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!

During his first interview with New Times, Reaves was somewhat circumspect in describing his involvement: "Hopefully I played some kind of role in convincing the military to sign the agreement." But in a subsequent interview, he was far less modest: "I was the person who convinced General Cedras he had to go along with this accord."

Reaves again refuses to name those who summoned him to meet with the military leader, claiming their lives would be in danger if their identities were revealed. But Miami attorney Ira Kurzban, an advisor to Aristide who attended the Governors Island negotiations, says he can eliminate one possibility. "He certainly wasn't representing any of the democratic forces in Haiti; he wasn't there on Aristide's behalf," Kurzban asserts. "The only way he could have gotten on Governors Island is if he was either working for the CIA or the Haitian military." As for Reaves's claim that his involvement was pivotal in persuading Cedras to sign the agreement, Kurzban is incredulous. "What forced Cedras to sign the agreement," he says, "was the pressure placed on him by the international community, not Darryl Reaves."

Reaves brushes aside suggestions he was working for the CIA or the Haitian military. Too many Americans, he states, mistakenly believe there are only two sides to the conflict in Haiti: Aristide versus Cedras. "There is not one camp or two camps, there are at least four or five camps in Haiti," he notes. And he hints that his Haitian contacts are drawn from the country's business community, with which his family has had past dealings. "But I can't talk about that," he adds.

According to a State Department spokesman, Reaves was not on the official list of those invited to the Governors Island conference, and U.S. special envoy to Haiti Lawrence Pezzullo is unaware of Reaves's name or his participation in the talks. "But if he was brought on Governors Island by one of the parties to meet privately with General Cedras," the spokesman explains, "then that is entirely possible."

The accord, which outlined a timetable for Cedras's resignation and Aristide's return, was signed July 3. His mission accomplished, Reaves flew back to Miami. Within a week, he says he received yet another call from his unnamed Haitian contacts. "I was asked if I'd continue assisting by going down to Haiti," he recalls. "Naturally, I left immediately."

Reporters who regularly cover Haiti describe a poverty-stricken country wracked by violence and veiled in mystery, a place where voodoo determines events as much as politics, and where shadowy characters with murky alliances thrive in an atmosphere of low-grade anarchy.

In mid-July Darryl Reaves landed squarely in the heart of this oblique world and settled into his new surroundings with remarkable speed and ease. "He was suddenly the man in Haiti," notes Kenneth Freed, Miami-based Caribbean bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. "He was the one we were supposed to get in touch with if we wanted to talk to the military. I was never clear what his financial relationship was with the military."

Freed tried unsuccessfully on a couple of occasions to meet with Reaves, but Reaves preferred a different means of communication. "I would get these faxes from him," Freed recalls. "They were critiques of my stories." Referring to them as critiques, Freed quickly adds, is perhaps a bit generous. Often they were profane screeds in which Freed's stories were determined to be "full of shit" and his political sympathies transparent: an Aristide supporter. "I would also get these indirect messages," Freed continues, "usually through [another reporter in Haiti], that I was in real trouble and that maybe I shouldn't come back to Haiti."

Reaves, who earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Florida A&M, denies ever having sent faxes about Haiti -- profane or not -- to Freed or any other reporter. "Never," he insists. "You must understand. I didn't have an office in Haiti. I didn't have a fax machine. I didn't have a staff. I didn't have anything."

One thing Reaves did have, however, was a reputation among journalists. While his relationship with the Haitian military remained unclear, his volatile personality became the subject of much discussion during the weeks following the Governors Island accord. Nancy Nusser, a reporter for Cox Newspapers -- a chain of eighteen dailies including the Atlanta Constitution and the Palm Beach Post, decided the former Dade legislator's dealings with the media and the military warranted a story. "I kept hearing about him from other reporters," Nusser explains. "This guy suddenly came on the scene and what he did was hook up journalists with Cedras and Michel Franaois." (Port-au-Prince police chief Franaois is suspected of masterminding the coup against Aristide and of controlling a vast network of armed thugs.) Reaves's ground rules for arranging interviews, according to Nusser, required that his name never be included in any stories. "He used to tell reporters, 'I don't exist,'" Nusser says.

In August, after Nusser made it clear to Reaves that she was going to prepare an article about him whether he cooperated or not, she says he became very angry and threatened her. "He got really mad and he started swearing," she recalls. "And he said, 'If you fuck with my life, I'll fuck with your life.' He said things like that a couple of times. I got scared at that point, and I avoided him." Nusser says other reporters told her that Reaves was so livid he began talking about having her arrested in Haiti. Fearful that she would indeed be detained by security forces, Nusser left Haiti and finished reporting the story from her home in Mexico.

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