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Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, who headed Haiti’s military-dominated government after the 1986 fall of the nearly 30-year Duvalier family dictatorship, and briefly served as president before his ouster in a military coup, has died. He was 85.
Namphy, who had lung cancer, died Tuesday afternoon in the Dominican Republic, his niece Elisabeth Delatour Préval confirmed.
“He was a very simple man who loved his country,” said Préval, wife of the late Haitian President René Preval.
Namphy lived in exile in the Dominican Republic, which shares the same island of Hispaniola with Haiti, after a 1988 coup by non-commissioned Haitian army officers toppled his three-month military government. He never returned to Haiti despite the proximity.
Namphy’s death leaves six living presidents including current head-of-state Jovenel Moïse and Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril, who would replace Namphy in another coup led by members of the Haitian Armed Forces. Préval, who led Haiti during its devastating 2010 earthquake and was the only Haitian president to have completed two full terms in office, died unexpectedly last year.
In 1986, after Dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled into exile in France, Namphy became head of interim National Council of Government that took charge of Haiti on Feb. 7. He and his three-person military junta promised elections and democratic reforms. But the period instead was tainted by army killings of peasants, demonstrators and opposition leaders.
Haitians in Miami and elsewhere would denounce his rule, and during a 1986 visit to Miami, Namphy was greeted by hundreds of Haitians chanting slogans and carrying signs calling for the departure of his provisional government.
Under him, Haiti’s first attempt at democratic rule in three decades would end in a November 1987 massacre of three dozen individuals by government soldiers and thugs. Two months later, Leslie Manigat would become the country’s first civilian president in amid allegations of frauduy balloting. Four months later, after dismissing Namphy as commander in chief of the armed forces, Manigat would be ousted after Namphy seized power in a weekend military coup.
On Sept. 17, 1988 Namphy would be installed as president after announcing on national television that he was the new head-of-state. He soon announced the dissolution of the national legislature and the formation of a 12-man cabinet. His presidency , however, would only last three months. Once again, the army would topple another strongman, this time replacing Namphy with Avril.
Namphy once said that his greatest ambition was to be able to walk the streets of Haiti freely after Feb. 7, 1988, when a new president was supposed to take power. But during his rule, friends described him as a tough and stubborn leader who despising managing to survive being exiled or killed under the Duvalier dictatorship, became the victim of his own paranoia as he tried to control the outcome of the elections.
Namphy was originally from Grande-Rivière-du-Nord, a bucolic town on the outskirts of Cap-Haitian, Haiti’s second largest city.
His brother, Joe, who died in 2010, was a prominent South Florida businessman who once manged the Miami Toros, which became the Fort Lauderdale Strikers before folding in 1997. Joe Namphy also played for Haiti’s famous Victory football club in the 1950s and headed the Haitian Football Federation in 1974 when the national team reached the World Cup.