Jean-Claude Duvalier and his wife Michele were still tongue-lashing ministers and threatening to seek U.N. Security Council action against the United States as recently as last Monday.
But by Thursday, Michele was breaking down in tears and the president for life was bickering over a two-suitcase limit on the U.S. Air Force plane that would carry them to exile in the wee hours of Friday, according to an account pieced together from diplomatic sources and Haitian officials here.
Today they are living in a French Alpine resort with a short-term visa and orders to find another place to live, while Haitians here revile them in chants and slogans.
According to the diplomatic sources and Haitian officials closely involved, the swift downfall of what amounted to a royal couple came about largely because of Jean-Claude's conviction that the United States no longer wanted him in power and a fear that he would enter history as a butcher if he tried to hold out any longer.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz's declaration on a U.S. news show Monday morning proved decisive as events unfolded toward Duvalier's downfall after 15 years as ruler of Haiti, the sources said. The secretary of state did little more than reiterate U.S. policy, urging "the type of government there and elsewhere that is put there by a democratic process." But in the heated atmosphere of Haiti at that moment, his comment was explosive.
Antigovernment violence had been boiling across Haiti for weeks, leaving about 60 persons dead by government count and more by other tallies. Although Duvalier had vowed to remain in power, Haitians and diplomats here had become unanimous in predicting the Duvalier family's 29-year grip on power had slipped irrevocably.
The same day Shultz spoke, a furious Duvalier and his equally perturbed wife presided over a Cabinet meeting to consider how Haiti would react to another Reagan administration statement: the false announcement by White House spokesman Larry Speakes the preceding Friday that Duvalier already had fallen.
According to an official who heard the exchange, the 34-year-old dictator and his wife, still very much in charge, berated foreign minister Georges Salomon for not making an angry diplomatic representation in return.
The couple insisted on doing something and suggested calling for a U.N. Security Council session to denounce what would be labeled as U.S. interference in Haiti, the official said, but were talked out of precipitous action by the career diplomat.
The statement by Shultz, which in the end proved key, did not come up. News travels slowly in Haiti, even in the brilliant white presidential palace.
By Wednesday morning, however, Duvalier appeared worried that Shultz was sending him a message. An official said he summoned Salomon over breakfast and asked for a text of the statement. The U.S. Embassy provided an English-language transcript later that morning, the informants recalled. But Jean-Claude wanted to know more.
He had Salomon call in U.S. Ambassador Clayton McManaway to explain what the secretary of state intended to convey. According to authoritative sources, McManaway replied he had no instructions.
But Salomon came away from the conversation convinced that the United States wanted Duvalier to hold genuine elections or leave Haiti and make room for a new government, according to an official in the presidential palace.
Salomon, a former ambassador to Washington, relied on for contacts with the U.S. Embassy, relayed his conviction to the ruler, and for the first time Duvalier indicated he might consider stepping down and fleeing the country, the official said.
The foreign minister and McManaway held a second meeting that afternoon and started tentative discussions about how the dictator's departure could be arranged without bloodshed and what the United States could do to help, the source reported.
Prime Minister Edward Seaga of Jamaica, a close U.S. ally, also telephoned urging Duvalier to step down and sent an envoy to press the message in person. But a source closely involved in the dictator's downfall said Seaga's call had "no importance" in the decision and the Jamaican envoy was never received by the president.
In addition to Salomon's reading of the Shultz statement, Duvalier received advice that he leave from friends in France and the United States in telephone calls he made Wednesday night from the palace, officials said.
Duvalier reportedly also was shaken by the abduction of six nuns from a monastery late Wednesday, apparently carried out by his own Volunteers for National Security, or Ton-Tons Macoutes. He ordered a roadblock to search every car with nuns until the six were found and freed during the night.
An official who was with Duvalier said the ruler apparently took the nuns' abduction to mean he could not remain as president for life without ugly repression that would blacken his name in history.
In any case, Duvalier informed Salomon on Thursday morning that he had made up his mind and wanted to leave that night, the official said.
In a meeting with French Ambassador Francois Michel, Duvalier formally asked permission for entry into France by the president and his closest family members.
According to the closely involved official, this was the first request by any competent Haitian authority for exile rights for Duvalier. Immediately afterward, Duvalier received McManaway and asked him to arrange the U.S. plane to fly the family out of Haiti.
An official in the palace reminded Duvalier that he should also provide for some sort of authority after his departure. According to an involved informant, the dictator at that point sat down at a desk and, with a pen, began a list of those he wanted on the ruling council that would follow him.
Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, then chief of staff and now council president, was first on the list, the source recalled, and second was Col. Williams Regala, then armed forces inspector general and now minister of interior and national defense.
After these two names, he said, Duvalier paused and expressed uncertainty about who should come next. After reflection, he scratched on three more names: Col. Max Valles, Gerard Gourgue and Alix Cineas. None of the five was consulted, the official said.
By that time, most of the government and armed forces high command had gathered in the National Palace, aware that something was going on. Ministers and officers passed from office to office, seeking information. Duvalier chatted easily with them in the palace situation room, the source said, without revealing his decision to leave or his choices for the new rulers.
Salomon, meanwhile, maintained contact with U.S. Embassy officials about arrangements to leave. Duvalier had only one objection, according to an authoritative source: he refused to limit himself and his wife to two suitcases apiece, as ordered by U.S. officials to limit weight in an Air Force C141 Starlifter on its way to pick them up.
His advisers predicted things would move so fast at takeoff time that no one would be counting suitcases, so the limit was ignored. The advisers' main worry was how to get Duvalier and his family out of the palace without being seen by Ton-Tons Macoutes, who live in barracks nearby and could try to prevent a departure -- out of loyalty or a desire not to be left stranded -- one of the advisers said.
As evening approached and Duvalier taped a farewell message for later television broadcast, Michele wept and expressed concern for her charitable foundation, according to a witness in the palace.
Duvalier, who frequently had turned to Michele for advice during his rule, maintained composure. At about 7:30 p.m., he called in Namphy and the other council members to tell them of their new responsibilities, according to an official present during the meeting.
At the last minute, Duvalier had added the name of Col. Prosper Avril as adviser, the official said, seeking to secure cooperation of key Army brigade commanders who were Avril's friends.
As Duvalier handed over the list and a transfer-of-power proclamation, he also gave Namphy a bank statement showing $3.8 million remains in a Bank of Haiti account in the name of Michele's foundation, the official said.
Only afterward, as Namphy and the others began their new jobs, word arrived that France would accept the deposed family for a temporary stay. With that settled, Namphy turned to his first task as ruler of Haiti: organizing Duvalier's escape from the presidential palace to the airport.