Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, the first-among-equals on Haiti's new national governing council, was described today as "a soldier's soldier" with a mind for administrative detail, a taste for luxury, and fluency in Creole, French and Spanish as well as a knowledge of English.
Namphy, 54, is president of a five-member council that includes three military men and two civilians -- all but one of them old-line Duvalierists who made their careers under Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier's repressive regime. Namphy was a close friend and confidant to Papa Doc, but his relationship with Jean-Claude -- 20 years his junior -- was on a more professional, less personal level, according to those who know him.
In his statement broadcast this morning on government-run radio and television, Namphy pledged to move his country toward democratic elections and respect for human rights while declaring that he and the others in the governing council had no political ambitions of their own.
The other members, in the order in which they were presented -- which may indicate their power in the new government -- are: Col. Max Valles, 47, commander of the presidential guard that protects the palace; Col. William Regala, 49, inspector general of the Army; Alix Cineas, 53, a civilian engineer who was minister of public works; Gerard Gourgue, 60, head of the Haitian League of Human Rights. A sixth man, Col. Prosper Avril, 48, who was an aide-de-camp to Jean-Claude Duvalier, was listed as an adviser to the governing body.
All of the faces in the new government were known to American policy-makers, but Gourgue is the only one whose name is familiar to average Haitians.
Namphy is said to be a man of considerable wealth, in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, where minimum wage is $3 a day and about half the people are either unemployed or must make their living selling wares on street corners. He owns property at Camp Perry in the country, where he enjoys spending weekends with friends and intends to retire.
Namphy takes over the government at a time of unrest by a people who have grown impatient and angry with Haiti's unequal distribution of wealth.
During a diplomatic reception this afternoon in the ornate Yellow Room of the presidential palace, the short, slightly stocky Namphy mostly stood stiffly while scores of ambassadors were introduced. But when the Panamanian ambassador came up to shake hands, he let his soldier's demeanor drop for a short while as the two talked good-naturedly in Spanish.
For those who know him well, this short scene provided a tiny glimpse into the character of the man at the helm of the new government that must lead this problem-plagued island country. He is a career military officer who rarely speaks unless spoken to, but beneath the surface is a friendliness spiced with a sense of humor.
"It is very hard to get a word out of him," said Raoul Jacques, an architect and publisher who says he and Namphy are friends. "He likes to be in the company of his friends."
Valles is one of the most widely traveled of Haiti's career military men, having spent time training in Washington and at Camp Lejeune, N.C., as well as in several countries in Europe. He is a poet and playwright who directs a small high school in Port-au-Prince in addition to commanding the presidential guard.
Regala studied at a naval graduate school in Monterey, Calif. He also studied law and economics at the State University of Haiti with Gregoire Eugene, who has led opposition to the Duvalier family in recent years.
Cineas, one of the two civilian members, studied in Paris on a French government scholarship. He is the only holdover from Duvalier's Cabinet, serving as a senior adviser and as minister of public works, communications and transport. His brother Fritz was formerly Haiti's ambassador to the United States and is now serving in Spain. Avril was in retirement before being recalled and promoted to colonel in November. He was the deposed president's chief military adviser.
Gourgue is the only one of the five council members who has been publicly critical of Duvalier's regime. As head of the Haitian human rights league, he joined several international human rights organizations in criticizing human rights abuses in Haiti, and he long has advocated democratic principles.
In an interview last week, Gourgue accused Duvalier's security forces, the Volunteers for National Security, of systematically rounding up political opponents for execution and dumping their bodies in a burial site about 10 miles north of the capital off the main coastal road.
"It's the same as the Gestapo did in the concentration camps," he said in the interview. "They picked them up like animals and threw them in the trucks, just like Auschwitz."
Some informed sources here suggested that U.S. officials had been talking to some of these figures as early as last Thursday, when Duvalier was first expected to leave the country but changed his mind, reportedly as a U.S. plane stood waiting to fly him into exile.
"The fact is that the plane was at the airport, the president went to the airport and the president came back," said Jacques.
U.S. Embassy officials here denied reports that they had arranged for Duvalier to leave last week.