WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Together, they represent the brains, the brawn and the brutality of Haiti. It is a combination that has enabled the three military leaders of one of the weakest and poorest countries to face down the commander-in-chief of the strongest and richest nation.
Who are these men? What binds them? How can they be so defiant toward the United States, against which their military would stand no chance? In the answers to those questions lie the roots of the Clinton administration's most pressing foreign policy challenge, and, in the minds of its critics, a major failure.
Haiti's leaders are Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, 44, the aloof commander of the 7,000-member army; Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, 41, the sharp-minded army chief of staff; and Lt. Col. Michel Francois, 36, the camera-shy police chief of Port-au-Prince, the capital, who is suspected of controlling the death squads.
They are united by the experience of having watched their parents' generation defy U.S. invasion threats in 1963, by the elation of seeing the USS Harlan County recalled from Haitian waters last October in the face of a mob demonstration on the dock, by the profits of power and by the end game they all face.
All are products of aristocratic or military families steeped in the Haiti of Francois "Papa Doc" and Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, a land of fierce pride as the first nation to win its freedom from slavery and of political fear after decades of ruthless dictatorship.
"To be a Duvalierist, in the broad sense, means someone who views the country as a private business, as private property, and the army as being there to protect that property," said Mark Aristide, an Haitian emigre with the Quixote Center, a privately funded pacifist group.
All three leaders are army officers. Two -- Generals Cedras and Biamby -- were classmates at Haiti's military academy. At least ,, two -- General Biamby and Colonel Francois -- had training in the United States. General Biamby took infantry officer training at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1980 and 1985. Colonel Francois took small-arms and ammunition repair courses at the Army Ordnance School, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and the Savanna Army Depot, Ill., in 1983.
General Cedras reportedly attended psychological-warfare courses in the United States. But neither the Pentagon nor the military attache's office at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti could find details of his U.S. training record.
"There is a very subtle, or maybe not so subtle, relationship with the U.S. military," said Anthony Bryan, Caribbean director of the North-South Center, a hemispheric research group at the University of Miami. "The present military structure in Haiti is a direct result of U.S. occupation of the island for 19 years [from 1915 to 1934]."
Bases of power
General Cedras' power derives from the high command, the palace guard and the wealthy elite who appreciate his articulate diplomacy and enjoy the benefits and graft of his patronage. General Biamby's base is among the rank-and-file troops who see him as "a soldier's soldier." Colonel Francois' power derives from the capital's police force, the largest of the army's 14 corps.
Despite indications of division among the leadership trio, no splits have broken their united front. Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a liberal Washington think tank, said: "The Haitian military has always been run on factionalism.
"It is important, with these major strains within, for the Haitian military to coalesce in some kind of de facto coalition. The way I look upon the Haitian military is: it exists in order to engage in institutionalized acts of corruption."
That corruption, according to U.S. officials, is based on smuggling drugs.
"Francois supports the regime because he is making money hand over fist in the black market," said a Pentagon official involved in Haitian policy. "He is along for the ride."
The extent to which General Cedras and General Biamby are directly involved in the military's smuggling operations is less clear. But the New York Times reported this year that two members of a Colombian cocaine cartel told U.S. investigators that General Cedras helped protect drug shipments through Haiti to the United States in the 1980s.
General Cedras, who cultivates a bland demeanor and disarming courtesy, is the Haitian leader most likely to be seen on CNN. Born to an elite family in the coastal town of Jeremie, he was hand-picked by "Papa Doc" Duvalier's widow to join the military academy. Reportedly, he was recruited to the CIA payroll. The CIA declined to provide information for this article.
General Cedras was appointed army commander by the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president. He was previously a lieutenant colonel in charge of the military academy. The appointment was a reward for Colonel Cedras' control of security during the December 1990 ballot. General Cedras has since alleged that the Aristide victory was fraudulent.
In 1991, General Cedras turned on Father Aristide after a failed coup attempt by leaders of the Tontons Macoutes, the former private army of the Duvalier family, which left 70 people dead. General Cedras seized power and expelled Father Aristide.
General Cedras rules the country from the army's headquarters in a French colonial-style building on the side of the presidential palace opposite the modern central police station in downtown Port-au-Prince.
"It is quite a clever mode of operation for Cedras," said Ian Martin, who, as human rights director of the United Nations-Organization of American States international civilian mission to Haiti, met with the general several times last year.
"If somebody's going to be aggressive, it isn't going to be Cedras," Mr. Martin said. "Cedras is very smooth in handling foreigners. If human rights violations were raised, he would say 'If anybody is responsible, we discipline them,' but there was no serious engagement with the reality of what was going on."
That reality, according to the 1994 Amnesty International report on human rights violations in Haiti, included slayings by officially sanctioned death squads, and the torture and detention of political prisoners.
The man most often blamed for the rights violations is Colonel Francois, son of a Duvalier palace security guard. Only once in the 35 months since the coup has he agreed to meet with U.N. human rights delegates.
Mr. Martin, who was at that meeting, said the police chief allowed his brother, Evans Francois, a veteran diplomat, to do most of the talking. The meeting was held in a building shared by the notorious "Anti-Gang" police. According to the former U.N. official, the death squads are housed there and prisoners are tortured there.
"It is a little hard to believe that Michel Francois is not directly involved in what goes on in the same building as his headquarters," said Mr. Martin, now senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank.
General Biamby is the bachelor son of a former Haitian defense minister who was also "Papa Doc" Duvalier's private secretary. Eschewing any display of wealth, the general still lives in his mother's house.
A former commander of the presidential guard, General Biamby is no newcomer to military coups. In 1989, he tried to seize power, and he and two other officers were arrested and expelled.
The only reason they were not executed is that they held the president's mother hostage, eventually freeing her in return for safe passage to the United States.
They were taken to a New York detention center and issued the hTC orange jump suits worn by all illegal immigrants detained there. General Biamby was wearing that garb when Bill O'Neill, then deputy director of the Lawyers Committee on Human Rights, met him at the center.
"For a Haitian military officer with all the nationalism and pride that comes with that, it was a humiliation," said Mr. O'Neill, who was legal director of the U.N.-O.A.S. mission to Haiti for most of the past year. "He was extremely bitter."
General Biamby's incarceration dragged on for six months, until he accepted an offer of asylum in Venezuela, where he stayed until his return to Haiti. His treatment in the United States reportedly left him consumed by anti-Americanism. General Cedras later appointed his 1973 classmate chief of staff.
While the defiance of Haiti's three leaders may be impressive, the military power behind it is not. The army is poorly equipped, trained and led. Troops in the best units, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency, have about 150 bullets each, with no resupply prospects. Most of their weapons are World War II-vintage. They have no attack planes, warships or missiles.
"The Haitian military has never fought a war and is not now prepared to fight a war" said Mr. Birns of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "There is no effort in Haiti right now to engage in defensive posture, because everyone knows as soon as the U.S. military lands, the Haitian military will be rushing to the Marines to escape street justice, which is its biggest fear."
Faced with such a no-win prospect, why don't the generals take their money and run?
"If you were reading Congress and the U.S. press at the moment, would you be convinced that an invasion was inevitable?" asked Mr. Martin, of the Carnegie Endowment. "The great irony of it is the only chance Clinton has of not having to invade is to be absolutely single-mindedly determined that he is willing to. Only then might the generals go."
Said the University of Miami's Mr. Bryan: "They are going with a sense of history, the idea that this is a sovereign state, that it has resisted in the past."