Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, who won a brief reprieve from deportation from the United States earlier this month when his removal was canceled by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, could be back in Haiti as early as next week.
Several sources with knowledge of Constant's pending removal told the Miami Herald that the Trump administration is planning on deporting him on an upcoming ICE Air deportation flight that could arrive in Haiti as early as Tuesday.
One of Haiti's most notorious human rights violators, Constant's name - and that of the brutal paramilitary force he led in the 1990s - have long been synonymous with terror and death in Haiti.
A close friend of Raoul Cedras, the Haitian army general who led the 1991 coup against a newly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Constant founded the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti while on the CIA's payroll. The force, known by the acronym FRAPH, has been linked to the murders of at least 3,000 Aristide militants, previous Haitian authorities have said.
In 2008, while living in New York, Constant was convicted of mortgage fraud and grand larceny and sentenced to 37 years in a New York State prison. He was released last month after serving 12 years and placed in U.S. immigration custody.
Last week, U.S. lawmakers, Andy Levin, D-Mich., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., wrote to the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department asking that Constant be detained in the U.S. until the Haitian government provides a plan to ensure the safety of his victims and his prosecution under Haitian law.
"Sending Mr. Constant to Haiti at this time, without a credible plan by the Haitian government to prosecute him for his past crimes and protect the people of Haiti from potential future crimes, is dangerously irresponsible," the letter stated. "We therefore urge the Department of Homeland Security to detain Mr. Constant in the United States, in accordance with the law, until the Haitian government provides a plan to handle Mr. Constant's arrival safely and prosecute him under Haitian law."
The State Department referred all questions to DHS, which did not respond to the Herald's request.
ICE deportation flights during the global coronavirus pandemic have drawn criticism nationally and internationally as dozens of people test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, after arriving in their home countries. As a result, vulnerable governments and nonprofits in Mexico, Central America and Haiti, in particular, have been struggling to respond by using quarantine space and tests on deportees.
As recently as last week, ICE planned to have at least five Haitian nationals, who had tested positive for the illness, deported to Port-au-Prince. They were among 101 detainees, including Constant, who appeared on an initial flight manifest.
After the Herald reported the scheduled flight and detainees' status, roughly half of the deportees slated to be sent back were taken off the flight.
William G. O'Neill, an international human rights lawyer who helped document FRAPH's brutality, said it would be a mistake to return Constant to Haiti where it is doubtful he would even serve out a November 2000 life sentence for the 1994 Raboteau massacre.
Constant, along with 14 others, was convicted in absentia by a Haitian court for the murders in the Haitian village. Others who appeared at trial, have since had their convictions thrown out by a higher court in a controversial decision.
"I was so happy the day Constant was sentenced to prison here in New York," said O'Neill, who headed the United Nations mission's legal department in Haiti in the 1990s. "It would be a disaster if he were to be returned to Haiti now where the justice system remains weak and susceptible to outside interference and the Duvalierists remain strong."
Modeled after the Tonton Macoute, the secret militia created by the Duvalier family to enforce its nearly 30-year dictatorship, FRAPH was used by the coup leaders to keep them in power after the overthrow of Aristide.
"They were used by Cedras and (the feared police chief of Port-au-Prince) Michel Francois as a way to provide 'cover' or deniability for violations," O'Neill said. Cedras, who served as Haiti's de facto ruler, and the other coup leaders would say, " 'Not us, don't know who is doing these awful things.'
"But Toto was working hand-in-glove with the military whose ultimate goal was to scuttle the accord, get sanctions lifted, prevent Aristide's return and stay in power," O'Neill said.
On July 3, 1993, Aristide and Cedras signed a U.N.-brokered accord known as the Governors Island agreement to restore Aristide to power by Oct. 30, 1993, and return Haiti to democratic rule. FRAPH ended up playing a pivotal role in the aborted plan.
In October, a deployed USS Harlan County was just off the coast of Haiti and had 218 American and Canadian troops on board as part of the agreement to 'professionalize' the army.
One week earlier, 19 U.S. Army Rangers had been killed in Mogadishu by Somali militiamen.
As the naval ship came into view, FRAPH's armed attaches, who had stormed the wharf, held up signs saying "We will make this another Mogadishu." The image, O'Neill recalled, was carried on U.S. television, sending panic waves through the Clinton administration.
At the time, several U.S. diplomats were on the dock. They had also come to welcome the troops and ensure the boat could berth.
While one group of attaches blocked the berth by putting another ship in the space, another held U.S. diplomat Luis Moreno and the U.S. Coast Guard attache at gunpoint. With their guns pointed, they told them, 'Tell your bosses that if the ship docks you are history.' "
The Deputy Chief of Mission Vicki Huddleston, learning of the incident over the diplomats' radio, tried to crash into the port but was blocked. Taking advantage of the ensuing chaos, the diplomats took off and eventually found safety at a local hotel where foreign journalists were broadcasting.
As the ship disappeared into the horizon, Constant's men celebrated with gunfire and then went on a rampage. Justice Minister Guy Malary and his four bodyguards would be gunned down near the ministry in the middle of the day, two days later.
FRAPH and soldiers with the army would also threaten U.N. diplomats and in one instance shot at some U.N. Human Rights observers.
The U.N., deciding it was too dangerous to remain in Haiti, evacuated over 100 staffers to the neighboring Dominican Republic.
U.N. special envoy Dante Caputo would call the incident "an insult to the United Nations" while U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher would warn that the U.N. embargo, imposed on Haiti after the coup, could be re-imposed.
"Clinton did not want any more body bags filled with young U.S. troops coming back to Dover Air Base," said O'Neill. "So for a while, Constant and Cedras succeeded. After another year of horrors and abuse, the U.S. finally did the right thing in September 1994 and intervened to end the reign of terror in which Constant was a pivotal player."
With Aristide back in power, Constant quietly slipped out of Haiti on Dec. 24, 1994. He flew to Puerto Rico on a U.S. visa, and then landed in New York. When the State Department learned about this presence, it revoked his visa. Soon, he was arrested by U.S. immigration officials.
But in a move that angered Haitians in the diaspora, he was freed under a confidential agreement with the Justice Department. He continued living in New York until he was arrested in 2006 on the mortgage fraud scam.
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