The Post-Duvalier Period

U.S. Library of Congress, Country Studies, December 1989

Jean-Claude Duvalier left behind a hastily constructed interim junta, controlled by the armed forces. Lieutenant General Henri Namphy, army chief of staff, became head of the interim National Council of Government (Conseil Nationale de Gouvernement—CNG). Colonel Williams Regala, the head of the Military Academy; Lieutenant General Prosper Avril of the Presidential Guard; and Colonel Jean-Claude Paul of the regular army were also key figures in the interim government. The CNG officially disbanded the VSN a few days after Duvalier’s departure, but it avoided the politically difficult measure of effectively halting the VSN’s activities. This nonfeasance prompted angry mobs to murder known members of the VSN and set in motion a cycle of instability from which Haiti had yet to recover in the late 1980s. Despite the popular backlash, some members of the VSN managed to survive by integrating themselves into military circles.

The consequences of the army’s failure to dismantle the VSN became obvious in the bloody events leading up to the aborted elections of November 1987 (see Background: From Duvalier to Avril, 1957-89 , ch. 9). The CNG’s attempt to balance demands for, and resistance to, reforms gave way to chaos. By 1987 the armed forces had lost the favorable reputation they had enjoyed a year earlier. Worse, the senior military command appeared to be doing little to stop attacks against the electoral process. The disastrous elections of 1987 and 1988 isolated the Haitian military from the international community, which had grown skeptical about the role of the armed forces.

The situation unraveled further in 1988, under the shortlived civilian government of Leslie Manigat (February-June 1988), who was overthrown when he retired the Port-au-Prince police chief and attempted to reshuffle the army command. CNG leader Namphy returned as head of government, with the support of other commanders. In September 1988, another coup brought Prosper Avril to power. Avril was an experienced officer with a career dating back to the Duvalier era.

The armed forces continued to face problems, however, even after Avril came to power. From September 1988 through March 1989, 140 officers reportedly were retired or were fired, some because they were suspected of drug smuggling. Allegations that government officials were involved in drug trafficking became widely known after a United States court indicted Colonel Paul, then commander of the Dessalines Battalion, on charges of cocaine distribution. Paul’s wife had previously been arrested in Miami on cocaine charges. Paul’s mysterious death in the fall of 1988 only partially resolved the issue of military involvement in drug trafficking. At about the same time, United States authorities arrested and convicted a former CNG associate of Namphy, Colonel Gary Léon, on drug-trafficking charges.

Avril’s attempts to purge the government of Duvalierist forces included ousting individuals who had graduated from the Military Academy in 1973. The move reflected additional political rifts within the senior command. Sensing the low stature of the Avril government, segments of the senior command split into warring factions in April 1989. Reports alleged that proDuvalierist elements had helped to provoke dissension within the officer corps. The loyalty of the Presidential Guard and support from many NCOs helped Avril prevail in a week of internecine conflict with the officer corps. The conflict, however, left the military in a state of crisis. Duvalier’s collapse initially had enhanced the national standing of the FAd’H. But the group’s senior commanders, when thrust by events to the forefront of governance, had reverted to the traditional use of force to carry out a vaguely defined political program. Other actors, such as the Roman Catholic Church or political parties, remained divided in the post-1986 period, and they were therefore generally ineffectual politically (see Interest Groups , ch. 9). The failure of Haiti’s civilian leadership to negotiate an alternative political course further reinforced the FAd’H’s selfcharacterization as the decisive agent of Haitian affairs.