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Haiti: With Friends Like These

12 minute read
Jill Smolowe

Impish and paunchy, with a shock of white hair and the rumpled look of a blanc manan (white man) who has lived in the tropics too long, Lynn Garrison describes himself simply, if cryptically, as “a friend of Haiti.” But this is a “friend” with unusual connections. Frequently Garrison can be spotted scampering along the colonnaded balcony of military headquarters in Port-au- Prince before slipping into the office of Lieut. General Raoul Cedras, Haiti’s military ruler. Even when the Haitian military was bracing for a U.S. Marine landing last month, harried and grim-faced senior commanders still paused in their duties to shake hands with the tiny Canadian. When the action is less tense, Garrison skin dives with Cedras and schmoozes on the phone with staffers of U.S. Senators Jesse Helms and Bob Dole, offering insider tidbits about Haiti’s political situation. “Everything the U.S. Senate knows,” boasts Garrison, “comes from me.”

Rumors about Garrison abound. It is believed that the native of Calgary carries a U.S. green card and has a home in Los Angeles. He is credited with — or blamed for — masterminding a propaganda campaign against the exiled President that was allegedly responsible, at least in part, for the recent CIA charges that Aristide is a manic depressive. Aristide calls such allegations “garbage.” His sympathizers in Miami claim Garrison is the CIA’s designated handler for Cedras. Garrison says he is not CIA, but he claims to have longstanding contacts within both the Central and Defense Intelligence Agencies. He says that in 1970 he worked “with the Americans” to overthrow the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

The former Canadian air force officer denies that he either holds any position in the Haitian government or accepts any pay for his services, but a source close to the junta describes Garrison as a “major strategist.” And one of Garrison’s claims, if true, suggests that such a top post would be redundant. Asked by TIME last week about the military’s intransigent stance against Aristide’s return, he responded, “It is my doing,” then added, “The Haitians are just too nice. I am the mean son of a bitch around here.”

In a country where rumors and braggadocio provide the only diversion from the steady spray of bullets, the truth of such talk is hard to gauge. So, too, are the claims of a cast of shadowy players, some of them veterans of previous U.S. capers in the region, who are lending their skills to the Haitian military’s attempt to form a “reconciliation government.” But plainly something is afoot.

In a radio interview last Friday, Cedras said that the U.N. agreement brokered in July was dead if Aristide did not return as planned the next day, and would not be revived unless both he and Aristide decide otherwise. Anti- Aristide sources said last week that with the U.N. accord now technically expired, the junta is planning to invoke Article 149 of the Haitian constitution, which calls for the chief justice of the Supreme Court to assume the presidency. Haiti’s bogus Parliament, which was elected last January under military rule, will then be called into session to ratify the change. After that, the new President will call for the establishment of a “reconciliation government” that includes all major players, save Aristide. Ninety days later, elections will be held — leaving the U.N. to choose between two “elected” Presidents. Supporting those claims is a communique issued last Saturday by 12 political parties and movements. It stated that if Aristide did not resign by 3 p.m. Sunday, they would announce plans to replace him.

Garrison claims that during a visit to Washington last month, he was told by officials (whom he declines to identify) that the way out of the Haitian logjam involves three steps: discrediting Aristide, removing him from the presidency, then proposing and implementing a new government. Garrison says further that these American officials asserted that a primary U.S. objective was to maintain the integrity of the Haitian military because it is the only stable social structure in the tropical disasterland. While Garrison may know officials who believe this, the U.S. Administration remains officially committed to Aristide’s return.

The idea of an interim presidency, however, is hardly far-fetched. Since seizing power in 1991, Cedras and the two other members of Haiti’s reigning troika — Lieut. Colonel Joseph Michel Francois, the police chief, and army chief of staff Philippe Biamby — have tried repeatedly to set such a scheme in motion. Now, emboldened by the military-staged thug-fest that turned back the troopship U.S.S. Harlan County from Port-au-Prince on Oct. 11, the triumvirate is ready for its end game.

Last Friday, U.N. special envoy Dante Caputo warned the military government specifically not to try to appoint an interim President. Caputo insisted that the U.N. plan “remains fully in force.” He added that representatives of Aristide and the military would soon be invited to meet in Haiti to continue discussing plans for the ousted President’s return and an amnesty for the 1991 coup leaders.

In Washington the Clinton Administration tried to walk the fine line between encouraging negotiations with the military leaders while not seeming to hand them a political victory. In private, Clinton has spoken of his decision not to send any American troops to Haiti. Instead he plans to create a “duststorm” of diversions, foremost among them a tightening of the international arms and oil embargo. Publicly the President warned Haiti’s military leaders that if they thwarted “democracy’s return,” they would be “making a grave mistake.” But he also spoke of “America’s commitment to finding a negotiated settlement.”

Washington’s continued willingness to negotiate with Haiti’s military leaders stuns Aristide supporters. “Apparently,” marvels Robert White, a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and an unpaid adviser to Aristide, “nothing will shake the touching faith the Clinton Administration has in the Haitian military’s bona fides.”

Aristide supporters charge that such faith reflects long and continuing relations between Haiti’s top commanders and their U.S. counterparts. They claim that Cedras and Francois both trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. Although U.S. officials deny connections between the CIA and the Cedras-Francois axis, it is hardly a secret that the CIA often recruits foreign soldiers training under U.S. command for intelligence duties in their home countries.

Washington’s newly emerging willingness to distinguish Cedras from Francois does little to dispel suspicions that the U.S. attitude toward some of Haiti’s henchmen is not as hostile as American rhetoric would indicate. “Francois is really the major problem,” says a Pentagon analyst. Cedras, he says, is “somebody we can deal with.” Last week at a press conference Clinton singled out only Francois by name for criticism, not Cedras.

While it is unclear if the U.S. strategy is to divide and conquer or divide and coax, Haiti’s junta is prepared either way. Boasts a member of the high command: “We can play with that nicely.” Indeed, Haiti’s strongmen appear to enjoy “playing” with the Clinton brigades. A Cedras adviser claims that when the military agreed to negotiate with Aristide at Governors Island in New York last July, “the whole thing was a smokescreen.” He continues, “We wanted to get the sanctions lifted. That’s why we went along. But we never had any intention of really agreeing to Governors Island, as I’m sure everyone can now figure out for themselves. We were playing for time.” (Aristide himself never liked the U.N. plan, which grants amnesty to those who mounted the coup against him. Three weeks ago, he told TIME the U.S. had pressured him to sign.)

At first the junta wasn’t sure what time would buy them. “We read Clinton in two different ways,” says an adviser to Francois. “Somalia told us Clinton didn’t have the stomach to fight, but we were worried that, precisely because of Somalia, he might feel he had to stand up somewhere and that we could be his target. That’s why, a few weeks ago, we made noises about accommodation. But after the information about Aristide got out from our friends in the CIA, and Congress started talking about how bad he is, we figured the chances of an invasion were gone.”

% According to this source, there was an interim plan for Cedras to resign as a way to lure Aristide back into the country. Once Aristide arrived, he says, “he would be killed.” Max Paul, who directs Haiti’s ports, through which the military allegedly allows at least one ton of cocaine to pass each month on its way from Colombia to the U.S., dismissed such a scenario with a chuckle. Actually, he told TIME, the military leadership realized that if Aristide returned, “we likely would have been killed in a bloody civil war. Or we could have done what we have done: tell Clinton to get lost. We thought we had a fifty-fifty chance that he’d run away, which is what he’s done. Our strategy worked.”

If the Clinton Administration’s gambit is to set Francois up for a fall, Haiti’s chief of repression is not playing. Clinton is determined to avoid a U.S. military intervention and will revisit that decision only if harm comes to any of the thousand or so Americans still in Haiti. “We know that,” says an adviser to Francois, “and that’s why our No. 1 priority is to protect the Americans here.” The military is concentrating now on its Haitian solution to sideline Aristide permanently while keeping U.S. troops at bay. To effect that, they are relying on the advice of some players used by past U.S. administrations.

The shadowy Garrison, who is constantly at Cedras’ side, has flown in Kevin Kattke, a former Macy’s department-store maintenance engineer who has had his finger in more than one American intelligence pie. In 1983 Kattke helped Oliver North prepare the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada. He was also on hand in Haiti in 1986 when Baby Doc Duvalier was ousted. (Raymond Burghardt, who oversaw Latin American affairs for the National Security Council at the time, credits Kattke with “knowing that Baby Doc would be toppled before the U.S. embassy did.”)

Kattke claims to be helping the Haitians fashion a “reconciliation government that can pass muster.” To help promote the idea that the military’s plan represents a “Latin way out of this,” he has enlisted Rafael Pantaleon, a former Dominican Republic ambassador to the U.N. Pantaleon is operating with the “complete knowledge and approval” of Dominican President Joaquin Balaguer, says Kattke, adding that Balaguer “hates Aristide from way back.” Also in the Garrison-Kattke loop is Norman Bailey, chief economist for the National Security Council during the Reagan years, who explains, “We want to get Haiti back on track economically.”

Another retread from past U.S. foreign adventures is Henry Womack, who helped oversee construction of the base that the Reagan Administration-back ed contras used to stage attacks against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. By day Womack tends his southern Florida storm-shutter business. At night he hunkers down in an eight-bedroom yellow stucco house in South Miami with Francois’ sister Elsie and her husband Charles Joseph. Their aim is to assist Haiti’s military in presenting a “fresh face” to the world. Womack says he offers Haiti’s rulers “a white man’s thinking.” Joseph has paid visits to the offices of Republican Senators Larry Pressler and Jesse Helms, as well as various Congressmen, to sell the idea of manipulating Article 149 to seat a new President in Haiti.

Some of the doings of this Miami trio border on the farcical. Womack complains that his phone has been temporarily disconnected because of his constant calls to Port-au-Prince. “I can’t get reimbursed for the $3,000 I owe the phone company,” he says. Although firmly supportive of Haiti’s military regime, Womack says he “got involved with these folks initially last spring to do business.” He details an elaborate plan to tap U.S. aid funds for low-interest loans that would be used to transport New York City garbage to Haiti, where it would be processed into mulch to fertilize plants bioengineered to provide high-quality paper pulp. “We could collect $38 a ton for the garbage,” claims Womack. “We’d make a bundle, and the government could get enough to pay the whole army’s salaries.”

The more serious scheme to install an interim President hinges on the not unreasonable assumption that Clinton may at some point have to cut a deal with the military, declare a victory and retreat home to resume training his laser on domestic issues. It also requires continued accord within Haiti’s reigning troika. Biamby and Cedras have been close friends since the early 1970s when they both attended Haiti’s military academy. They show no inclination to part ways.

As for Cedras and Francois, the signals are mixed. “Their fates are completely linked,” insists Francois’s sister Elsie. “They’re together all the time. Their wives are very close. They go to church together. They play volleyball together, and they’re in this together to the end.”

Perhaps. But Francois has been known to call Cedras cocopol (chicken s) behind his back. And a military source in Haiti reports that Francois is . miffed that the recent assassination of Justice Minister Guy Malary was handled by the army but carried out by Francois’s men — without his prior knowledge. Some Haitians see in this an army attempt to reduce Francois’s power. A military officer who watches Francois closely says Haiti’s top cop has woven his own power structure and manages it with considerable skill. Whether in league with Cedras or not, Francois plainly intends to stay at the helm. “The military controls Haiti,” he asserted recently, “and it always will.” As yet, there is little reason to believe that will change anytime soon.

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