Trio holds fast in Haiti

August 07, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Together, they represent the brains, the brawn and the brutality of Haiti. It is a combination that has enabled the three military leaders of one of the weakest and poorest countries to face down the commander-in-chief of the strongest and richest nation.

Who are these men? What binds them? How can they be so defiant toward the United States, against which their military would stand no chance? In the answers to those questions lie the roots of the Clinton administration's most pressing foreign policy challenge, and, in the minds of its critics, a major failure.

Haiti's leaders are Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, 44, the aloof commander of the 7,000-member army; Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, 41, the sharp-minded army chief of staff; and Lt. Col. Michel Francois, 36, the camera-shy police chief of Port-au-Prince, the capital, who is suspected of controlling the death squads.

They are united by the experience of having watched their parents' generation defy U.S. invasion threats in 1963, by the elation of seeing the USS Harlan County recalled from Haitian waters last October in the face of a mob demonstration on the dock, by the profits of power and by the end game they all face.

All are products of aristocratic or military families steeped in the Haiti of Francois "Papa Doc" and Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, a land of fierce pride as the first nation to win its freedom from slavery and of political fear after decades of ruthless dictatorship.

"To be a Duvalierist, in the broad sense, means someone who views the country as a private business, as private property, and the army as being there to protect that property," said Mark Aristide, an Haitian emigre with the Quixote Center, a privately funded pacifist group.

All three leaders are army officers. Two -- Generals Cedras and Biamby -- were classmates at Haiti's military academy. At least ,, two -- General Biamby and Colonel Francois -- had training in the United States. General Biamby took infantry officer training at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1980 and 1985. Colonel Francois took small-arms and ammunition repair courses at the Army Ordnance School, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and the Savanna Army Depot, Ill., in 1983.

General Cedras reportedly attended psychological-warfare courses in the United States. But neither the Pentagon nor the military attache's office at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti could find details of his U.S. training record.

"There is a very subtle, or maybe not so subtle, relationship with the U.S. military," said Anthony Bryan, Caribbean director of the North-South Center, a hemispheric research group at the University of Miami. "The present military structure in Haiti is a direct result of U.S. occupation of the island for 19 years [from 1915 to 1934]."

Bases of power

General Cedras' power derives from the high command, the palace guard and the wealthy elite who appreciate his articulate diplomacy and enjoy the benefits and graft of his patronage. General Biamby's base is among the rank-and-file troops who see him as "a soldier's soldier." Colonel Francois' power derives from the capital's police force, the largest of the army's 14 corps.

Despite indications of division among the leadership trio, no splits have broken their united front. Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a liberal Washington think tank, said: "The Haitian military has always been run on factionalism.

"It is important, with these major strains within, for the Haitian military to coalesce in some kind of de facto coalition. The way I look upon the Haitian military is: it exists in order to engage in institutionalized acts of corruption."

That corruption, according to U.S. officials, is based on smuggling drugs.

"Francois supports the regime because he is making money hand over fist in the black market," said a Pentagon official involved in Haitian policy. "He is along for the ride."

The extent to which General Cedras and General Biamby are directly involved in the military's smuggling operations is less clear. But the New York Times reported this year that two members of a Colombian cocaine cartel told U.S. investigators that General Cedras helped protect drug shipments through Haiti to the United States in the 1980s.

General Cedras, who cultivates a bland demeanor and disarming courtesy, is the Haitian leader most likely to be seen on CNN. Born to an elite family in the coastal town of Jeremie, he was hand-picked by "Papa Doc" Duvalier's widow to join the military academy. Reportedly, he was recruited to the CIA payroll. The CIA declined to provide information for this article.

General Cedras was appointed army commander by the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president. He was previously a lieutenant colonel in charge of the military academy. The appointment was a reward for Colonel Cedras' control of security during the December 1990 ballot. General Cedras has since alleged that the Aristide victory was fraudulent.

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