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Haiti: Different Coup, Same Paramilitary Leaders

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For a closer look at what is happening right now on the ground in Haiti, we look back at the involvement of the U.S. in the 1991-1994 coup period with veteran investigative journalist Allan Nairn who broke a number of stories that proved the direct links between US intelligence agencies and Haitian paramilitary death squads in the early 1990s. [includes transcript]

Many of the men leading the armed insurrection in Haiti right now are well known to veteran Haiti observers and, for that matter, the US intelligence agencies that worked closely with the paramilitary death squads which terrorized Haiti in the early 1990s. People like Louis Jodel Chamblain, the former number 2 man in FRAPH, Guy Philippe, a former police chief who was trained by US Special forces in Ecuador and Jean Tatoune, another leader of FRAPH.

In an hour-long interview with the Washington Post, published today Guy Philippe vowed a bloody assault on Port-au-Prince “very soon” if Aristide refuses to leave office. Philippe and Chamblain told the paper that Aristide’s departure and his replacement by an interim leader who would call new elections was the only possible peaceful solution to their three-week-old insurgency. Chamblain said “Aristide has two choices: prison or execution by firing squad.”

Preparations against a possible assault by the paramilitaries were evident in Port-au-Prince. Pro-Aristide militia groups stepped up their vigilance in the increasingly tense capital, setting up roadblocks and burning tires after dark at intersections throughout the city. Vehicles throughout the city are being stopped and searched.

Philippe said some of his forces are already in Port-au-Prince, some, he said, under cover in the National Palace. He predicted that they would use intelligence to identify and locate leaders of pro-Aristide groups, “neutralize them” and take the city in “one or two hours.” He said his forces would kill Aristide if he resisted an attack, but that a trial would be preferable, either in Haiti or at an international court. Philippe said he would welcome an international peacekeeping force, provided Aristide was gone.

For a closer look at what is happening right now on the ground in Haiti, we are going to look back at the involvement of the US in the 1991-1994 coup period.

  • Allan Nairn, a veteran investigative journalist. He was in Haiti during the 1991-94 coup and broke a number of stories that proved the direct links between US intelligence agencies and Haitian paramilitary death squads. Among the stories he broke was that the head of FRAPH, Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, was on the payroll of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Allan Nairn, an investigative journalist and activist in Haiti during the 1991-94 coup period. He won the George Polk award for stories that proved the direct links between U.S. intelligence agencies and Haitian paramilitary death squads. Among the stories he broke was that the man who launched FRAPH, Emmanuel Toto Constant was on the payroll of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Alan Nairn, welcome to Democracy Now! Let me start by asking, is it proper to say that Constant launched FRAPH, or did US intelligence agencies?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Constant did with the support of the DIA and also the CIA.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about that period? Can you talk about the relationship when President Clinton went on the national airwaves and announced that the US Military was going to move in, to go after the murderers, and the thugs, and the rapists, those who were doing this on the ground in Haiti. What was their relationship with the U.S. Government?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, many of them were on the payroll of the US Government. Historically, the US Had backed oppressive forces in Haiti for centuries. France plundered the wealth of Haiti. After that, when there wasn’t much left, even though there wasn’t much left to plunder, the US backed a series of repressive regimes, under The Duvaliers through Israel, the US funded massive military and intelligence aid. And after Baby Doc Duvalier was brought down by a popular uprising, the US continued to back the paramilitary forces. Starting around 1989, the US Defense Intelligence Agency encouraged the formation of FRAPH, essentially a terrorist group. Colonel Patrick Collins, the defense attache began working with Constant. And Constant was later placed on the CIA payroll. He received cash payments from John Kambourian, the CIA Station Chief. Also one of the key leaders of the coup that ousted Aristide from his democratically elected presidency, the first time around, Michelle Francois, was also on the payroll according to a CIA — the CIA payroll according to a US State Department official I interviewed. So, many of the officials whom Clinton was claiming to be fighting, were actually his employees, and if at that time, Clinton had simply caught them off, completely ended their support, the Haitian public itself most likely could have brought down the coup regime without a US occupation. The price of that US occupation was that before Aristide was brought back, he was essentially forced to agree to abandon the economic program of the popular movement, a program of redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor. Aristide was pressured by Clinton and his National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, to sign on to a World Bank INF program, which in the words of one of the main authors of that program, would redistribute some wealth from the poor to the rich. Aristide agreed to that, in part because he saw that while he was in exile in the United States, his people were being killed on the ground by FRAPH and by the people of Francois and the coup regime. And when Aristide came back under those conditions, in a US helicopter, moving around surrounded by US Special Forces people, cut off, to a great extent, from the popular movement, it was really the beginning of the end of the popular movement in Haiti, and also, I think, the beginning of Aristide’s own corruption, which helped lead to this current crisis.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Alan, you mentioned John Kambourian, the former CIA Station Chief, but I recall being back in the early 1990’s in Haiti covering the events. I will never forget the day before the U.S.S. Harlan County, which President Clinton and the U.N. were sending in peacekeepers in the fall of 1993 and I happened to be with the daily news reporter at a restaurant in Patienville with some of the top anti-Aristide elite there, including the number two person in the port, who assured me, and our reporter, and my photographer that the Harlan County was not going to land next day, that everything had been arranged. I told him, “What do you mean? President Clinton is sending them in.” And as we were sitting there in the restaurant in walks John Kambourian and sits down at our table and begins to huddle with the number two man at the port and various other officials. The next morning, sure enough as the business people had predicted, ______ was stopped and blocked at the gate by a FRAPH crew and there’s John Kambourian, serenely watching the whole situation unfold. I bumped into him on a plane ride a few weeks later, and I said, “Weren’t you worried about these FRAPH people.” And he said, “Oh, They don’t mean any harm, they’re harmless.” So it was clear that he was well aware of everything that was going on with the attempt to push back the Harlan County that day.

ALLAN NAIRN: That seemed to have been the case of one hand not knowing what the other was doing. Here you had one US force being interfered with by the FRAPH people, who were being backed by another. But what the first Bush administration and then Clinton did in backing FRAPH was they backed a terrorist organization. They were never held to account for that. Constant, Jodel Chamblain, who was involved in the major massacre, who was implicated in the assassination of the Haitian Justice Minister, Guy Mallori, they were never brought to justice, and neither were Bush or Clinton for the backing of them. And because of this failure to enforce the murder laws, people who should be serving prison terms, are now leading an insurrection.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Emmanuel Constant is right here in the United States. Can you explain what happened to him when he came here and why he’s protected, as Bush is talking about a war on terror, and on terrorists?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, FRAPH was involved in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of murders of civilians. At one point, they set fire to the “Fite Solil” neighborhood of Port-Au-Prince. It’s an undisputed fact that they were launched by US Intelligence. Clinton’s Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, confirmed that fact after the initial report came out. Constant, I had several interviews with Constant and also with Colonel Collins, and the US obviously doesn’t want that fact and that relationship gone into. After the US military came in and occupied Haiti, they seized the files, the archives of FRAPH, and the police, and the Haitian military, and they have kept them. And Haitian prosecutors and investigators who wanted to probe the terrorist acts by these forces haven’t been able to get the access they should. And Constant has, in essence, been given a sanctuary in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to journalist and activist, Alan Nairn, who exposed the relationship between FRAPH, the paramilitary death squad in Haiti, during the coup of 1991 to 1994, the relationship between FRAPH and the US Intelligence Agencies. Also on the line with us is Congress Member Maxine Waters. On the issue of Emmanuel Toto Constant, who is right here in the United States: Congress Member Waters, is there any move in Congress, in being a part of the war on terror, to go after this person, who is responsible for so many deaths, and to call for his trial and imprisonment here in the United States?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Unfortunately, no. He’s walking around in New York. He has been sighted by several people who have mentioned having seen him, and as your guest was saying, Allan Nairn, that he was on the C.I.A. / D.I.A. payroll, and he’s protected. I wouldn’t even be surprised if he didn’t end up back in Haiti, just as you have heard, that Guy Philippe is back there, and Chamblain is back there. These murderers and ex-FRAPH members re-entered without anybody saying a word. The United States knows where these guys are. They may still be on the C.I.A. payroll, but certainly they would no what their movement is. They know that they’re back. They know that they’re armed, and they know what they’re doing. It’s a coup-de-tat in motion all over again with the same players. And this time, not only do you have the same players, they appear to be working in cooperation with not only our government, but the so-called opposition committee of 184 that’s led by Andy Aparat. And while Andy Aparat and the so-called Negotiators on Behalf of the Civil Society, as they call themselves, are refusing to sit down at the table and work with the so-called International Committee, and sign off on some kind of peace agreement. FRAPH, old FRAPH members just keep moving. It’s a game that’s orchestrated all with Noriega at the helm. The opposition keeps refusing. FRAPH keeps moving. The president is backed up against the corner. The international players one by one will come out and say, “Well, you have to resign.” All they’d have to do is send a stabilizing force. It doesn’t have to be huge numbers if they wanted to protect a democratically elected president who only has two years to go in his term. The agreement that he signed basically said that we would let them choose the Prime Minister, who has the responsibility over the Cabinet and the Police Force. But that’s not good enough. They want the whole thing right now. They want to get in control of government so they can control the elections.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Congresswoman Waters —


JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the things that’s been raised a lot in the media here in this country is the issue of rigged elections in Haiti, that Aristide is really not exercising a legitimate power. There’s an interesting piece in today’s New York Times, Op-ed piece that begins to unmask some of the allegations that in reality, that yes, there were some — there were some contested Senatorial seats in the last election that were criticized but that Aristide agreed to have all of those seats, those senators resign, had them resign, and was willing to hold new elections. What’s your perspective of the issue of legitimacy or non-legitimacy of the Aristide government?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Well, you know, you hear allegations about Aristide, but nobody can put any facts to them. I asked —- tell me, and I have researched, as people refer to the “failed elections.” And what I found is, I believe there were eight Senate seats that were contested, and the question was whether or not there should be a runoff. Eventually, because there was so much confusion about it, Aristide did ask them to resign, and they did. Now, as I understand it, those elections took place before Aristide took office in his second election. He was not involved in that election, but he gets blamed for it. That’s my understanding of it. So, it seems as if no matter what he does, it’s not good enough. Now, I have asked people to confirm for me the allegations about drug trafficking, corruption and failed elections, and still I don’t have any facts, any information. Then people told me that, “Well, you know, he was involved with the gangs, and the gangs were out there beating up on people and attacking folks who were anti-Aristide. I have researched the story about a gang leader named Metier. Who has supposedly, because of his death, is the source of the problem up in Gonaives where his brother is part of the thugs that had first took over Gonaives. What I discovered in my investigation was, there was this gang leader named Metier who worked for the president. And when this gang leader got out of hand and started to retaliate on people who were opposed to Aristide, Aristide had him put in jail! Because that’s not what he was doing. What Aristide was doing is what many of us do in the cities, and that is we try to change the lives of these people who are in gangs. We try to get them gainful employment. We try to get them in school and try to get them in programs, things like that, and what he was doing. When he got out of hand, and started to misuse the association he had with the president and his government, he had him locked up. And then his brother and others took a bulldozer and bulldozed the jail and broke him out. After he was broken out of jail, he was murdered. And then the opposition started the story that he was murdered by Aristide. And turned— the brother and some of those people up in Gonaives against the president, and they now are in some ways joined with the opposition in carrying out the dirty end of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, as we wrap up, Allan Nairn, as you reflect back on the period of the coup of 1991 / 1994 and look at what’s happening today, your thoughts?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s — what’s happening now in a way is a tragedy that grew from crime. It’s an unspeakable crime what’s been done to Haiti. Long ago was a rich country. It was stripped of its wealth by France. The US has backed terror there over the years. Haitian people were living on the brink of survival when you’re that poor, your only chance for getting out of it is to be great. You can’t behave like a mere mortal, or you’ll fall. You will die. And for a period in the early, late 80’s, early 90’s, Haitians really achieved political greatness. They put together a popular movement that brought down Baby Doc Duvalier. They thwarted designs in what they thought was a fixed election. An election, instead, that brought Aristide to power with two-thirds of the vote. They tried to push a popular platform that would raise the minimum wage and redistribute the wealth to the poor. But, they were facing horrible pressures. Bush One and then Clinton, backing his criminal paramilitaries. Later, the US cutting off promised aid to Haiti. And they also faced the temptations of power. I mean, I think part of the fall for what’s happening now does lie with Aristide. He accepted the World Bank IMF plan under US pressure. He started to implement it. I think there is evidence that he has grown corrupt over the years. He did back gangs to fight his opponents, often forme La Velas allies. And that’s a tragedy. He started behaving like many politicians do, like a normal political boss. And the popular movement has come to a low state. It’s astonishing that these paramilitaries could come in to Heche and Gonaives and other places, and with a few hundred armed men take the cities. In the old days that could never have happened. The people would have risen up. They would have stopped it with their bare hands, with machetes and torn the paramilitaries apart. But, Aristide evidently has lost a great deal of popular support. The larger crime, though, that helped to create this was the way that a few miles from Miami beach, you have one of the poorest countries in the world, a place that has been stripped of its wealth where people live on less than $500 a year. That shouldn’t be tolerated. There should be a massive transfer of wealth to Haiti from the rich countries that benefited from the old wealth of Haiti. And the law should be enforced. Criminals like Jodel Chamblain should be prosecuted and jailed. So should the first Bush, so should President Clinton for backing them over the years. And then maybe you can create a situation where Haitians don’t have to be great to have a chance at survival, and they can make mistakes like everybody else and still lead a decent life.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Allan Nairn, journalist and activist, won the George Polk award for exposing the role of the US Intelligence in the formation of the paramilitary death squads in Haiti during the first coup of ’91 to ’94 and Congressmember Maxine Waters.

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