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Militia leader jailed in Md. says he holds Haiti's future

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In Emmanuel Constant's portrait of himself, he is a future savior of Haiti, a person who has proven himself moral and dignified, a person who one day will become that country's president.

Description finished, he leans across a table at the Wicomico County Detention Center, his home for the past four months. "There is a force that exists in Haiti," he says, "and that force is me -- whether I am in jail or not."

The portrait of Mr. Constant offered by the State Department and human rights groups is starkly different. To them, he is an unsettling, murderous outlaw, a paramilitary leader who may once have had U.S. encouragement but whose militia became a dangerous law unto itself.

Mr. Constant, 38, gained notoriety in Haiti and abroad as head of the militia called FRAPH, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti. For FRAPH, advancement and progress in 1993 and 1994 included the rape, torture and murder of thousands of supporters of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, after Mr. Aristide was forced into exile by a military coup.

Soon after Mr. Aristide returned to power in October 1994, Mr. Constant fled Haiti for the United States. Later, the State Department began to worry that his presence implied U.S. support for him, and pressed immigration authorities to revoke his visa and place him under arrest.

Thus, his presence in the detention center in Salisbury. An immigration judge in Baltimore earlier this month ordered him deported to Haiti, where he almost certainly faces arrest. Mr. Constant says he is still considering whether to appeal.

For the State Department, Mr. Constant no longer ranks as a foreign policy problem: "We don't talk about him daily or even weekly," said one official. FRAPH, says another official, is "stone dead."

But others wonder about the wisdom of returning him to the country where he caused such turmoil.

"Here's a guy who was causing untold hate and discontent," said a U.S. intelligence official who has monitored Haiti for years. "We solved the problem by extricating him. Now we're going to turn right around and send him back in there. Is that logical?"

It is naive, some officials suggest, to believe that Mr. Constant can be sent to Haiti and never be heard from again. If the Aristide government chooses to jail him, there is no guarantee the chaotic judicial system will actually keep him in custody, given the sieve-like character of the country's prisons. And he could quickly re-emerge into public life.

"I'm still the only political power in Haiti that can counterbalance Aristide," he says "I'm the only one with a base. I'm the only political leader that can make a rally in every single part of the country."

He says this while dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit. He spends his days writing letters and watching soap operas. He is still irritated at having been arrested the week before he was to take his children to Walt Disney World in Florida. Yet he is still an imposing presence -- 6 feet 4 inches tall, and speaking in the persuasive tones that had so stirred crowds of people in Haiti.

He seems genuinely appalled at being housed with violent criminals -- "those guys who have gone out and beat up people."

People write him, he says -- 10 letters a week. He characterizes himself as a democrat yet adds that there is no chance of reconciliation with Mr. Aristide: He wants to prosecute Mr. Aristide for "high treason."

His critics say all of this is self-delusional rhetoric, that FRAPH is shattered beyond repair, that Mr. Constant is a terrorist hated and feared by Haitians.

"What he's doing now is the epitome of cynicism," says Robert Maguire, coordinator of the Haiti Project, a joint research group of Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities. "His organization not recognized as a political party now, nor will it ever be."

Not so far-fetched

Others say that his presidential ambitions are not so far-fetched. "Many of these death squad people are still there, waiting for their moment," says Beverly Bell, co-director of the International Liaison Office for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in Washington. "Right now they're very underground."

"Folks like him are survivors -- they've had to be because they're not the elite and they're not the peasants; they're adroit as hell at it," says the U.S. intelligence official. "I'm sure his thinking right now is that he may have lost this fight, but there will be another one."

Mr. Constant grew up in relative comfort, as the son of the chief military aide to Haiti's dictator, Francois Duvalier, better known as "Papa Doc," who seemed to perfect the use of violence and secret police against any would-be challengers. Mr. Constant says he observed at first hand Papa Doc's intrigue and repression. And he is a descendant of that system.

His proudest moment was his humiliation of the Clinton administration in October 1993, when he organized a few dozen militia members to intimidate the USS Harlan County, a Navy transport ship carrying a U.S. peacekeeping force as part of an agreement for returning Mr. Aristide to power. Seeing the small mob at the port, the ship turned back.

Those were heady days.

He employed a cook, maid, gardener, driver and security guards. "I would travel to give speeches, and five cars escorted me," he says.

"Now look where I am."

He boasts of being "an expert on image, an expert on propaganda," and if the United States wants foreign policy advice, he says, he should be consulted. He has gone so far as to write a list of conditions for a voluntary return to Haiti, including United Nations protection for himself and the release of FRAPH members from jail.

'I'm not a criminal'

He says the United States has jailed him as a favor to Mr. Aristide, to prevent a powerful challenger from entering Haiti's presidential politics. "I've been in jail four months here, I don't know what for -- I'm not a criminal," he says. "I've violated no laws here. I believe I would feel better to be incarcerated in Haiti."

The thousands of human rights violations blamed on FRAPH were the work of somebody else, he says.

Who?

"That's for people to find out."

In his version of events, FRAPH was a do-gooder organization that established programs to help bring food and jobs to peasants. If it sometimes formed into mobs, it was only to counter the mobs of Mr. Aristide.

"Let me tell you, FRAPH has a membership card with two doves and the words 'peace' and 'reconciliation,' " he says. "Nobody has been able to tell me that they've seen one of those cards in any [scenes of violence]." He disputes even that FRAPH was a militia, certainly not one guilty of violence.

"Who is Toto Constant to do all that?" he asks. "It has been a good thing for all parties to have FRAPH as a scapegoat. I'm the victim of a big conspiracy."

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