Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Haiti Coast Guard Story

                                                  The Haiti Coast Guard Story
                 This is a true story of how I became involved with the Haitian Coast Guard
                                    Written 4/2013 and rewritten 05/03/2016 unedited
                                                           Howard Yasgar

     This true story took place in April, 1970, in Port Au Prince Haiti, and for a long time I couldn’t figure out what had happened, or even why it had happened. It wasn’t until many years later that I was able to find on Google the answers as to what had actually transpired.
     I was introduced to the Country of Haiti by my friend and business associate Lou Gladstein. It was in 1964, when Lou made a deal with the Interior Minister of Haiti to purchase and remove the Haitian railroad, the railroad like everything else in Haiti had been bankrupted by the government and closed down for many years.
     In the agreement, Lou had to give the Minister of the interior two dollars a ton under the table, for Lou it was quite an accomplishment. (See the Haitian Railroad Story).
     My friend Lou, then called me in Miami and requested my assistance in helping him, to dispose of the rail, and by doing so, I ended up learning a lot about Haiti and the island which it shares with the country of the Dominican Republic.
      While I was dealing with the business of assisting Lou in disassembling and selling the railroad, I developed a kind of love for Haiti, and I became involved in several businesses there and then one grand adventure.
      Having to travel back and forth to Haiti because of the railroad project, the first thing that happened was that I started buying and exporting Haitian hand carved wood work. (See the Haiti Woodwork Story), and then, by accident, I became involved in importing primitive native Haitian paintings, I did this long before anyone even wanted one. (See the Haitian Paintings Story).  
      Now comes the grand adventure part of the story. In 1970, I had started to prospect in the interior of Haiti for gold and platinum. I had already set up a small laboratory in Miami that dealt in refining precious metals. However my prospecting in Haiti was really a ruse. It was a ploy we dreamed up to allow me to go into the interior of Haiti without creating any suspicion and search for a treasure that was stolen from Christopher Columbus in 1492.
      My friend Lou had introduced me to Doctor Marc Bulliet, who said he was Haiti’s chief archeologist. He was the one that had first gotten me interested in the hidden gold treasure. In the evenings, he had told us all about Christopher Columbus, how he discovered the island of Hispaniola and Marc had told us about Columbus’s first colony of La Navidad in Haiti. He also had a sample of a piece of gold, a native’s nose plug.  
      My having the refinery in Miami, as well as my natural interest in the gold of the early Spaniards and Christopher Columbus, prompted me to keep pushing Marc for more information. Until one day Marc told us that he had a map showing the treasure location. Mark said that due to Haiti being a small country everyone always knew what you were doing, so getting involved with any kind of gold treasure, would immediately get everyone’s attention, and could quite possibly get you killed. Especially if you actually found gold and someone that was well connected with the corrupt government wanted to get it from you.    
     It was all so intriguing that the idea of making believe we were prospectors would allow us to go into the interior of Haiti and not create any suspicion of what our real intentions were.
     Mark at the time was some kind of Haitian government employee and quite possibly a CIA asset in Haiti, so he wouldn’t go. My highly overweight friend Lou said that because I was young, I should go after the gold which was supposed to be in the Central Plateau area of Haiti. Well traveling into the interior of a primitive voodoo country by myself didn’t really appeal to me, but finding gold treasure did. So I invited a Miami friend named Paul Sherwood to join with me in the search. Paul had never been to Haiti or ever done anything unusual in his entire life so he thought treasure hunting would be great fun.
     Doctor Mark Bulliet was right, Haiti being a small country, made this kind of treasure hunt a very dangerous proposition, and while we all tried to do our best to keep the treasure hunt a secret, we found that there are no secrets ever kept in Haiti, and we began to suspect that some very undesirable people knew what we were doing, and we were scared that someone would try and kill us to get the gold. We also all knew Haiti was a black country, and we were white boys from Miami and thus we were considered unusual to the locals, because of that everyone had their eye on us, and we knew it. Everyone in the country was always watching us, we just didn’t know the extent of who was watching us, or their motivations.
     From my dealing with Lou Gladstein and the railroad project, I already knew that everyone in the government was corrupt, and there was no hope of utilizing anyone for any kind of protection as everyone had their hand out for something, and no one could be trusted. At the time, Haiti was run by a dictator named Papa Doc Duvalier and he had his own private army of thugs called the TonTon Macoute, they would have liked nothing better than to eliminate us if they found out that we had something like gold.
     Papa Doc, had been elected President in 1957, and then he ran the country as a dictatorship for 14 years. I knew from conversations with my Haitian friends, that most people living in the country were really afraid of him. They said he was involved in all kinds of bribery and extortion and had over the years killed about thirty thousand Haitian people. Some were supposedly killed in Voodoo rituals in the basement of the palace.  Papa Doc ran the country strictly by Voodoo law and only left the palace on the twenty second day of each month according to Voodoo practice. By the time I had arrived in Haiti, Papa Doc had survived six attempts to either kill him or remove him from office, however somehow he had survived them all. Don’t ask me how, but somehow I became involved with two plots to depose him.
     By the time I arrived in 1964, I knew that Papa Doc through his cronies or the TonTon Macoute controlled a lot of the business in the country, they were extracting so much money from them that they eventually bankrupted most them and that included the railroad, electric and telephone systems.
      By April of 1970, my good friend Paul Sherwood was no longer my good friend, we had just returned from our treasure hunt that had taken us into the interior of Haiti. The hunt, while being successful had also become very scary. We had attempted from the start to keep everything a secret. What had happened was that before we found the treasure, I was checking out Marc’s story, and I must have spoken to the wrong people.
Because of that, our discovery leaked out and that’s what led to this story of what happened to me and my experience with the Haitian Coast Guard in April of 1971.
     Because of the scary experience in the interior, my ex good friend Paul had decided to fly out of Haiti, and back to Miami. He didn’t even want his share of the treasure, I think he was scared and his nerves were shot. I myself, had nearly died from cyanide poisoning in the interior and I was still sick when all of the following happened.
     After Paul left Haiti, I returned to the Castle Haiti Hotel to try and recuperate. I was sitting by the pool still pretty sick from the cyanide poisoning. I had asked my driver Toni Richmond to spend the day resting with me just in case something happened.
     Tony Richmond who was my driver was also my friend, my translator and my assistant in Haiti, I thought that I could always count on him to tell me what was going on there,  he knew just about everyone and he always had his ear to the ground if something bad was going on. I think there was very little going on in Port Au Prince that Toni Richmond didn’t know about. We were just thinking about ordering lunch from a waiter, when a young uniformed Coast Guardsman came up to me and asked if I was Howard Yasgar. He was not only impeccably dressed in his uniform but he was acting very formal, standing there with his dress hat under his arm. He said that Colonel Octave Cayard the commander of the Coast Guard requests a meeting with you this afternoon sir. Can you be at the Coast Guard Station at exactly half past two? “Yes” I replied.
     The Coast guard fellow left and I turned to Toni and asked him who the hell was
Colonel Cayard, and what the hell does he want with me? I could see beads of sweat forming on Toni’s upper lip. He said, Colonel Cayard is the head of the Haitian Coast Guard and he is part of the inner circle of advisors to the president.
     I knew that the Haitian Coast Guard complex was located on the South Road in Port Au Prince, it was just a couple of miles down the road from my favorite restaurant, so I asked Toni if he would take me to the meeting with the  Colonel.  Toni said “No.”  It was the first time Toni ever had said no to me, so I asked him why? “He said I don’t want my car to be seen there.” That’s when it hit me that Toni possibly knew more than he was telling me. What could be the reason Toni didn’t want his car to be seen at the Coast Guard Station, I couldn’t imagine.
      Finally after a little prodding, Toni agreed to drop me off in a wooded area several hundred yards before the Coast Guard Station, and he said he would come back to pick me up there in about an hour.
      At exactly two PM, Toni dropped me off on the road where he said he would, and I walked to the Coast Guard station. The station was a big modern building with glass doors and marble tiled foyer with a lone secretary sitting at a desk at the far end.
       When I walked to her desk I could hear the echo of my steps. I told her who I was and that I had an appointment with the Colonel. She directed me to colonel Cayard’s office. His door was open and I walked in his office. The Colonel was behind his desk in full uniform with all his medals and ribbons on his uniform. He had gold braid everywhere. He stood and with his hand out, told me to take a chair and bring it up to his desk, he was all smiles, but I had a bad feeling.
     “How is your prospecting going” he asked me in perfect English? I told him that I had a lot of samples that I was taking back to Miami for testing. I was watching his facial expressions, and I wondered if he knew the real reason Paul and I gone into the interior?
     Did he know about the gold? I had an uneasy feeling because his facial expressions were just too friendly, like fake. Then the Colonel got right to the point. He said, “I have large land holdings in the Central Plateau area of Haiti. And there have been recent rumors that gold has been discovered there, gold that is on my property and belongs to me. Do you have any information regarding the removal of gold from my property? Obviously he knew something, so I tried to change the conversation. I said, that I would be happy to prospect his property the next time I returned to Haiti. I asked him exactly where his property was. He said, “My ranch is the Central Plateau of Haiti. Once he said that, I knew that he already knew we had found the gold, and I started getting concerned as to what he was going to do next, I knew that he wanted the gold we had discovered.
    The Colonel looked at me sternly and said, “I would like you to be my guest and go with my men to my property now, to look for the gold.” I certainly didn’t like the tone of his voice or the conversation. I said, Colonel Cayard, I am very interested in searching your property for treasure, but right now I am pretty sick from cyanide poisoning and I have to return to Miami as I need medical treatment. I promise that I will contact you on my next trip to Haiti, and I will search your property for gold.  I could see the Colonel didn’t like my answer, I had a real bad feeling about where the conversation was going and I knew the Colonel could arrest me if he wanted to, his men could easily torture me until I told them where the gold was. So I sat there, expecting him at any moment to call his men into the office. Now there was no question the Colonel knew something, I could feel it, and I was starting to get scared. But as the Colonel talked to me, I could tell he was distracted by something, he kept glancing at his telephone.
     I was expecting the worst, but all of a sudden the Colonel stood up, he reached over and shook my hand, I stood, said good bye and quickly left his office. I then walked out of the Coast Guard Building into the hot Haitian sunshine. I was glad to be alive, and I couldn’t help but wonder how the Colonel knew what we did, even Toni didn’t know we had found the gold. Perhaps the Colonel was just guessing and hoping that I would say something. I walked down the road to where I could see Toni’s car waiting for me.
     I told Toni that the Colonel wanted me to prospect his ranch. Toni said, “What ranch, the colonel doesn’t have any ranch”. He then drove me back to hotel Castle Haiti. The next day Friday, April 17, 1971, Toni took me to the airport and I flew home to Miami.        
     On Tuesday April 21, 1971, just four days after my meeting with Colonel Cayard, I picked up the Miami Herald, and the top news story was, Haitian Coast Guard Colonel Octave Cayard fires cannon on the presidential palace in an attempted coup in Haiti.
     The story said the following, Colonel Octave Cayard, Commander of the Haitian Coast Guard had taken the Haitian Coast Guard Vessel number C-10 out into the bay of Port Au Prince and then he fired three rounds, one of which hit the palace. His first shot went over the palace, killing a civilian women, His second shot hit a mausoleum, and they said everyone knew the third shot would be right on target, and it was, hitting the west wing of the palace. The Haitian army then fired back with a 105 MM howitzer, and the shell hit the water near the ship, then, minutes later a Haitian Air force plane made a pass at the ship strafing it with bullets.
      Colonel Cayard and the ship then quickly headed for open sea and towards the island of Puerto Rico, where the Colonel claimed political asylum. All of the crew members of the Coast Guard ship C-10, who were acting under Cayard’s orders requested to be returned to Haiti.
      What was unknown to the newspapers at the time was that while the ship and the Colonel were on the way to Puerto Rico, the Haitian Government had wired the United States requesting that it sink the ship.
      As I read this, I couldn’t believe all this was caused by Colonel Cayard. I was just sitting at his desk only four days earlier, how could this be possible? Did my friend Toni suspect that something was up with the Colonel and that’s why he didn’t want his car seen in front of the Coast Guard Station. Well it was years later, before all the information became public and I was to learn what really had happened.
    At the time, the president Papa Doc, had been very ill with heart problems, so several of his enemies thought it was a good time to take advantage of the situation and get rid of him. It also appears that several military generals were in on the plot, and some of them had spoken to Colonel Cayard, but the Colonel had not agreed to take part in the coup.  Then Papa Doc had gotten wind of the conspiracy, and had ordered all the generals to be arrested, as well as two Coast Guard officers that he thought were also involved.
     Because Colonel Cayard was a close friend of Papa Doc he was called in for a strategy meeting on the evening of April 20, 1970. At the meeting Colonel Cayard said nothing to Papa Doc about the possible conspiracy, but he knew that when the Coast Guard officers were eventually questioned his name would come up. So by April 21, Colonel Cayard realized that he would probably be arrested. So he thought that by firing on the capital, he could force “Papa Doc” to leave it, and everything would be resolved in somewhat peaceful manner.  So he actually called the palace thirty minutes ahead of time to warn them that he would be firing the ships cannon on them.
     I read where Colonel Cayard, applied for political asylum and now lives in Miami Florida. Knowing he was in ill health, on Feb of 1971 Papa Doc held a plebiscite and appointed his son Jean Claude Duvalier as his successor. Toni and I were there to see it and watch Papa Doc and Jean Claude come out on the palace balcony to the cheers of thousands of Haitian peasants, who had been trucked in for the occasion. Then on April 22, 1971 it was reported that “Papa Doc” had died, and his son Jean Claude took over the presidency and he and his wife continued plundering Haiti.
     It should be of interest that “Papa Doc” died on April 18 1971, however April 22, is an important day in the Voodoo religion, so he had his death  announced on April 22, not April 18.


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