U.S. Worked for Downfall of Haiti Regime

Times Staff Writers

With riots spreading across Haiti, American diplomats worked on two parallel tracks, persuading Jean-Claude Duvalier to end his authoritarian regime and advising military and civilian leaders on how to form a governing council that would win international and domestic support, U.S. officials said Friday.

As White House and State Department spokesmen hailed the end of the Duvalier family’s 28-year dynasty, the officials described the American effort to engineer a change of government that would foreclose the possibility of leftists gaining influence in the impoverished Caribbean nation.

“We have always tried to maintain contact with all phases of the Haitian society,” said a State Department official, who declined to be identified. “We explained to them what we felt they needed to do” in forming a governing council “to gain international support, support of the United States and support from their own people.

“We suggested the new government should have as broad a base as possible,” the official said. “We felt free to do that in light of the pro-American attitude demonstrated in the (anti-Duvalier) demonstations.”

At the same time, U.S. diplomats met regularly with Duvalier, always stressing the theme that his regime could not survive without ever-increasing doses of repression--and maybe not even then. U.S. Ambassador Clayton E. McManaway Jr., who met with Duvalier on Thursday, agreed immediately when the “president-for-life” requested a U.S. Air Force plane for his trip into exile.


The official said that Jamaican Prime Minister Edward P. Seaga, a close Caribbean ally of the Reagan Administration, also helped to convince Duvalier that it was not worth the fight to stay in power. The official said that Jamaican officials also were in contact with Haitian opposition leaders, reinforcing the U.S. message of the most effective way to put together a new government.

The Voice of America had planned to begin broadcasts to Haiti in the Creole language spoken by most of the population after Duvalier’s decision to close most of Haiti’s independent radio stations. But Duvalier fled before the broadcasts could begin.

A senior Pentagon official, speaking on condition that he not be identified by name, said that a decision was made late Thursday to send the Air Force jet to Haiti.

The C-141 left Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina at 9:05 p.m. EST and reached Port-au-Prince at 2 a.m. It left for France 1 hour and 46 minutes later, carrying Duvalier, his wife and 22 other Haitians, along with a State Department translator based in Port-au-Prince. A Pentagon spokesman said the group carried only personal luggage.

President Reagan, speaking to a group of high school students in suburban Virginia on Friday, said, “We were watching and hoping and waiting for them to develop something that would restore order.”

Reagan insisted that the United States did not help overthrow Duvalier. But White House and State Department spokesmen did not try to hide their pleasure that the man known as “Baby Doc” had fled into exile.

“The decision to leave Haiti was Duvalier’s,” White House spokesman Larry Speakes said. “It became obvious to him in the last few days that he could no longer sustain his government except through the use of force. . . . We do believe Duvalier’s decision was the correct one.”

Speakes, whose announcement a week ago that Duvalier had fled proved to be an embarrassing error, joked, “You realize you’re talking to a prophet here.”

State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb distributed brief biographies of the three army officers and two civilians who make up the new Haitian governing council.

“We view the initial statement of the government, in which the new Haitian leaders expressed their desire to respect human rights, end the violence, honor international commitments and keep the armed forces out of politics as a positive sign,” Kalb said.

60% in the Army

He conceded later that he could not reconcile the council’s expressed intention to keep the military out of politics with the fact that 60% of its members are army officers.

Kalb said the U.S. government would give “careful consideration” to any Haitian request for emergency financial assistance. At the same time, he said, the United States will monitor closely the new government’s human rights record to determine if conditions warrant the release of $26 million in impounded foreign aid funds.

The senior Pentagon official, meanwhile, said that aides to the Joint Chiefs of Staff were directed to prepare possible options for evacuating from Haiti the approximately 5,800 Americans believed to be there. But, he said, intelligence reports have not shown “any anti-American content to the disturbances.”