Our Man in Haiti

Former Dade politician Darryl Reaves was ready when the call came: The military rulers in Port-au-Prince need your help!

This week, as exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide finalizes plans for a Miami conference addressing his nation's future, a former bit player in the island drama will watch from a distance, a mere spectator. Not long ago he was center stage, an actor playing an intriguing and mysterious role.

"I'm in a quandary," says Darryl Reaves, former state representative from Dade and unsuccessful candidate for both Congress and the county commission. "I would love to explain everything I did, because I think I did a tremendous job for this nation and for the nation of Haiti. But I can't tell you."

Not everyone shares Reaves's upbeat assessment of his unusual performance during the current Haitian political crisis. Those familiar with his work have described him as a shill for the Haitian military, which has been condemned by the United Nations and human rights groups for the bloody coup against Aristide and the reign of terror and repression that has paralyzed Haiti since 1991.

During a four-month period last year, after insinuating himself into the Port-au-Prince headquarters of General Raoul Cedras, Reaves acted as a liaison between the military regime and the international press corps. "I opened the military headquarters and persuaded the general to allow the media in there," Reaves boasts. "I made sure they [reporters] had access to anything they wanted."

Though Reaves denies he did anything improper, his actions may have violated the United States's embargo against providing goods or services to the island's government. Reaves claims he was never actually working for the military, or for anyone else. "I was there as a private citizen. This was totally a humanitarian effort on behalf of the good people --" he pauses. "Let me put it to you like this --" he says, faltering again. Finally he resorts to what will become a refrain: "That I can't discuss."

But the 33-year-old Reaves is a politician at heart, and as with most politicians, talking comes more naturally than keeping quiet. The tale he weaves about his role in last summer's negotiations between Cedras and Aristide, held on Governors Island in New York, is as compelling as it is incredible. And this weekend, as Aristide and other Haitians are expected to gather at downtown Miami's Inter-Continental Hotel amid growing tension with the Clinton Administration, Reaves can only dream about what course history might have taken had his efforts been successful.

Success has proved elusive in other aspects of Reaves's life. While he did win a seat in the state legislature in 1990 (the same seat previously held by his father), his single term was marked by controversy and contentiousness. He abandoned Tallahassee to mount an anemic campaign for Congress against Carrie Meek in 1992. That was followed a few months later by a resounding defeat in his effort to unseat Arthur Teele from the newly expanded county commission.

Reaves traces his passion for Haitian affairs back to September 30, 1991, the day Aristide was ousted from power. Haitians in Miami took to the streets in protest, and the initial violence prompted memories of the brutal clash between Miami cops and Haitians a year earlier. Reaves, whose legislative district at the time bordered Little Haiti, says he was appalled.

He credits himself with brokering a crucial meeting among city officials, police commanders, and Haitian leaders. An official day of outrage was arranged. Permits were issued. Platforms and barricades were set up along NE 54th Street. And further violence was averted. From that incident, Reaves says, "I became a conduit for a lot of the Haitian leadership in Miami."

It was a relationship he says he maintained through his failed political campaigns. In fact, after his loss to Teele in March 1993, Reaves -- an attorney without a steady practice -- decided to seek a post with the U.S. State Department as director of the Agency for International Development (AID) in Haiti. Reaves soon realized, however, that the position would remain vacant until the Aristide crisis was resolved, so he kept a close eye on events.

The best hope for a settlement came last summer when the United Nations and the United States hosted a summit between Aristide and Cedras on Governors Island in New York City's harbor. "I got a call from some local people asking if I would take part in the negotiations," Reaves says, though he refuses to identify who called him. Flattered and honored, he flew to New York in late June and checked into a Manhattan hotel. Reaves had a room on the 30th floor. Aristide, he claims, was on the 40th. Just prior to the beginning of the conference, Reaves says he met privately with Aristide at the hotel.

In the ensuing days, Reaves followed the proceedings on television from his hotel room. Optimism turned to disappointment as the talks bogged down amid rancor and mistrust on both sides. On Sunday, June 27, Reaves recalls, the prospects for compromise seemed particularly bleak. "That Monday I got another call, asking me to come over to the island to talk to General Cedras," Reaves claims, adding that he had never met Cedras. "I jumped at the opportunity. I thought, 'This is history.'" Reaves says Secret Service agents escorted him to the island, where he met with Cedras several times.

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