PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Four of the five men in Haiti's new National Government Council had been high officials under exiled President Jean-Claude Duvalier, but one of them has firmly established himself as "first among equals" on the council. His name is Henri Namphy.
"We don't know how it is actually functioning, but we do know that a lot of important decisions are passed to Namphy," a foreign diplomat said. "He seems to be quite active and in charge."
Since the 28-year Duvalier dynasty collapsed suddenly last Friday when Duvalier fled the country after a wave of government protests, Lt. Gen. Namphy has tried to assure Haitians that "Duvalierism" is finished.
In a speech Monday, the former armed forces chief of staff echoed the demands of the protest movement, calling for free elections, respect for human rights and a fair distribution of the impoverished Caribbean country's meager wealth.
It is still not clear how much of the old regime remains intact, or as many say, whether Namphy is truly a new leader.
Beholden to Duvalier
Aubelin Jolicoeur, a prominent columnist who openly criticized Duvalier's government, said that Namphy, like all high army officers, was beholden to Duvalier.
"He couldn't have been there if he wasn't Duvalier's man," said Jolicoeur, who has been appointed director of tourism in the new government. But he added, "Namphy is a good man, a straight man. He followed orders with moderation."
Hubert de Ronceray, a politician who opposed Duvalier, criticized the two colonels in the new council as "Duvalierists," but he said that Namphy's reputation was clean.
"He is a man that Duvalier could not corrupt," De Ronceray said. "He is a man of character. I know him for his democratic convictions."
Supporting that characterization, Joseph Namphy, a younger brother of the general, said that after anti-Duvalier protest demonstrations began in November, the general refused to crush the movement with military force.
"When Duvalier gave orders to shoot at people, he said: 'No, these people are civil demonstrators who are expressing their rights--we have no right to shoot them," the brother said.
He also stressed that Namphy has no political ambitions: "He doesn't want to remain where he is right now."
The general is a dedicated military man and "a great party-goer," according to Joseph Namphy, who manages a hotel in Port-au-Prince.
"He's a guy who likes to have a good time," he said. "At his house he has parties all the time. His friends are his life."
In fact, Namphy demonstrated his gregariousness in an unorthodox encounter with the press early this week.
Mingling among an aggressive swarm of foreign reporters, photographers and television crews who engulfed him, when he entered a marble-floored hall in the elegant National Palace for a press conference, the 53-year-old general seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly as Haiti's new government leader.
As the journalists pressed in around him, jostling for position, Namphy made his way back and forth through the hall with a smiling air of self-assurance. He fielded a confusing clamor of questions with a strong voice and frequent, hearty laughs.
The hectic press conference lasted half an hour, and Namphy, a sturdy man with wisps of gray in his short black hair, never took shelter behind a podium that had been set up for the occasion. Despite the disorder, the energetic general seemed to be in full control.
If Namphy's performance in that close quarters give-and-take was an example of his leadership style, it is a style that may serve his new government well in its efforts to consolidate control amid the political confusion that prevails in Haiti these days.
Joined Army in 1954
Henri Namphy was born on Nov. 2, 1932, in the city of Cap-Haitien, on Haiti's northern coast. He grew up in the nearby town of Grand Riviere du Nord. His father, a politician, sent him to a Catholic high school, St. Louis de Gonzague, in Port-Au-Prince. After graduating, Henri entered the national military academy and received his army commission in 1954.
When Jean-Claude's father, Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier, came to power in 1957, Namphy was executive officer of the army's palace guard unit. Later, he served as commander of three provincial army posts, in Cap-Haitien, Les Cayes and Port-de-Paix.
As commander at Port-de-Paix, Namphy was in charge of forces that helped crush an attempted invasion on Tortue Island, north of Haiti, by Florida-based Haitian exiles in 1982.
His role in that action is said to have furthered his career. He soon became the armed forces assistant chief of staff, and then chief of staff in April, 1984.
Namphy's military education has included short officer-training courses in the United States, and he has participated in Caribbean military exercises with U.S. armed forces.
Divorced and the father of two children, the general spends much of his leisure time at a small coffee and banana farm he owns in southeastern Haiti.