WASHINGTON — WHEN Haitian Foreign Minister Francois Benoit talks about reconciliation for his troubled nation, few can dispute his authority on the subject.
While the young Army lieutenant sat helplessly in political asylum 29 years ago, his family - nearly a dozen people including his parents and 18-month-old son - were massacred on the orders of dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier.
Mr. Benoit, a world-class marksman and son of a former World Court jurist at The Hague, was part of a cadre of young reform-minded officers forced to seek safety in the Dominican Republic Embassy.
Even though he was in the Embassy at the time, Benoit was blamed by Duvalier for an assassination attempt on the dictator's son in which some bodyguards were killed.
"I thought for a few years that the only way to a solution was by force, to oppose and overthrow Duvalier. I prepared myself, trained myself, kept myself in tip-top shape for the day it would come," says Benoit, who carries himself with the noticeably erect posture of a marksman.
"But it became more and more obvious through reflecting on Haitian history that what I was getting ready to do had been done before - people overthrowing the government, establishing a new rule. The very dynamics of the overthrow is to bear more dictatorship."
BENOIT preaches reconciliation and nonviolence - something he had time to dream about for Haiti during 28 years in exile working as a General Motors engineer in Detroit.
He was in Washington last week lobbying for official recognition of the military-backed government in Haiti.
Benoit appeals to realism in explaining how he reconciles his message of nonviolence with his participation in a government backed by the very military that overthrew the nation's first democratically elected president last September.
"Anytime a democracy is disturbed it is a mistake," he states bluntly. But he hastens to add that the military in Haiti is so strong a presence that it must be persuaded of its role in democracy and not just ignored, "a deadly mistake."
Rep. James Oberstar (D) of Minnesota, who worked with Benoit during the early 1960s as an English teacher in Haiti, believes he will be a stabilizing influence in Haiti.
Referring to the past, Mr. Oberstar says, "Again and again we've seen people with good intentions blow it.... Haiti's history is filled with hate, revenge, and failure." Yet he is convinced Benoit is "a man who has felt the pain of Duvalierism and is nonetheless filled with idealism for his country."