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Haiti: Gen. Namphy Wrecks Citizen Namphy's Best Ambition

January 03, 1988|Bernard Diederich | Bernard Diederich, co-author of "Papa Doc, the Truth About Haiti Today," has been writing about Haiti for more than 25 years as a correspondent of Time magazine.

MIAMI — The morning after Bloody Sunday, when scores of voters were butchered at the polls, a number of friends of Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy found themselves among the disillusioned Haitians. That Sunday ended Haiti's first attempt at democratic elections. Namphy, president of the ruling National Council of Government and chief of the armed forces, was the man in charge.

Several erstwhile friends spoke of their future fears--and of their failure to understand fully the man they knew as a gregarious officer with simple tastes who professed to seek real change for the country's poverty-stricken peasantry, a man who enjoyed relaxing and drinking at his modest ranch bare-chested and barefoot.

The portrait they paint, on the condition of remaining anonymous, is of a man who is prisoner of his own deceit, a victim of an inflated ego and paranoia trapped by his own efforts to control the outcome of the next election.

They describe Namphy as a tough and stubborn officer, shrewd enough to survive the purging, killing and exiling of army officers under the previous dictatorship. Namphy was known mainly for his partying, not for repressive acts committed during the dictatorship. He seized upon opportunity--the nonviolent movement to dump Jean-Claude Duvalier--when the time came. The former friends all believe that Namphy embraced his challenge sincerely--at the beginning. He really meant it when he said that his greatest ambition was to be able to walk the streets freely as citizen Namphy after Feb. 7, 1988, when a new president was scheduled to take power.

Namphy's choice for president was a long shot, Gerard Phillippe Auguste, head of the MOP (Mouvement d'Organisation du Pays), a party created by Daniel Fignole in 1946. For Namphy to turn his back on the Duvalierist candidates among a field of 34 could be seen as an act of courage, as perilous for him as it was for the independent Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). The council applied Article 291 of the new constitution excluding notorious Duvalierists from elective office for the next decade.

Among the excluded candidates was Clovis Desinor, 73, one of Dr. Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier's closest aides and an important architect of the dictatorship from 1957 to 1970. Desinor raised the specter of civil war if he was excluded from the race and his partisans promise that his threat still stands if he is kept out on the next scheduled date, Jan. 17. The situation is further complicated because the Duvalierists seem no more united than their opposition.

Divide and rule was how Papa Doc and his son, Jean-Claude (Baby Doc), retained power. Other Duvalierist candidates include ex-Gen. Claude Raymond, who was active in efforts to sabotage the Nov. 29 elections.

To avoid a showdown and further division within the army, Namphy's former friends now expect him to sabotage the next elections, declare a state of siege, dissolve the new constitution and rule by decree. He would again say that Haiti is "not yet ready for democracy" and once more promise elections at a future date.

The old friends partly blame flaws in Namphy's character and partly blame careful scheming by Duvalierists. While public clamor forced the Duvalierists off center stage in the first year of Namphy's rule, they remained in the wings helping script the political play. The old-line Duvalierists--supporters of Papa Doc who celebrated the ouster of Baby Doc after he turned his back on them in the early 1970s--carefully worked on and against Namphy, seeking to erode his public support while trying to bring him into their camp.

Without public support, they figured he would have to join their 30-year old, well- structured network. They caressed his inflated ego and fed his paranoia. They warned him that it could be the end of 30 years of privileges--under the new constitution some military officers could even face civilian courts for crimes committed in the past. The new constitution also removed the electoral process from military control and handed it to the nine-member CEP. This was heresy; the men with the guns had always run elections in Haiti. To remove that prerogative made Namphy furious.

When Haitians trooped to the polls on March 29 and overwhelmingly ratified that new constitution--mainly because it barred Duvalierists from elective offices for 10 years--Namphy let it be known he had been one of the few to vote no.

The rest is history. When Namphy made a crude, unsuccessful attempt to wrest control of the electoral process on June 22, people protested in the streets and more than 30 people were killed. Re-examining past conversations with Namphy, his one-time friends now realize in retrospect that he had decided as early as July that there would be no uncontrolled elections.

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