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!

Reaves denies threatening Nusser and ascribes her fear, at least in part, to what he describes as the paranoia some white women feel when dealing with a black man. "The young lady wanted to interview me and I refused to discuss my role with her," he says simply. "I didn't want the focus to be on me. I'm inconsequential."

Nusser's article appeared September 3 on the front page of the Palm Beach Post under the headline "Ex-Dade Politico Helps Haiti's Army: Former State Representative Is Now Shadowy Liaison." The Miami Herald has never reported Reaves's activities in Haiti, and Nusser doesn't understand why. It's important, she argues, to let people in Dade County know what Reaves has been doing, since it's not unrealistic to think he may run for office again.

But the Herald's silence on the matter was not uncommon. Nusser found that a number of news organizations appeared hesitant to criticize Reaves for his actions in Haiti. "They were afraid their access [to military sources] would get completely cut off if they offended the wrong people," she says. In fact, she admits, one of the reasons she was given the task of writing the Reaves article was that she didn't cover Haiti on a regular basis. If she lost access as a result, it wouldn't permanently damage Cox's ability to gather news.

Another journalist who dealt with Reaves is CNN correspondent Charles Jaco. "We ran into him quite by accident," explains Jaco, who is based in Miami. "We were at the military headquarters in downtown Port-au-Prince, on the second floor, a highly restricted area, when we saw him. He was going from one secured office to another, places we couldn't go." Ironically, Jaco recognized Reaves from the photograph that accompanied Nusser's article. He got Reaves's attention, and they met for about twenty minutes.

According to Jaco, Reaves claimed he was in Haiti working as a consultant, but not necessarily for the military. "He was very vague," Jaco recalls. Reaves said he was simply trying to get the military's side of the story into the press while at the same time encouraging the media to take a harder look at Aristide's past. For example, Jaco recalls Reaves asking him why reporters weren't doing more stories about Aristide's alleged support for the practice of "necklacing," in which victims are burned to death by gasoline-soaked tires.

Reaves complains that his relationship with the Haitian military has been misunderstood. In order for the Governors Island accord to work, he contends, Cedras and other military leaders had to feel confident they weren't going to be imprisoned for their roles in the coup. And whatever confidence they might have developed was undermined by Aristide's increasingly sharp rhetoric during the approach of the October 15 deadline, when Cedras was supposed to resign.

Reaves's strategy, as he describes it, was to encourage more positive media coverage of the military generally and Cedras in particular. "What we were trying to do was get the military in the mode where they were not always blasted as the bad guys, to get them to relax," he explains. "You've got to make them feel okay about themselves."

This effort to promote goodwill toward Haiti's military rulers wasn't limited to the press. Reaves also targeted Washington lawmakers, in particular members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Engaging in his own version of shuttle diplomacy, Reaves flew between Port-au-Prince and Washington on several occasions and attempted to meet with Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel (New York), an influential member of the caucus. "He first contacted us last summer," recalls Emile Milne, a spokesman for Rangel, "and told us he was a close friend to some of the members of the Florida delegation -- I think he mentioned Rep. Corrine Brown and Rep. Carrie Meek -- and that he wanted some support from Congressman Rangel in getting the position with AID in Haiti. So we wrote him a letter supporting his efforts.

"And then he started going to Haiti," Milne continues, "and on a couple of occasions he called me from Haiti saying he was calling with word from General Cedras. He wanted us to know that Cedras was supportive of a settlement. Eventually Reaves came up to Washington and visited the office. He told me he had more messages from General Cedras. He never did meet with Congressman Rangel. And the last time I talked to Reaves I told him I didn't really think becoming a spokesman for General Cedras was going to help him get a job with AID."

Another congressional staffer reports that Reaves was viewed by some members of the Congressional Black Caucus as being "firmly in the pocket" of the Haitian military. "Whenever I talked to him," says the Democratic staffer, who asked not to be identified, "he just really seemed like he was on a strange adventure. I don't know what happened to Darryl."

Reaves's strange adventure with Haitian politics ended as abruptly as it began. As October drew to a close and it became clear that Cedras and the military would refuse to abide by the Governors Island accord, Reaves left Haiti for good. He says he hasn't had contact with Cedras since then, but bears him no ill will. "He's a very nice, mild guy," Reaves offers. "He had nothing to do with the coup. He was asleep when it happened. They woke him up and told him he was in charge."

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