The nation chose its first female president Monday, and the ousted military ruler she replaced was whisked into exile after a dramatic "heart-to-heart" appeal by the U.S. ambassador that he leave quickly to forestall further bloodshed.
For the second time in five days, Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril succumbed to the persuasive powers of U.S. Ambassador Alvin P. Adams Jr., who convinced him in a 2:30 a.m. meeting that his staying in Haiti already had provoked bloody violence and would lead to even more.
In earlier talks last Wednesday and Friday, Adams' intensely personal diplomacy spurred Avril to bow to the demands of his pro-democracy opponents and step down as the military president of Haiti.
Avril, his wife, teen-age son and daughter and a family servant boarded a U.S. Air Force C-141 jet shortly after 6 a.m. for a two-hour flight to Homestead Air Force Base near Miami. His departure defused an explosive situation that many Haitians had feared would erupt into unprecedented violence.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said the United States helped Avril leave "because it was the humanitarian thing to do and because it seemed the course of action most likely to reduce further bloodshed."
Tutwiler said that Avril's "final destination is up to him," and White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said the ousted leader has "temporary sanctuary here." But U.S. officials would not specify that Avril would be granted political asylum if he wished it.
The departure came too late to cancel a general strike called by opposition leaders, but the news drew thousands of still skeptical but vastly relieved Haitians into the capital's streets, unmarred by bloodshed for the first time in a week. However, hungry crowds estimated in the thousands looted two food warehouses.
Haiti's new leader is Supreme Court Justice Ertha Pascal Trouillot, 46, the first woman ever promoted to the bench in Haiti and only the third to become head of a government in the Western Hemisphere. Mother of a teen-age daughter and widow of a prominent Haitian legal scholar, Trouillot was selected by leaders of the coalition of 12 pro-democracy political parties that forced Avril's resignation on Saturday.
She is the author of several law books and has been described as both brilliant and patient, qualities that the political leaders said she will need as she steers the poverty-stricken country toward democratic elections sometime during the next six months.
The army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Herard Abraham, who assumed temporary authority when Avril resigned, accepted her appointment Monday and set her formal swearing in for 10 a.m. today.
Three other Supreme Court justices had refused the job. Although Haiti's constitution calls for the chief justice to take over when a president resigns, the present chief was rejected by the group of 12 and other civic leaders because he is an Avril crony. "But in the spirit of the constitution, we wanted someone from the Supreme Court, and we found her," said Jean-Claude Roy, one of the 12.
Roy said that reports of assassination squads roaming Port-au-Prince to kill the pro-democracy leaders and their presidential choice prompted the group to take Trouillot to a secret hideaway and delay announcing the Sunday night selection until Monday. Right-of-center populist Sylvio Claude credited Gen. Abraham with heading off three groups of would-be assassins.
As that drama unfolded, Ambassador Adams embarked on a sleepless night prompted by fears that violence inspired by Avril's partisans and followers of the old Duvalier regime was about to escalate.
"A number of (Haitian) people appealed to us to go talk to Avril convincingly about the situation in the country and how he had become, one way or another, a major issue . . . a source of violence and almost certainly much heavier violence today and in the days to come," Adams said in an interview.
Adams said he awakened Avril with a telephone call at 1:30 a.m. explaining the need to talk "on a matter of great urgency."
Rushing to the general's hilltop mansion outside Port-au-Prince, Adams said "we had a heart-to-heart talk, person to person."
"It was a matter of his loyalty to the nation, the values he professed and the institutions he was involved with and respected during his whole life," Adams said he explained in plain personal terms to Avril. "He owed it to them, to himself and to his family to take certainly one of the most difficult decisions he ever had to take."
It was the second emotional man-to-man encounter in recent days between Adams and Avril. The often blunt but personable and persuasive career diplomat said he believes in getting down "to the human element there, human psychology and chemistry."
Adams even invoked some of his own most painful memories to convince Avril that he was no stranger to tragedy. Recalling the death of his son, Tung, in the battleship Iowa gun-turret explosion last year and the tragic deaths of many of his wife Mai Anh's family in Vietnam, Adams said he told Avril "he was not the only one with tragedies, and there are ways to deal with tragedies."
Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril was once known as the "sphinx" of Haitian politics because of his knack for behind-the-scenes political manipulations. He was thrust into the public eye by rebellious soldiers who toppled military dictator Henri Namphy in September, 1988, and named Avril in his place. Avril's rise was welcomed by many Haitians, who believed him to be shrewd enough to keep military coup plotters at bay and charming enough to head off popular discontent with promises of democracy. But early this year, he ordered the arrest and exile of several prominent opposition politicians, sparking public anger that ultimately drove him from the country.