Washington, October 31: Key members of the military regime controlling Haiti and blocking the return of its elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, were paid by the Central Intelligence Agency for information from the mid-1980's at least until the 1991 coup that forced Mr. Aristide from power, according to American officials.
As part of its normal intelligence-gathering operations, the C.I.A. cultivated, recruited and paid generals and politicians for information about everything from cocaine smuggling to political ferment in Haiti, they said.
Without naming names, a Government official familiar with the payments said that `several of the principal players in the present situation were compensated by the U.S. Government.' It was not clear when the payments ended or how much money they involved, although they were described as modest.
Supporters of Mr. Aristide said the payments proved that the C.I.A.'s primary sources of information in Haiti were Mr. Aristide's political enemies, and they criticized the agency's reporting on Haiti as one-sided.
Michael D. Barnes, a former member of Congress who is a spokesman for Mr. Aristide, said, `Given what the C.I.A. has done in the past two weeks, namely the attempted character assassination of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that the C.I.A. had been working with his political enemies in Haiti for many years.
But Representative Robert G. Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees and who confirmed the payments, defended the intelligence relationships as crucial to United States policy-makers in trying to gain an understanding of Haitian politics.
`The U.S. Government develops relationships with ambitious and bright young men at the beginning of their careers and often follows them through their public service,' he said. `It include people in sensitive positions in the current situation in Haiti.'
A member of Congress familiar with the recruiting of sources of information within the Haitian Government said the information received was a mixed bag. `There are things we should have been getting for the money which we didn't get--for example, on the narcotics side,' he said. Members of the current regime are suspected of receiving lucrative payments from drug traffickers to protect shipments of cocaine passing through Haitian airfields en route to the United States.
The C.I.A.'s activities in Haiti also included a covert operation, authorized by President Ronald Reagan and the National Security Council, which involved an aborted attempt to influence an election held in January 1988, the officials said.
Haiti was then under the control of a military ruler, Lieut. Gen. Henri Namphy, who assured the Reagan Administration that the elections would be free and fair. But the ballot was widely perceived as rigged by the military, and the campaign was marked by killings of civilians.
Mr. Aristide, who was not a candidate, had urged a boycott of the election. The operation undertaken by the C.I.A. aimed at seeing the election go forward, the officials said, but it also involved plans to slip campaign money to candidates. In a rare action, the payments were blocked by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the officials said. The attempt was first reported today by The Los Angeles Times.
In the 1980's, the United States undertook covert operations and military actions throughout the Caribbean and Latin America to support pro-United States and anti-Communist governments. Several prominent figures in the region were on the United States intelligence payroll during the decade.
The officials who described the payments to Haitian generals and politicians said they were not intended to install any one leader as the President of Haiti.
In 1990, in the first free election in 20th-century Haiti, Mr. Aristide won 67.5 percent of the vote in a field of 10 candidates. He was overthrown in a September 1991 coup. The military regime controlling Haiti has blocked his return--which was to have taken place Saturday under an accord negotiated by the Clinton Administration and signed by the military leaders last summer--with a widespread campaign of intimidation, violence and murder.
Supporters of Mr. Aristide say the C.I.A., which does not make policy but which can influence policy-makers through its reporting, has undermined the chances of his return. In recent briefings to Congress, Brian Latell, the C.I.A.'s chief analyst for Latin American affairs, has described Mr. Aristide as unstable and as having a history of mental problems.
In a 1992 report widely circulated in Washington, Mr. Latell described a meeting with Lieut. Gen. Raoul Cedras, Haiti's current military dictator, and praised him as one of `the most promising group of Haitian leaders to emerge since the Duvalier family dictatorship was overthrown in 1986.'
The Clinton Administration, in turn, questioned the C.I.A.'s analyses and praised Father Aristide as a rational and reasonable man.
The officials who described the payments to generals and politicians in the current regime in exchange for information said they were a normal and necessary part of gathering intelligence in a foreign country.
`These relationships are crucial so that we can anticipate changes in volatile societies,' Representative Torricelli said. He said the quality and quantity of information the C.I.A. provided on Haiti was generally praiseworthy.
But Robert Pastor, the chief National Security Council officer for Latin American affairs from 1977 to 1981, said, `It appears that the portrait of Aristide is seriously flawed. Whether that is in part due to intelligence contacts that began as a result of these operations is a legitimate and important question that needs an answer.'