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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Washington's continued willingness to negotiate with Haiti's military leaders stuns Aristide supporters. "Apparently," marvels Robert White, a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and an unpaid adviser to Aristide, "nothing will shake the touching faith the Clinton Administration has in the Haitian military's bona fides."

Aristide supporters charge that such faith reflects long and continuing relations between Haiti's top commanders and their U.S. counterparts. They claim that Cedras and Francois both trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. Although U.S. officials deny connections between the CIA and the Cedras-Francois axis, it is hardly a secret that the CIA often recruits foreign soldiers training under U.S. command for intelligence duties in their home countries.

Washington's newly emerging willingness to distinguish Cedras from Francois does little to dispel suspicions that the U.S. attitude toward some of Haiti's henchmen is not as hostile as American rhetoric would indicate. "Francois is really the major problem," says a Pentagon analyst. Cedras, he says, is "somebody we can deal with." Last week at a press conference Clinton singled out only Francois by name for criticism, not Cedras.

While it is unclear if the U.S. strategy is to divide and conquer or divide and coax, Haiti's junta is prepared either way. Boasts a member of the high command: "We can play with that nicely." Indeed, Haiti's strongmen appear to enjoy "playing" with the Clinton brigades. A Cedras adviser claims that when the military agreed to negotiate with Aristide at Governors Island in New York last July, "the whole thing was a smokescreen." He continues, "We wanted to get the sanctions lifted. That's why we went along. But we never had any intention of really agreeing to Governors Island, as I'm sure everyone can now figure out for themselves. We were playing for time." (Aristide himself never liked the U.N. plan, which grants amnesty to those who mounted the coup against him. Three weeks ago, he told TIME the U.S. had pressured him to sign.)

At first the junta wasn't sure what time would buy them. "We read Clinton in two different ways," says an adviser to Francois. "Somalia told us Clinton didn't have the stomach to fight, but we were worried that, precisely because of Somalia, he might feel he had to stand up somewhere and that we could be his target. That's why, a few weeks ago, we made noises about accommodation. But after the information about Aristide got out from our friends in the CIA, and Congress started talking about how bad he is, we figured the chances of an invasion were gone."

% According to this source, there was an interim plan for Cedras to resign as a way to lure Aristide back into the country. Once Aristide arrived, he says, "he would be killed." Max Paul, who directs Haiti's ports, through which the military allegedly allows at least one ton of cocaine to pass each month on its way from Colombia to the U.S., dismissed such a scenario with a chuckle. Actually, he told TIME, the military leadership realized that if Aristide returned, "we likely would have been killed in a bloody civil war. Or we could have done what we have done: tell Clinton to get lost. We thought we had a fifty-fifty chance that he'd run away, which is what he's done. Our strategy worked."

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