Alvin P. Adams Jr., Ambassador Who Helped Haiti Pursue Democracy, Dies at 73


This obituary by Sam Roberts appeared in The New York Times.

Alvin P. Adams Jr., an American envoy and champion of human rights who was instrumental in nudging Haiti toward democracy, died on Oct. 10 at his home in Portland, Ore. He was 73.

The apparent cause was a heart attack, his cousin Timothy M. Phelps said.

A three-time ambassador, Mr. Adams persuaded Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril, the Haitian military ruler and a protégé of the ousted dictators Francois Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, to abdicate in March 1990 and leave the country on a United States Air Force jet.

General Avril’s departure paved the way for a provisional civilian replacement and, later that year, for the ascension of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first freely elected president and a Roman Catholic priest at the time.

While Father Aristide campaigned on a leftist platform critical of the United States, Mr. Adams insisted before the election that “what interests us here is the integrity and credibility of the process, and we are prepared to work with whoever is chosen by the people of this country.”

Once Father Aristide was elected, he specifically thanked American officials for supporting the free election process.

Mr. Adams was also credited with saving Father Aristide’s life the following year, denouncing the military coup that overthrew him while negotiating his safe passage to Venezuela. Father Aristide returned to power in 1994.

Alvin Philip Adams Jr. was born in New York City on Aug. 29, 1942, and grew up in the city, in Oyster Bay, on Long Island, and in Jackson Hole, Wyo. His father, also named Alvin, was an airline executive. His mother was the former Elizabeth Miller, who ran a bookstore and was a daughter of Nathan L. Miller, a governor of New York in the early 1920s.

Mr. Adams graduated from Yale University in 1964 and from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1967.

He served in diplomatic posts in Vietnam and in Washington, including the office of the ambassador at large for counterterrorism.

Mr. Adams was the envoy to Djibouti from 1983-1985, to Haiti from 1989-1992 and to Peru from 1993-1996, appointed under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1996, he was president of the United Nations Association of the United States of America and lived in Honolulu and Buenos Aires before moving to Portland, Ore.

His marriage to the former Mai-Anh Nguyen ended in divorce. He is survived by his son, Lex; two grandchildren; his brother, Nathan; and his sister, Edith Kiggen. Another son, Tung Thanh Adams, was killed in 1989 in an explosion aboard the battleship U.S.S. Iowa.

While Mr. Adams worked under Secretaries of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. during the Falklands war in 1982 and Henry A. Kissinger during his Middle East shuttle diplomacy in the late-1960s and 1970s, many of his tensest encounters came in Haiti, where his ability to speak Creole improved his popularity.

In January 1990, after General Avril imposed a national state of siege, Mr. Adams was among the diplomats who warned him that economic support from the United States would be dependent on radical political changes. At the same time, he was quietly encouraging fractious civilian politicians to support changing the government.

One night in March of that year, he recalled in an interview with The New York Times, he telephoned General Avril, who was asleep at home, and said they needed to talk. The general invited him over at 2 a.m.

“We talked heart-to-heart, person-to-person, for about an hour,” Mr. Adams recalled.

The ambassador said he had made no demands but explained to General Avril that “one way or another he had become a major issue in the movement toward an interim government and that whether he wished it or not he was the source, we thought, of some of the violence that had occurred and of almost certainly heavier violence in the days to come.”

The ambassador said he spoke to General Avril of patriotism and loyalty to institutions and ideals. General Avril excused himself to consult his wife.

“Long minutes passed,” Mr. Adams said. “He returned and said, yes, it was time for him to go.”

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