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Haitian Death Squad Leader Arrested in US–For Mortgage Fraud

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Former Haitian death squad leader, Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, who now lives in New York, was arrested last week for taking part in mortgage fraud. During the early 1990s, Constant led the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH. Human rights groups estimate FRAPH killed thousands of supporters of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. [includes rush transcript]

A former leader of a Haitian death squad who now lives in New York was arrested last week for taking part in mortgage fraud. During the early 1990s, Emmanuel “Toto” Constant led the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH. Human rights groups estimate FRAPH killed thousands of supporters of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Constant has since admitted he was on the payroll of the CIA and has lived in New York for the last decade.

In November 2000, Constant was convicted in absentia by a Haitian high court for his involvement in the 1994 Raboteau Massacre. Two years ago he was sued in federal court on behalf of three women who said his soldiers beat and gang-raped women in Haiti.

Despite a deportation order, Constant has been allowed to stay in the US since he threatened to reveal the extent of his ties with the CIA.

On Friday, a judge set bail at $50,000 dollars over the protests of prosecutors and human rights groups. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office said that Constant and five others defrauded banks out of more than $1 million dollars in loans.

  • Kim Ives, independent journalist and former editor of the Haitian newspaper, Haiti Progres. He attended Constant’s arraignment in Riverhead,
  • Ray Laforest, longtime Haitian community organizer and activist living in Brooklyn.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in our Firehouse studio now by Ray Laforest, longtime Haitian community organizer and activist. We’re also joined by Kim Ives, who is formerly the editor of the Haitian newspaper, Haiti Progres. He attended Constant’s arraignment in Riverhead. Let’s start with you, Kim. The arraignment, what happened?

KIM IVES: Well, it was a real pleasure, Amy, to see Toto Constant in green prison drab and with his hands handcuffed behind his back. Here’s a guy who was responsible for the killing and rape and terrorization of the Haitian population during much of the early '90s, and he was subdued. The Attorney General tried to get a bail of $2 million on him as a flight risk, which certainly he would try to do, but the judge finally put a $50,000 cash, so we'll see if he makes that.

AMY GOODMAN: And he met it, didn’t he? Isn’t he out?

KIM IVES: Not that I know, unless that’s something that happened last night.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the charges, specifically in terms of the fraud allegations, what do they involve?

KIM IVES: What they did — he was part of a group of six people, which were selling houses falsely. He would find the straw buyers for houses. And this is just one of what the Deputy Attorney General told me was dozens that they have in the pipeline. This was one scheme where they would sell a house; the money that the bank would give for the mortgage would essentially be divvied up between the circle of people, and he was part of this ring.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s the crime he’s allegedly guilty of. We’ll see. He would have to be tried. Ray Laforest, your response to his arrest, but not for command responsibility for the deaths of perhaps thousands in Haiti during the first coup against Aristide, ’91 to ’94, one that certainly affected your family.

RAY LAFOREST: Yes. Well, first, we’re not surprised. He’s a man who grew up in a world of immorality of the Duvalier regime and whose father was a “general,” quote/unquote, in the Haitian army and who was used to abusing people and not respecting any legality. So we’re not surprised at all. And as you implied here, this is ironic that a man who is guilty of genocide against the Haitian people is arrested for a relatively minor offense, although I understand that we’re talking about $1 million and more. And so, although, as Kim, we rejoice to see some modicum of justice, our hearts are still heavy because the burden imposed on the Haitian people has been tremendous and continues to be so. So far, this is one chapter. It’s an important one, because he’s the most hated individual in Haiti since Papa Doc probably and somebody who has done much to earn that despise from the Haitian people and others.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you have been in the forefront for years now of leading protests against the presence of Constant here in the United States. You’ve even led pickets of his office and his home in Queens. Could you talk a little bit about this whole situation with him, already been convicted in Haiti for crimes, but yet walking the streets freely here in New York for so long?

RAY LAFOREST: Well, first, I want to make clear that these efforts were never individual efforts. They have always been collective efforts on the part of the Haitian community. We considered him extremely important. If you watched what happened as the Haitian people struggled for self-empowerment in the years preceding Aristide’s arrival as president, as poor as the conditions were in Haiti, the Haitian people always insisted on justice and respect. And for us to move forward, we could not tolerate the presence of such an individual in our midst.

And we knew that once people started denouncing his presence in the early 1990s, once he left Haiti, he was arrested, and he pretty much blackmailed the U.S. government by starting to reveal information. As Amy said, Allan Nairn did an amazing job making connection with the CIA. So we initiated a first demonstration against him at 26 Federal Plaza, not far from here, the INS immigration headquarters in New York, where he’d report every Tuesday. So we felt that we had to bring the message to him directly, and not only to let his neighbors know who this Haitian Dr. Mengele was in their midst, and give him and others who do crimes like him the message clearly that we will not accept, there is a price to pay for this kind of a crime.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the lawsuit, Kim Ives, that was brought against Emmanuel Constant on behalf of three unnamed women, Jane Doe 1, 2 and 3, raped in Haiti?

KIM IVES: The Center for Justice and Accountability in San Francisco did a good job in getting together, finally, three women who will testify, anonymously, about his role in organizing these gangs, which among other things raped women. This was part of the terrorization campaign. There was a few years ago a case, which was championed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, of Alerte Belance, who was also hacked to death or almost to death, left for dead in a mass graveyard, and managed to drag herself to the road and get back here to the States, where she brought a suit, as well. So this is the latest. And in fact, Moira Feeney over at CJA was working with the prosecutors here in New York state to track down Constant and follow some of his real estate shenanigans.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In one of the news accounts of his arraignment, there’s an indication now that the immigration authorities say that there’s an outstanding deportation order against him that they may try to implement. And I’m wondering, if there was a deportation order, why didn’t they try to implement it before? And if they’re going to implement it now, are they going to deport him to Haiti, or are they going to basically use that as an excuse to get him out of the country again?

KIM IVES: Well, we have to remember, the timeline was that Constant left Haiti on Christmas Eve ’94, came to the States. For five months, he was hiding in plain sight. Finally, the U.S. government felt themselves embarrassed enough to arrest him.

AMY GOODMAN: This was under Clinton.

KIM IVES: This was under Clinton. And he was in jail for 11 months, from May '95 ’til June ’96. In ’96, there was a deal cut, which we broke at Haiti Progres, which was basically between the CIA, State Department, Justice, to let him out if he kept his nose out of trouble and he didn't talk to the press and didn’t do anything, because he had gone to 60 Minutes in December of '95 and said he worked for the CIA, admitted that he was getting paid 700 bucks a month. So after that he was put on ice, they thought. But he kept getting in trouble, and he kept talking to the press. So I think at this point he's kind of a liability for them, and I don’t know if they’ll cut him loose, so to speak. I mean, he’s facing 25 years, if convicted on these charges, after which time, under the new immigration laws, he would automatically be deported.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray Laforest, in a piece in the New York Times about the whole Constant case, it says that his lawyer, Edward Palermo of Smithtown, Long Island, said Constant is pleading not guilty to the financial charges, but added he knew little of his client’s past in Haiti or his immigration status. The lawyer said, “They want to make my client’s political past in Haiti the background of the case for publicity and to prejudice the judge to set a high bail, when it really has nothing to do with these charges.” Your response?

RAY LAFOREST: Well, again, lawyers will decide in this country what the relevance is, but for us it’s a continuation of a behavior that requires attention. As Kim just said, this guy was hiding in plain sight. I remember as we were fighting immigration deportation against Haitians, when people who were forced to leave Haiti as a result of FRAPH’s action were being pursued by the INS, when this individual was sitting here without any consequences. So, for us, we believe that the whole package should be analyzed at once and that he should be considered an undesirable individual in the midst of the community of Queens on Long Island.

AMY GOODMAN: What would happen if he was deported to Haiti? It’s quite something that this happens not during the reign of the U.S.-backed leader who was installed after Aristide was forced out in the U.S.-backed coup, but is now here under Rene Preval, the new president who was president after Aristide the first time. What do you think would happen?

KIM IVES: Well, he’s already been convicted in the year 2000 for his role in helping to organize the massacre in Raboteau in April 1994.

AMY GOODMAN: In which, what happened?

KIM IVES: In which dozens of people were gunned down by FRAPH and the Haitian military, as they were protesting and fleeing. Some were shot in the sea. It was a terrible, terrible massacre. And he was one of many who were found guilty in absentia. It’s for sure that he should be arrested. If the Preval government has the courage and capacity to do that remains another question. But he certainly should be, and there would be no doubt that the population would want to see him in jail.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Ray, your sense of the impact of this arrest in Haiti? Haiti, for the most part, since Preval came in as president again, has dropped out of the mass media in the United States as an issue or concern. But your sense of the impact on the continuing battle for popular democracy in Haiti?

RAY LAFOREST: Unfortunately, many of the victims of FRAPH and Toto Constant are not around to appreciate what’s going on. Alerte Belance, as horrendous as her wounds were, still was lucky enough to be alive and testify that this was taking place in Haiti. But, for us, it is clearly — justice has to be met. We have to build a new society based on a new beginning. And some attitudes — we have to create a system where these things are no longer possible. And besides the organizing of Haitian masses, clearly this kind of justice has to be met. And as Kim said, I’m not sure, there’s an outstanding warrant from the Haitian government for his extradition, and we would hope that the Haitian government would exercise that option. This is a highly symbolic action that would indicate that we’re putting the elements together into moving forward.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for joining us. Ray Laforest is a longtime Haitian community activist, lives here in New York City. And Kim Ives is the former editor of the Haitian newspaper, Haiti Progres, and a producer at WBAI Pacifica Radio in New York.

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