully in such a state of insecurity.”

In September, a group of prominent “democratic leaders” met to announce “Constitution Day.” They asked Haitians to observe the appointed day, September 11th, by wearing white — as they had in March, 1987, when a million Haitians turned out to ratify the constitution that Namphy had now abolished. Then the white had symbolized “yes”; now it was to “signify our formal willingness to stand by this Constitution and to defend it.”

On September 8th, General Namphy visited City Hall, the stronghold of his friend Franck Romain, and gave an angry speech. “He was raving, his mouth wide open, talking so fast he was spitting, ranting against the Communists and the Church, totally out of control,” a frightened witness told me. The overwrought General took the occasion to offer his “solemn warning to the demagogues, so that they don’t try to come between the Army and the people.” Eventually, Mayor Romain took the President’s arm and led him away.

On the morning of Constitution Day, a Sunday, the pews at St. Jean Bosco Church, near Port-au-Prince’s La Saline slum, were a sea of white. A thousand or more people had squeezed into the nave to worship with the fiery and controversial Père Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the most outspoken of Haiti’s liberation priests. (Only the Sunday before, Aristide had narrowly escaped the latest of several assassination attempts when a man waiting to receive Communion was found to be concealing a .38-calibre revolver.)

Minutes after the service began, as the priest raised the chalice above his head, a rain of stones hammered against the side of the building. Through the windows in the back doors, which had been chained shut, worshippers could make out a crowd of men smashing the windshields of cars parked outside. As the people exchanged glances and began to move about nervously, Ariatide’s young assistants called for calm, and began to lead the congregation in a song, urging them to raise their fists in triumph.

As the congregation stood with arms high, the doors burst open, and two dozen howling men stormed in, spraying the crowd with gunfire and swinging machetes, clubs, and knives. On their faces was a look “of crazed fury, worse than any animal,” according to a woman in the congregation. The packed nave became a shrieking, deafening chaos: in panic, the people fled from the rear doors, crushing themselves into a surging mass near the altar as the bellowing attackers waded forward, slashing about them with their machetes and clubs and firing their pistols. “Right in front of me, I saw them stab a pregnant woman in the stomach,” the woman told me. “I saw them stab a man to death, and shoot several people point-blank. A man grabbed me and tried to use me as a shield as he pushed toward the door. I had to hit him, and finally pulled free. Then I felt a hand grabbing me, and I looked and saw one of them raising a machete over his head. For a second, I thought I was dead. But I pulled away with all my might, and left him standing there with the back of my dress in his hand.”

Crying, screaming people were clogging the doorways, trampling one another. (A band of worshippers had instantly formed a circle around Père Aristide, and managed to hustle him out through the sacristy door.) “People were clawing at the doors, hiding behind the altar, diving under the pews, anywhere,” the woman said. The bloody bedlam lasted for perhaps five minutes —”It seemed to go on forever,” she said — during which more than seventy people were wounded, and at least thirteen, perhaps as many as twenty, were killed. In the courtyard, men stoned or clubbed those trying to escape, while others leisurely set about pouring gasoline around the bodies and torching the building. Pere Aristide’s church was soon engulfed in flames; only after it had been gutted and the roof had collapsed, in a great, crackling groan, did a fire truck arrive. “As I walked by the barracks,” the woman said — there is a large military compound a few yards away — “I saw the soldiers leaning against the wall and peering out. They had watched it all.”

Nor did the soldiers act when the gang of attackers moved past them down the Avenue Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the capital’s main street, assaulting anyone they found wearing white (including some churchgoers who were unlucky enough to be wearing white choir robes). Within minutes, as the attackers went on to strafe and silence Radio Soleil and another radio station, then sack the party headquarters of two leading politicians — both of which lay in full view of the National Palace — the streets of the capital were deserted.

The next day, six people presented themselves at Radio Métropole. Soon astonished Haitians were treated to a peculiar “post-game interview,” as the authors of the massacre offered their personal accounts of how they had carried it off. “I was at the head of the gang,” one boasted. “What you saw yesterday was child’s play,” said another. “Whatever parish lets Father Aristide lead a Mass, there will be a pile of cadavers attending…. We have good cutting weapons that can slice open backs and cut off heads.” Making no effort to conceal their identities, the gang members later appeared on Télé Nationale, the state-owned station, to offer their accounts. To a question about the pregnant woman one replied matter-of-factly, ’’She shouldn’t have been in our way.” (The next day, they stormed into the city hospital’s maternity ward, hoping to finish her off. They moved from bed to bed, lifting up the gown of each woman to look for stab wounds, but they left disappointed; the victim had been moved.) Mayor Romain, whose City Hall employees had been recognized among the attackers, also took to the radio, advising the citizenry that it was Père Aristide who should be blamed, for “preaching violence.” “He who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind,” Romain intoned.


AS had been intended, fear settled over the city; even Papa Doc had never put his Macoutes on the air to give Haitians public accounts of their massacres. Among the Presidential Guardsmen there was disgust as well. One respected soldier, Sergeant Frantz Patrick Beauchard, had arrived at St. Jean Bosco near the end of the attack, fearing that his girlfriend had been in the congregation. “I saw the church in flames, the people running, and the guys chasing after them, stabbing them,” he told me. “It was a shock to see people lying dead with Bibles in their hands.”

Beauchard was the leader of a group of about thirty Guardsmen who for some time had been discussing mounting a coup against Namphy. Ever since they brought the General back to the Palace, they had been disgruntled, for they had not received the money or the attention they thought they deserved from the President who owed them everything. Instead, Namphy had spurned the Army and come to rely on Frank Romain and his Macoutes who had traditionally been the soldiers’ rivals and watchdogs, and had now taken on that function once again. “Several times, ‘attachés’ drew their guns on soldiers in the street,” a Guardsman told me angrily.

“It was after St. Jean Bosco that we decided things must change,” a sergeant told me. “Everybody knew that Franck Romain’s people did it. And Romain came to the Palace every day.” It was clear from a number of soldiers I talked to that the attack shamed them — that after that Sunday, as one young man put it, “a soldier could no longer walk with his head held high.”

The coup was set for the following Saturday, September 17th. On Friday, Romain informed Namphy that a plot was under way, and the General asked his ally, along with a loyal officer, to investigate. Early on Saturday, Romain arrived at the Palace, armed, with several of his men. By that time, Namphy had a list of thirty names. (“He sent men to dig thirty holes at Fort Dimanche,” a private told me.) Leaving an officer and some of Romain’s men to begin arresting and interrogating those on the list, the General and the Mayor went off to attend a voodoo ceremony in a slum south of the city.

In midafternoon, the officer and Romain’s men began arresting soldiers. “The commandant and the attaché handcuffed one of the soldiers, and five others started shooting in the air,” a Guardsman told me. “The commandant and the attaché ran. I ran to get my gun. In the dormitory, a captain was on the floor trying to rip off his officer’s stripes; when he saw me, he ran, jumping over a wall.” As Haitians outside the Palace, hearing the heavy firing, raced in panic to get off the streets, the soldiers brought out armored cars and trained their guns on Namphy’s office, where the General, the Mayor, and a number of armed attaches had holed up. Speaking through a megaphone, a soldier announced that Namphy had five minutes to surrender. A few rounds were fired down into the courtyard, causing a great deal of confusion and allowing Romain to make his escape.

The soldiers gave Namphy a second ultimatum. When he failed to respond, the soldiers, having taken care to turn their megaphone toward the Dessalines Barracks and warn their rivals “This has nothing to do with you — it is our affair,” began firing. Taking up his megaphone, Namphy offered to negotiate, but the soldiers told him it was too late and went on shooting. (Some of their comrades were meanwhile tracking down Private First Class Délinois Sonthonax, the soldier who had provided Namphy with the names of the plotters. Discovered cowering in the shower, Private Sonthonax begged for a chance, according to a soldier who found him. “We said, ‘No chance for you!’ and we each gave him a coup de Galil. He took at least two hundred and fifty rounds.”)

At last, General Namphy surrendered, and three soldiers, one of them aimed with a heavy machine gun, brought him out of the Palace, along with his wife and daughter. As they shoved him toward an armored car, he became sick and asked for his medicine. Then he appealed to the soldiers. “Whatever you want I’ll give you,” he said, “but let me stay here as a citizen of my country. Don’t exile me.”

“We told him, ‘No, after what you’ve done you’re no longer a citizen of this country!’ ” a soldier reported. After taking his wife’s and daughter’s purses, the soldiers pushed the General and his family into the armored car and sent them to the airport. In a few hours, General Namphy was occupying the same suite in the same Santo Domingo hotel that had accommodated the fallen Leslie Manigat three months before.

The rebels were now faced with the question of how to fill the empty Presidential chair; many of the thirty original plotters, tipped off earlier that Namphy was on to them, had fled the Palace grounds — including Sergeant Beauchard, the man who was meant to take the reins of power. The plan had been, Beauchard told me later, for him to hold power until the senior Supreme Court justice could be installed as a provisional President, responsible for leading the country toward “free and honest and rapid elections, according to the constitution Namphy shredded.”

But when the time came Beauchard wasn’t there. And Faustin Miradieu, the young private who was designated to find Beauchard, happened to be a supporter of Colonel Jean-Claude Paul, who, along with Prosper Avril (now a General) and several other officers, had by this time come to the Palace in response to a frantic call from Namphy.

In the President’s office, a number of soldiers were arguing about who should be given power. At this point, Private Miradieu led Colonel Paul into the room. As a sergeant later described the scene, “Faustin took Paul’s hand, put him in the chair, and said, ‘Jean-Claude Paul, you are President.’ ” General Avril, who had been observing the discussion; immediately agreed, and sat down to write the speech President Paul would shortly deliver to the nation. But then Captain Joseph-Frank Timothée, the man who had led the group that brought down Namphy, strode into the office, carrying his heavy machine gun. When he saw Paul seated in the President’s chair, Timothée exploded. “No!” he said. “Paul is impossible,” and he reminded the soldiers of their problems with Paul’s attaches. The young soldiers continued to argue heatedly until, as one described it, “Timothée grabbed Paul by the collar and said, `Get out!”

A bizarre scene ensued in which the excited soldiers offered the Presidency to one man after another —Lieutenant Luce Elie, Lieutenant Zamor — and each refused. “We weren’t of a class to do it,” a private told me. They didn’t think they had enough education. Then someone was sent to fetch Sergeant Joseph Hebreux, a medic, who was distinguished from his colleagues by his high-school degree. After he was found — hiding under a bed in the infirmary — Sergeant Hebreux was offered the Presidency, and he, too, refused, bursting into tears.

Finally, Timothée turned to Avril and said, “Get in there. Take power!

As the luckless Beauchard later put it, a bit wistfully, “Power was there, floating in the air, and Avril only had to seize it.”


“A
H, l’intelligent Avril,” no less a judge of men than Papa Doc had famously remarked of his young aide-de-camp from the little town of Thomazeau, east of Port-au-Prince. And, indeed, Prosper Avril was to be a fixture in the Palace for two decades, becoming even more essential to the young Duvalier than he had been to the old, taking his place not only as the dominant officer of the Presidential Guard but also as Jean-Claude’s closest military confidant (the able officer who kept an office in the National Bank, and who was sophisticated enough to take numerous trips to Switzerland and elsewhere to see to the young dictator’s “investments”) and, finally, as the key figure behind the scenes during the Namphy regimes. Indeed, for most Haitians “behind the scenes” had been the defining characteristic of Prosper Avril; they would tap their temples and smile knowingly when his name was mentioned. Though he might not appear on television to address the nation, they would say, it was Avril who wrote the speeches. And, of course, however quiet his role in the Palace, the young man from the provinces had made sure that his services were richly rewarded: Avril’s home above the city — a spectacular mansion, every orange and rose brick of which was supposedly imported from Italy (along with the craftsmen who built it) — was famous throughout the country. Now the intelligent Avril had become President, and during the next hours and days Haitians would be able to see the fifty-year-old officer justify Papa Doc’s comment.

Among the soldiers there was still dissatisfaction; they would not be content to wander back to their barracks empty-handed. So, in the chaos of that room, the new President modestly suggested — or perhaps helped the soldiers suggest — that it would be only fair for one of them to rule alongside him. And thus, in the early-morning hours, when frightened Haitians saw the inevitable gathering of soldiers appear on their television screens, they were startled to see an unfamiliar face. It was that of the tearful twenty-seven-year-old high-school graduate Sergeant Hebreux (with whom, as it happened, Avril was well acquainted, since Avril’s wife worked in the same Palace infirmary as the young man). Surrounded by enlisted men in helmets, the young Sergeant read out a statement prepared for him by the helpful General Avril, explaining that “the little soldiers,” in deposing Namphy, had aimed at nothing more than “to restore honor to the Army” and had therefore installed as Haiti’s new President “one of the most honest officers in the Army.” Only then, after demonstrating to the Haitian people that he had come forward at the urgings of the “little soldiers,” did Avril address the nation that he now proposed to “save” from “anarchy and chaos.”

A charming man who had been trained by the United States Marines at Quantico and by the Navy at its Intelligence School in Anacostia, who spoke English competently, and who, one diplomat observed during the next days, was “very worldly,” Avril wasted no time in telephoning and then meeting with Ambassador McKinley. To the Ambassador — who for the past three months (when the Americans’ former client General Namphy seemed to have been transformed before their horrified eyes into another Papa Doc) had had reason to regret his Embassy’s cold treatment of Leslie Manigat — this meeting must have seemed too good to be true. It wasn’t long before the Embassy was reporting the new President’s “hopes for a transition to civilian rule.” Soon, too, it became clear that reports that Colonel Paul was to become the Army’s Commander-in-Chief (an unfortunate choice, in the American view) had been mistaken.

But this had been a “little soldiers’ coup,” and though Avril very shortly had the aspect of a man riding a tiger, he actually managed to ride it very much in his chosen direction. For the soldiers, most of them uneducated peasants earning a few dollars a month, living in squalor, and enduring the contempt of their officers, the time for their own déchoukaj —their own chance to uproot — had at last arrived. In the capital and all around the country, angry enlisted men turned on their astonished officers. President Avril sat back to watch as one after another of his former colleagues was delivered, handcuffed and bound, to the Army headquarters and left there, to the cheers of an excited crowd. In short order, virtually the entire upper tier of the military — comprising almost all of Avril’s major rivals — had been swept way. Meanwhile, the home of Mayor Franck Romain, who had taken asylum in the Dominican Embassy, was sacked, and in front of the ruins of St. Jean Bosco many of the men who had been foolish enough to reveal themselves as the authors of the massacre were brought forward and burned alive.

President Avril busied himself behind the scenes. The day after the coup, the thirty original plotters called on him and demanded that he appoint Sergeant Beauchard his Interior Minister. Avril, remarking gently that the Sergeant “was not competent to manage the politics of such a job,” appointed him president of the National Gaming Commission instead — a post that had little to do with reform but offered toothsome opportunities for self-enrichment. After the soldiers presented Avril with a list of “Nineteen Points” that they had prepared to guide them after the coup — among which were “reinstate the Constitution in its integrity,” “organize free and honest elections within a year” “eliminate corruption,” “eliminate paramilitary forces,” and (no doubt bringing a smile to Avril’s face) “forbid the military to run the country” — the avuncular President wisely created for the men an “Office of Suggestion” within the Palace where they would be free to develop their plans.

Less than two weeks after taking power, Avril presented the Haitians with a stunning coup de théâtre. Jean-Claude Paul, the man whose reaction all Haitians had awaited with trepidation, had accepted retirement. Following a frank talk with the highly persuasive new President (who happened to be an old classmate from the Academy), Colonel Paul quietly left his stronghold and returned to his lovely home in Fermathe, high above Port-au-Prince. (A month later, after eating a bowl of soup, he collapsed and died. Accusations that he had been poisoned were never proved.) Hours after Paul left the Dessalines Barracks, Presidential Guardsmen stormed a safe house that he had established for the Macoutes, arrested a number of his “attachés,” and confiscated a large store of weapons.

Meanwhile, General Avril was embarking on a political offensive. At the Palace, he held a highly publicized series of “dialogues,” in which he and the ever-present Sergeant Hebreux met with representatives of all sectors of Haiti’s political world: popular leaders, unionists, and politicians of all stripes, including the leaders of the Communist Party. Avril vowed to put Franck Romain on trial; to close the dreaded Fort Dimanche; and to “definitively install democracy in Haiti.” Along with this pledge, however, the General carefully noted his country’s “pressing call to the international community to furnish financial aid … without which we will not be able to reach that point.”

Within a few weeks, Haiti and the United States had signed an agreement under which the Americans would provide “financial assistance” to help the Haitians fight drug trafficking. A high-profile anti-narcotics campaign followed, and soon the Haitian government was presenting the Americans with more than three thousand pounds of captured cocaine, and the Americans were praising the new government for the “seriousness with which it considers the problem of illegal drugs in Haiti.” A month later, the United States made about thirty million dollars available to the Avril government.

In mid-October, when a month of highly publicized “uprootings” had left the top ranks of the Army depleted, General Avril moved adroitly to rein in the renegade Haitian Army. No sooner were rumors of a coup plan circulating than it was announced that certain “plotters” had been arrested and jailed — none other than Sergeant Beauchard and the other “little soldiers”’ who had carried Prosper Avril to power a month before. “He said we were Communists and were planning a coup,” Beauchard told me later. “It wasn’t true. Avril just gave seventy dollars each to forty guys in the Guard to crush us.” Avril made sure that his own men — especially the troops of the armored-car unit — were well rewarded. The Dessalines troops and the Léopards watched jealously as the longtime presidential Guardsman consolidated his position.

During the winter and early spring, General Avril played a complicated cat-and-moose game with the opposition: he held a televised “democratic forum” to discuss the question of elections; he imprisoned two prominent politicians on charges that they were planning terrorist acts; he saw to the appointment of a new Electoral Council but offered no clue to when elections might be held. Before long, as the economy continued to deteriorate, strike calls began.

In late March, the day after a senior State Department official paid a visit to the General, Avril fired four officers for alleged involvement in drug trafficking. During the early hours of April 2nd, a contingent of Léopards showed up at the General’s mansion and took him prisoner. Several hours later, when the Léopards were transporting the handcuffed President to the airport for the flight to exile, they found their way blocked by the armored vehicles of the Presidential Guard, under the command of the dauntless Sergeant Hebreux. After a tense confrontation, General Avril was released, and the coup leader, Colonel Himler Rébu, of the Léopards, was taken hostage in his turn.

A week of confused intra-Amy warfare ensued, in which the capital remained under a nighttime curfew, stores were shuttered, and soldiers from opposed Army units —rebellious Léopards and Dessalines Battalion troops who had joined them, and loyalist Presidential Guards — blocked roads, occupied airports, and, by turns, seized radio and television stations to declare their intentions to the Haitian people. Finally, the Presidential Guards launched a tremendous battle against the Dessalines troops, in their barracks, next to the Palace. All over the capital, the noise of shelling and machine-gun fire was deafening, and scattered reports claimed huge losses of life. But by the time the Guardsmen, in their armored cars, had forced their way into the Dessalines Barracks — only to find them half deserted – no more than six soldiers had died. (A few days later, the Haitians learned that their wise President had taken care to use “training rounds” — blanks — for nearly all his bombardment.) With the Dessalines men in flight and the Léopards demoralized, Avril grasped the opportunity an dissolve both units, and assigned most of their troops to isolated posts around the country. By that stroke he dismantled the divided, rivalrous “Duvalierized” Army. Now his own Presidential. Guard reigned unchallenged.


RECEIVING me in his office in the National Palace at the end of August, Avril stood at attention beside an immaculate desk, shoulders back, head held high, a very slight smile on his face. From the beginning to the end of our interview, he could have been playing the role of a competent, clever American-trained Third World military man, burdened with a distasteful job but determined to see it through: he would clean up the country, see it right, install true democracy at last; he didn’t underestimate the difficulty of the job nor did he find the challenge insuperable.

The General spoke to me appreciatively of his American training at Quantico and at Anacostia and of his desire to “restructure” the Haitian Army. “The Army has been neglected for thirty years,” he told me. Then: “Wait, I’ll show you,” and with that he suddenly rose from his chair and left the room. In a moment he returned, with a sheaf of photographs in his hand. “Look, look at the work we have to do,” he said, flipping through the pictures of military posts around the country, some of them barely more than huts. “This is the situation we find ourselves in. This is why we ask for aid. Look, here’s the post at Abricot. How can such a force assure democracy? We need at least nine million dollars to fix up these posts.”

For Avril, confronted with an American visitor, all questions turned on drugs and foreign aid. About the insecurity in the streets he said, “A good deal of this comes from the terrible struggle we are waging against drug trafficking. Last week, we captured five hundred kilos of cocaine. Many times when there are bodies in the streets it is these drug dealers settling scores with one another.”

And the charges that Tontons Macoutes, cashiered soldiers, even some Presidential Guards, were preying on the citizenry at night?

“No, no, that is finished. We have carried out a number of searches to recover the Macoutes’ weapons. We’ve published requests in the newspapers for people who know of Macoutes with weapons to let us know, and we send soldiers to get them.” As for the “climate of insecurity,” the General shook his head, smiling condescendingly. “You know, in any city of a million people there is violence,” he said. “Here they say there is ‘a climate of insecurity’? In New York, every day there are scores of cases in any hospital like these.” (An American diplomat had made much the same point: if there were robberies and killings, it had less were to do with “any grand design of Avril’s than with the collapse of the police state”; that is, it was a good sign.)

“Things are starting to move now,” the General told me. “American aid is starting to arrive. The World Bank money is starting to arrive. We are starting to do what we must: put the people to work, restructure the armed forces, better equip the police, so they can remedy the ‘climate of insecurity.’ ” When I mentioned the constitutional provision that the police be separated from the Army and placed under the Justice Ministry, the General looked at me with a wistful expression. “Well, of course we would like to do that,” he said. “But it takes money.”

What did the General think about the claims that he himself had stolen money — that he had served as Jean-Claude Duvalier’s “bag man” on his trips to Switzerland and elsewhere, and that his enormous house and others like it were no small cause of the governmental poverty he was pointing to?

The General was indignant. “There was an American law firm here, investigating,” he said. “They went through all the documents, from the National Bank, the Ministry of Finance — everything. They never found the name of Prosper Avril.”

Perhaps this only proved that Prosper Avril was more intelligent than the others? The General smiled, acknowledging the compliment. “Ah, my friend,” he said. “That intelligent it is not possible to be.” He went on to say, “Right now, our job is clear: to assure a good start for our democracy, to arrange truly democratic elections, elections where the people choose a President.”


I
N September, Avril’s Electoral Council announced a complex schedule that would begin with local elections in January, continue with legislative elections in July and August, and conclude with Presidential elections in October and November — more than two years after General Avril came to power. The schedule provoked criticism from candidates and popular leaders alike. Why, with the country’s economy worsening daily, its coffers almost empty, and its currency collapsing, not to mention the “climate of insecurity” that left bodies in the streets every morning — why was such a long delay necessary before Avril’s ” irreversible democracy” could be installed? Unless, that is, the General intended to stay in power?

The month before, when I had raised with Avril the question of postponed elections, he had looked at me in mock horror. “But I cannot do that!” he said. “The Council is independent. I cannot interfere in its decisions — and neither, for that matter, can the candidates.” Besides, he said, it had been partly the lack of preparedness that had doomed the elections of November, 1987. “To have elections when the country is in a state of revolution is just not possible,” he said. “Even without the violence, there were no ballots, no polling places. It was a mess.” This time, he added, things would he done right.

In August, the American government renewed Haiti’s food aid — a ten-million-dollar shipment of wheat. “The most immediate thing we restored is the government’s respectability,” a senior diplomat told me. “You have to understand,” he said, “that Avril — Avril is a politician, as Namphy was. And we believe he’s sincere when he says he wants to move the country toward elections. The only alternative, after all, is some sort of crackdown, and he just some isn’t the type for that.”

After the Council’s schedule was announced, the pace of strikes and demonstrations increased. On October 31st, a coalition of twenty-three groups announced a monthlong program of marches, strikes, and demonstrations to protest against the Avril regime and the “climate of insecurity” still prevailing in the country. On November 1st, soldiers arrested three prominent coalition leaders: Evans Paul, the head of the mass organization KID; Jean-Auguste Mesyeux, a leader of the union federation CATH; and Étienne Marineau, a former sergeant in the Presidential Guard who had been one of the “little soldiers,” in the coup that brought Avril to power.

The night after the arrests, Major Léopold Clerjeune, head of the Anti-Gang Service — a division of what had been Jean-Claude Duvalier’s political police — appeared on Télé Nationale and read a statement accusing the three men of having concocted a “terrorist” plot aimed at assassinating General Avril and “all the officers and noncommissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Haiti.” While he spoke, the camera panned off to his side to show the three men, standing mutely by. Evans Paul’s boyish face was a swollen mass, and his shirt was drenched in blood; Mesyeux’s face was also badly bruised, and his head was clumsily wrapped in bandages; one of Marineau’s eyes was swollen shut. “Right after their arrest, the soldiers beat them about the head, trunk, genitals, and feet with iron bars,” Dr. Louis Roy, a surgeon who was permitted to visit them in the National Penitentiary, told me. “Marineau was bleeding from his right ear and his right eye. I would guess he had a cranial fracture. He was in very bad shape, as was Evans Paul.”

The sight of the three startled many Haitians. It was true that killings in the night had increased, but such a public display of brutality did not seem Avril’s style. Now an ever-larger segment of the political spectrum began denouncing the regime demanding its early departure. “We cannot have elections in these conditions. The people are united against elections now,” said Dr. Roy, who is the head of the Association for the Defense of the Constitution. Hubert de Ronceray, the leader of a major coalition of centrist parties, put the matter bluntly: “We demand the departure of Avril because we know he is not seriously organizing elections. He is making fun of everyone.”

As the second anniversary of the November 29th massacres approached, the only major figure who was still publicly declaring his readiness to participate in Avril’s electoral process was Marc Bazin, who had come to be referred to as the “American candidate.” “Yes, there is a ‘climate of insecurity,’ “he told me “But will you tell me how not having elections will remedy that?” Bazin, in language that seemed especially crafted to soothe suspicious Duvalierists, was now urging “a recognition of `Haitian realities.’ “

But, as so often in Haiti, history seems to be repeating itself. Bazin’s rivals accuse him of courting the officers, they say his strategy is to position himself as the only viable candidate in an election boycotted by the other leaders. (“Bazin is trying to pull a January 17th move,” Dr. Roy said, referring to Leslie Manigat’s ascension in a largely boycotted vote.) In any case, if the government remains deeply unpopular — and this seems likely in view of the steadily worsening economy, exacerbated by an I.M.F. “austerity” plan that has raised food prices — only a figure highly critical of the military rulers can be expected to win a free election. And the officers are unlikely to let that happen, as the massacres of November 29th show. And the more unpopular and controversial Prosper Avril becomes, the more repessive his regime is likely to become; the more repressive his regime, the less likely it is that Prosper Avril, with his mansion and his investments, will be able to walk away from the Palace and live peacefully and prosperously in his native land. If he were to attempt it, there might be inquiries, investigations, trials —even (and perhaps more likely) uprootings, for there are no independent courts, no strong Justice Ministry, no respected legal code that he can count on to protect him. He might well face the choice that so many Haitian rulers before him have faced: the Palace or exile.

This is what Haitians mean when they speak wryly of le Fauteuil — the Chair. Every Haitian of note seems to want the Chair, but once he has taken his place in it the Chair imprisons him and transforms him. The mumbling country doctor becomes a ferocious monster, the stuttering general becomes a drunken Caligula. For, once in the Chair, the Haitian ruler — “provisional” or permanent, king or general — finds himself with no choice but to fight to keep it. It was in this fight, in his determination to endure, that François Duvalier revealed his genius, by fashioning a repressive system that persists to this day. “All these candidates and their pronouncements are a joke,” one of his followers told are me proudly not long ago. “Duvalier still rules this land. He will rule it for fifty years.”

There is much truth in this, and not only in the Macoutes still haunting the neighborhoods, the Duvalierists still plotting in their big houses. The dictator’s rule is strongest in the Haitian mind. He bequeathed to Haiti a more powerful, more corrosive version of its traditional politics of paranoia: the general in the Palace sees plots everywhere, and feels compelled to crush them; the people outside can understand their leader only as a dictator, potential if not real. Along with the new paranoia, Papa Doc left his people a political desert: from a land virtually devoid of institutions and parties, a land whose politics seemed doomed to act out a recurring drama of conflict and conquest and terror — politics as bloody opera — the dictator had swept away even the players, the actors who had traditionally fought for power.

It is only this last thing that has begun to change. The strongest of the parties that sprang up after Jean-Claude have not vanished; they have become more established. Haitians have grown used to seeing the faces of their leaders on television, to hearing their voices on radio. At long last, the politicians have begun forming coalitions, to join together rather than split apart. For the first time since 1957, Haiti has an established opposition. It is just possible to hope that these new groupings are the fragile beginnings of those institutions the country so desperately needs if it is to arrest the human and political decay. But, even if they survive, they are only the beginnings.

Late one night last August, I was driving on Haiti’s main road from Gonaïves to the capital when a thunderstorm swept in from the Caribbean. Within moments, a bridge was flooded. As I sat in my jeep in the darkness, waiting in a long line of stranded trucks, I turned on the radio, to find Marc Bazin being interviewed. Bazin, a well-educated, thoughtful man, articulate in several languages, graceful and charming, the highest product of Haiti’s elite, was eloquent as he welcomed the current move toward political coalition. This was absolutely vital, he said, “to help the country emerge from the current crisis.”

Suddenly, through the rain lashing the jeep’s windows, I became aware of dark shapes outside, moving silently along the road. Looking more closely, I realized that I was sitting in the midst of a village; on either side of the road, scores of mud huts extended back into the trees. Now the rain had come, and — as would happen many times every year, hundreds of times in every lifetime — the villagers’ homes had instantly been flooded, and the entire village had been forced from sleep out into the rain. With each flash of lightning, I could see them all, hundreds of them, standing mutely on either side of the road, thigh-deep in water. On the radio, Bazin’s low voice droned on, smoothly, gracefully, forming its perfect sentences, continuing a brilliant analysis of Haiti’s political crisis. When it rains in Haiti, the country’s one highway is immediately impassable. When it rains in Haiti, the people have no shelter.

Part I | Part II
(This it the third part of a three-part article.)

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© 2010 Mark Danner