Haiti: With Friends Like These

A host of shadowy figures is helping Haiti's military rulers hatch a plot to sideline Aristide permanently

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Impish and paunchy, with a shock of white hair and the rumpled look of a blanc manan (white man) who has lived in the tropics too long, Lynn Garrison describes himself simply, if cryptically, as "a friend of Haiti." But this is a "friend" with unusual connections. Frequently Garrison can be spotted scampering along the colonnaded balcony of military headquarters in Port-au- Prince before slipping into the office of Lieut. General Raoul Cedras, Haiti's military ruler. Even when the Haitian military was bracing for a U.S. Marine landing last month, harried and grim-faced senior commanders still paused in their duties to shake hands with the tiny Canadian. When the action is less tense, Garrison skin dives with Cedras and schmoozes on the phone with staffers of U.S. Senators Jesse Helms and Bob Dole, offering insider tidbits about Haiti's political situation. "Everything the U.S. Senate knows," boasts Garrison, "comes from me."

Rumors about Garrison abound. It is believed that the native of Calgary carries a U.S. green card and has a home in Los Angeles. He is credited with -- or blamed for -- masterminding a propaganda campaign against the exiled President that was allegedly responsible, at least in part, for the recent CIA charges that Aristide is a manic depressive. Aristide calls such allegations "garbage." His sympathizers in Miami claim Garrison is the CIA's designated handler for Cedras. Garrison says he is not CIA, but he claims to have longstanding contacts within both the Central and Defense Intelligence Agencies. He says that in 1970 he worked "with the Americans" to overthrow the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

The former Canadian air force officer denies that he either holds any position in the Haitian government or accepts any pay for his services, but a source close to the junta describes Garrison as a "major strategist." And one of Garrison's claims, if true, suggests that such a top post would be redundant. Asked by TIME last week about the military's intransigent stance against Aristide's return, he responded, "It is my doing," then added, "The Haitians are just too nice. I am the mean son of a bitch around here."

In a country where rumors and braggadocio provide the only diversion from the steady spray of bullets, the truth of such talk is hard to gauge. So, too, are the claims of a cast of shadowy players, some of them veterans of previous U.S. capers in the region, who are lending their skills to the Haitian military's attempt to form a "reconciliation government." But plainly something is afoot.

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