Alvin P. Adams Jr., a career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Haiti during the tumultuous period in the early 1990s when Jean-Bertrand Aristide became president in a historic democratic election, only to be overthrown months later in a military coup, died Oct. 10 in Portland, Ore. He was 73.
The cause was an apparent heart attack, his cousin Timothy M. Phelps said.
Mr. Adams spent three decades in the Foreign Service, beginning in 1967. His first overseas posting was in Vietnam during the war in Southeast Asia.
He rose through the diplomatic ranks and in 1983, received his first ambassadorial appointment, to Djibouti, an impoverished and troubled country on the Horn of Africa. Mr. Adams served there until 1985, then became deputy director for counterterrorism at the State Department before arriving in Haiti in 1989.
Long dominated by the repressive rule of the Duvalier family, the country was led at the time by Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril, a military dictator. Mr. Adams gave his early public remarks not in French, but in the Creole language spoken by the masses — a move seen to indicate his intention of supporting a push for democracy.
Mr. Adams used a Creole phrase laden with political significance: “A loaded donkey cannot stand still.” The ambassador’s nickname in Haiti, the New York Times reported, became “Loaded Donkey.”
Popular support for Avril, who was linked to the Duvalier regime, quickly eroded, and by early 1990, the country seemed poised to fall into chaos. The Washington Post reported at the time that Mr. Adams helped persuade Avril to step down.
Their conversation was described as personal and intimate, with references by Mr. Adams to Richard M. Nixon in the final days of his beleaguered presidency.
Mr. Adams also reportedly appealed to Avril by speaking about the human ability to transcend loss. The ambassador said that his wife, who was Vietnamese, had lost her homeland to war. Their son, Tung Thanh Adams, while serving in the Navy, was killed at age 25 in a explosion on the USS Iowa.
“He used the skills of a diplomat to get a military dictator to step down,” Kent Brokenshire, then a junior officer at the embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and now deputy Haiti special coordinator at the State Department, said in an interview. “It was a brilliant piece of work on the part of Ambassador Adams.”
Avril agreed to step down and left the country in an attempt to forestall further chaos. Elections were held in December 1990. The victor was Aristide, a populist politician and onetime Catholic priest.
“Americans can be proud of the role played by their Ambassador, Alvin Adams, since his arrival a year ago,” the New York Times wrote in an editorial. “By making plain that American economic support depended on progress toward elections, he helped keep the electoral process on track.”
Aristide was a charismatic figure but failed to maintain control and was ousted in a coup in September 1991. When Aristide decided to leave the country, Mr. Adams accompanied him to the airport and sat with him until he boarded the plane, Brokenshire said. The ambassador’s presence defused the threat of violence, Brokenshire said, and Mr. Adams was honored with a State Department award.
In Haiti, Aristide returned fitfully to power before relinquishing control in 2004, amid charges of corruption.
Mr. Adams, who had demonstrated his skill at serving in troubled places, was U.S. ambassador to Peru from 1993 to 1996, as that country confronted a Maoist insurgency and the violent drug trade.
Alvin Philip Adams Jr. was born in New York City on Aug. 29, 1942. His maternal grandfather was Nathan L. Miller, who served as the Republican governor of New York in the early 1920s. His father, Alvin P. Adams Sr., was a prominent aviation executive.
The younger Mr. Adams received a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University in 1964, and a law degree from Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 1967.
During the Vietnam War, he served on the staff of Henry A. Kissinger, the national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations. In the Reagan administration, Mr. Adams was an assistant to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. during the Falklands War.
Mr. Adams retired in 1996, later serving as president of the United Nations Association. A former Alexandria, Va., resident, he lived in Honolulu and Buenos Aires before settling in Portland in 2011.
His marriage to the former Mai-Anh Nguyen ended in divorce. Survivors include a son, Lex Adams of Ladera Ranch, Calif.; a brother; a sister; and two grandchildren.
In a 1992 interview with the New York Times, as he prepared to leave Haiti, Mr. Adams reflected on his time there.
“People here say, just wave your magic wand and things will happen, but it doesn’t work that way,” he said. “Whether I leave this country in a better condition than I found it in is certainly a fair question. . . . Some people would say the elections here were a turning point, and however dark the moment, Haiti can no longer be governed with a total disregard for the people.”