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#4874: New York Newsday on Toto Constant and NY demonstration (fwd)
Alleged Terrorist Among Them
His link to Haiti murders sparks protests
by Ron Howell
Emile Macéus is accustomed to people stopping and inquiring about the house
he rents in Queens Village. They are drawn by the "for sale" sign on the
But one Saturday last month, Macéus had three visitors he'll remember as long
as he lives. Like him, they all spoke Creole, the language of Haiti. One of
them, a tall man who wore a suit and tie, seemed a little nervous.
Curious about the tall man, Macéus asked him what his family name was.
"Constant," the man said. As if anticipating trouble, Constant turned without
saying farewell, and his companions departed with him.
Macéus' momentary puzzlement was soon to be dispelled by his wife Féronie,
who approached him and said, "You know, that was Toto Constant." Emile Macéus
felt a chill along his spine.
Emmanuel Constant, who goes by the nickname Toto, was once the leader
of a right-wing organization named the Front for the Advancement and Progress
of Haiti, which was linked to numerous killings, beatings
and kidnapings in Haiti during the early 1990s.
Constant has admitted that while he was in Haiti he was a paid informant of
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Some human rights groups say the United
States was effectively using Constant's organization to repress the poor
masses of Haitians
who were insisting on the return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
overthrown in a 1991 military coup. There have long been
suspicions that the United States had a role in the coup itself.
Constant told Newsday three years ago that while his deportation is pending,
he would not talk about his past relationship with U.S. intelligence
officials. Constant slipped into the United States in 1994, after Aristide
was restored to power. He was briefly detained by the Immigration and
Naturalization Service as an accused terrorist, but was released on parole.
He reports periodically to INS authorities, pending a final decision on his
The U.S. State Department has said Constant should not be sent back to Haiti
now because the government is unstable and not capable of
ensuring a fair trial in such a highly charged case. Back in Queens Village,
Macéus, 51, said he is incensed that Constant is living openly and working
in Queens, despite an outstanding request by the government of Haiti that he
be sent back to stand trail for
crimes attributed to him.
Yesterday, a group calling itself The Coalition to Return Toto Constant to
Haiti held a demonstration outside the Cambria Heights realty company where
Constant had been training to be a real estate agent.
And Macéus participated in the protest on Linden Boulevard near 221st Street,
as well as at a brief demonstration earlier in the day outside a home on
225th Street in Laurelton, where Constant has lived in the past, and where he
may still be residing.
At the Rigaud real estate company on Linden Boulevard, owner Patrick Rigaud,
who is of Haitian descent but declared proudly that he is also a veteran of
the U.S. Marine
Corps, defiantly said last week he will not be intimidated by those who want
the U.S. government to extradite Constant. "I'm a U.S. citizen and I have
the right to hire whoever I want," Rigaud said.
He said Constant has an expired New York State real estate agent's license,
and that he had been trying to renew it. He said Constant is not a full-time
employee and that he goes to the office only from time to time.
He said he agreed to let Constant work at his realty company because Constant
is intelligent and personable. He said he knows little about Constant's past
and that he does not care about politics.
In a telephone interview, Constant's Newark-based lawyer, J.D. Larosiliere,
complained that the organizers of yesterday's march are harassing his client
and that he is contemplating a lawsuit against them.
ant him to
"These people want him to be incarcerated [and sent back to Haiti] without
due process," the lawyer said.
He said Constant is afraid that in Haiti "he will be killed outright or
tortured by the existing government [which has ties to Aristide]."
But his detractors vowed to continue hounding Constant and anyone who hires
"This is the first time he's had temerity to be in our face like this,
working in the most important street in the most important Haitian community
in Queens," said Ray
Laforest, a Haitian community activist who helped organize yesterday's
Laforest said Haitians on Linden Boulevard over the past two months were
startled and frightened to see Constant sitting at a desk in the Rigaud
realty office, smiling and talking with people there. The Manhattan-based
Center for Constitutional Rights, a human rights organization, was involved
in yesterday's protest.
"Every time we find him employed, we're going to be at their doorstep," said
Ron Daniels, executive director of the center, which has initiated lawsuits
in U.S. courts charging Constant's group with human rights violations.
"Employing Toto will bring the total condemnation of the community."
Constant's organization was popularly known in Haiti by the acronym FRAPH,
which in French and Créole sounds menacingly like the word for "strike" or
"hit." And by all
accounts the group relied on its fearsome reputation to intimidate followers
of former president Aristide, a leftist former Catholic priest loved by the
poor masses but hated
by the wealthy and by elements of the military.
Human rights groups say that during the years Aristide was in exile, between
1991 and 1994, FRAPH played a significant role in the widespread terrorizing
supporters. As many as 5,000 Aristide supporters were murdered by Haitian
soldiers or by civilians in groups such as FRAPH, human rights groups have
During those bloody years, many Haitian emigrants in the United States
organized to pressure the U.S. government to restore Aristide to power. One
of those who became
active in the eventually successful movement was Emile Macéus, owner of a
popular barber shop, Bienveillance, which is located on Hempstead Avenue in
Macéus said that, given his years of activism, he was embarrassed that he did
not recognize Constant when Constant stood on his doorstep on July 15.
"If I had known who he was I would not have opened the door," he said,
speaking throughout the interview in Creole. At another point, his anger
rising, he said, "Five
thousand people dead! I am Emile and I don't want him to be in Queens. If I
see him next time I will hold him until the police come to get him and take
Reached for comment on the latest twist in the odyssey of Toto Constant, the
publisher of the Brooklyn-based, right-of-center Haiti Observateur newspaper
argued that Constant should remain in the United States.
"I think the guy may be despicable and so forth... but with the kind of
justice department they have in Haiti and with the killings now in Haiti,
how do they expect to send Toto Constant from here to Haiti to be tried now?"
said Raymond Joseph, who has been a vehement opponent of Aristide and
Aristide's Lavalas party.
Aristide's term in office ended the year after he resumed power in the fall
of 1994. One of his proteges, René Préval, is the current president.
Those who want to see Constant returned to Haiti say they suspect that
Constant's backers -- sympathetic right-wing Haitians or perhaps the CIA --
are now testing the waters to see if Constant can begin to live and work
openly in the New York Haitian community.
Whether those alleged efforts succeed or fail, some people say they never
will forget the allegations against Toto Constant.
"He is one of the most hated people in Haitian history, with [late dictator
Francois] Duvalier and [exiled former army General Raoul] Cedras," said Ricot
manager of the popular Brooklyn-based radio station, Radio Soleil. "We will
not give up on this issue."
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