Haiti Correspondent Recalls Adventures With Graham Greene, Horrors of Duvalier Regimes

Graham Greene and Bernard Diederich.jpg
courtesy of Bernard Diederich
Greene, left, and Diederich in Panama in 1976
Graham Greene is a literary legend, famous for best-selling spy novels like Our Man in Havana, The End of the Affair, and The Quiet American. But the writer was as mysterious as his characters: secretive and prone to bouts of bipolarism. Few people really ever got to know him.

Surprisingly, one of the men who knew him best now lives in a modest Miami apartment. But Bernard Diederich has one helluva story to tell in his own right.

The veteran Haiti correspondent tells New Times how he survived Central America's civil wars, Papa Doc's torture cells, and drinking whiskey with the greatest spy novelist to have ever lived.

Diederich sits at a desk in his Coral Gables home and remembers an era of spies, civil wars, and political assassinations.

The bookshelves behind the New Zealand-born newsman are full of the books he's written - mostly on dictators like Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, Anastasio Somoza, and Rafael Trujillo - as well as relics of his own amazing life, including a replica of the four-masted sailboat he sailed on as a 16-year-old during World War II. But the one thing that predominates -- both on the shelves and in conversation -- is Greene.

"He was a real loner," Diederich, now 86, says of the writer. "But we became very good friends."

That unto itself would be quite an accomplishment, given Greene's lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. But Diederich and Greene's relationship went much deeper. For several decades, the two traveled throughout Haiti and Central America together. Those adventures -- full of whiskey and political intrigue -- were the fodder of Diederich's reporting and Greene's novels.

One trip, in particular, is legendary, largely because Greene used it as the basis for his 1966 novel The Comedians. Diederich had moved to Port-au-Prince in 1949 and founded a newspaper. After Papa Doc came to power in 1957, journalism became much more dangerous. In the spring of 1963, the dictator known as le Zombificateur -- "the Zombie maker" -- for the way he scared his subjects into submission, began "disappearing" his political opponents.

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