“Toto” Constant is not just Haiti’s problem

Constant arrives in Haiti, June 23. Photo: Miami Herald

On June 23, the United States’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported Emmanuel “Toto” Constant to Haiti. Constant was arrested as he arrived in Port-au-Prince, based on a 2000 conviction for the massacre of political opponents at Raboteau, Haiti. In 1994, at the time of the massacre, Constant was head of a paramilitary organization called the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), which is known to have engaged in widespread human rights violations, including murder, rape, and torture. When U.S. forces reinstated president Aristide in October 1994, they allowed many leaders of the military government that had ousted him in 1991 to escape – including Constant, who eventually ended up in the United States. Constant has spent the last 12 years in a prison in New York – not for human rights violations, but for mortgage fraud. Now back in Haiti, he has the right to a new trial to challenge his in absentia conviction in 2000. 

Constant is currently being held at a prison in Saint-Marc. Whether he is re-tried or released on a technicality is now a question of great concern. Constant has many political allies in the current government. The state judiciary is effectively shuttered at the moment due to a national strike. So it is hard to know when he will be brought before a judge and the process, whatever form it takes, begins to unfold. That judicial process will take place in Haiti, as it should. The 2000 Raboteau massacre trial itself provides an example of how this can be done – ensuring due process for Constant and, hopefully, justice for his many victims. But Constant’s retrial is not just Haiti’s responsibility. 

Constant’s position in the coup government from 1991-1994 and the crimes for which he is responsible are hard to separate from decades of U.S. intervention in Haiti. The army itself was created by U.S. Marine commanders, for the specific purpose of quelling domestic dissent to the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. From that point until the army was disbanded in 1995 by President Aristide, it served to shield a small, United States-aligned elite and their business interests from popular mobilization. The United States trained Haiti’s military leadership throughout, including Raoul Cedras who directed the coup d’etat against President Aristide in 1991.

The United States also trained Haiti’s intelligence services, and it is known that Constant was on the C.I.A. payroll until spring of 1994 when he was dropped, according to a Clinton administration official, because, “He was beginning to get involved in things that could blow back quite badly.” The Raboteau massacre happened in April of 1994. A classified C.I.A. report, partially released and heavily redacted during a 1996 civil trial against FRAPH, also indicates that the agency knew of Constant and FRAPH’s involvement in the 1993 murder of Guy Malary, Haiti’s Minister of Justice.

More direct U.S. involvement in the formation of the FRAPH has been hinted at since this time. Allan Nairn, writing for The Nation in October of 1994 reported on extensive ties between FRAPH and U.S. agencies, beginning with Constant. For one, Constant was not merely an informant, but part of a team involved in training Haiti’s National intelligence Service (S.I.N.) in counterinsurgency. During this time he got to know Col. Patrick Collins, U.S. military attaché, and Donald Terry, the C.I.A. station chief who Nairn characterized as “running the S.I.N.”  According to Nairn, Constant claimed, “Collins began pushing him to organize a front ‘that could balance the Aristide movement’ and do ‘intelligence’ work against it. He said that their discussions had begun soon after Aristide fell in September 1991. They resulted in Constant forming what later evolved into the FRAPH, a group that was known initially as the Haitian Resistance League.” 

Given these ties, it is not surprising that when Aristide was reinstated, U.S. forces seized documents from FRAPH headquarters and took them out of the country. From 1995 until the trial in 2000, attorneys representing the victims of the Raboteau massacre were unable to get access to these documents. When the Clinton administration did finally release some documents at the last minute, they were heavily redacted. Haiti’s National Commission for Truth and Justice, whose report was issued in February of 1996, was likewise denied access. 

It is important that Constant be retried. As part of that process, however, it is equally important that the United States government fully cooperate and share documents in its possession about Constant, FRAPH, and the military leadership that oversaw the coup regime from 1991 to 1994. The United States government was, at a minimum, aware of Constant’s crimes, and continued to shield him. At worst, U.S. military and intelligence personnel facilitated those crimes. Either way, this makes Constant our problem as well. We owe the people of Haiti, who suffered under the coup regime and Constant’s paramilitary violence, a full accounting – wherever that leads. After 25 years, what better time than now?

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