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#4929: Newsday: Constant Interview082100 from Slavin (fwd)
From: Patrick Slavin <email@example.com>
Haunted By Haiti Violence
Queens man, target of protests, responds to accusations of
by Ron Howell
These days, he has lots of spare time. He watches home videos,
takes computer classes, goes to house parties and enjoys time
with his children visiting from Montreal.
It is easy to lose oneself in solitude on his quiet block of
detached homes and well-manicured lawns on 225th Street in
But there are those who will never let Emmanuel Constant forget
he is Haiti's most wanted man, the head of a group that
allegedly killed, kidnaped and pillaged in a right-wing
campaign of terror that covered Haiti like a long, scary night
between 1993 and 1994.
More than a week ago, human-rights activists protested outside
his home and the Cambria Heights real-estate office where he
worked, bringing Constant the first flurry of media attention
in two years.
In the wake of the renewed interest in his case, he decided to
break his silence and in three interviews with Newsday spoke
guardedly about his cloak-and-dagger past and about his
personal life in Queens.
He discussed his past relationship with agents of the CIA and
Defense Intelligence Agency, revealing that they were attracted
to him by his access to extensive databases of information
about Haitians and by his work in satellites and other
telecommunications as a private contractor for Haitian army
commanders and others.
Speaking about his life in Queens, he angrily asserted that he
is being maligned by such human-rights groups as the
Manhattan-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which he says
has been hounding him and making it hard for him to find a job.
After the center and local Haitian organizations got wind of
his recent job with Rigaud Realty Services on Linden Boulevard
in Cambria Heights, they organized a protest on Aug. 12 outside
the office, as well as outside Constant's home.
Constant said he and his former employer at the realty company,
Patrick Rigaud, have agreed that the negative publicity is bad
for Rigaud's business, and Constant is now looking for work
"I'm the father of five kids, and I have the right to feed them
and put them through school and college," Constant, 43, said
angrily. "I heard somebody was comparing me to Nazis. I was
shocked to hear such a thing ....It's purely propaganda, and
it's time for it to stop." Disputing claims by various
human-rights groups that from 3,000 to 5,000 people were killed
in Haiti from 1991 to 1994 after the coup against President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Constant said his organization, the
Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), was
not even formed until the fall of 1993.
He also maintained that the number of people killed during the
entire period might be as low as 170, a figure even the most
cautious of Haiti-watchers would call ridiculously
conservative. Given to such declarations that seem to fly in
the face of reality, Constant has even maintained that members
of his group did not carry weapons.
Emmanuel Constant is a 6-foot-3 former broad jumper who speaks
fluent Creole, English, French and Spanish and who smiles and
laughs easily. "Wherever I go, I tell stories, wherever I go, I
tell jokes, I make people laugh," he said.
But true to the Haitian saying that behind the mountains are
more mountains, there is an aura of intrigue behind Constant's
smile, an aura that some of his detractors would say is colored
In late 1995, when he was being held in jail by the Immigration
and Naturalization Service, Constant began speaking openly
about his CIA ties, hinting that more revelations would come if
he were not released from custody.
The disclosures were a terrible embarrassment to the United
States, revealing that U.S. intelligence agents met with,
advised and financially supported Constant to the tune of $700
a month, even as he formed the terror group FRAPH, an acronym
that sounds like the word for "hit" or "strike" when said in
(The U.S. State Department has confirmed that Constant had a
relationship with U.S. intelligence agents, but it has not
disclosed details.) In dealing with Constant, U.S. agents
effectively gave aid and comfort to those opposing the return
of Aristide, a leftist former Catholic priest who was ousted in
a bloody military coup on Sept. 30, 1991. Aristide was fiercely
loved by the poor Haitian masses, just as he was hated by the
wealthy elite and regarded with extreme suspicion by some
Americans, who saw Aristide as anti-capitalist and
The collaboration with Constant, which lasted from 1992 to
1994, ran counter to official U.S. policy, which was that
Aristide was Haiti's first popularly elected head of state and
should be restored to power. In the fall of 1994, President
Bill Clinton dispatched 20,000 troops to return Aristide to
Haiti from his exile in Washington.
In December, 1994, two months after Aristide's return, Constant
fled to the United States on a temporary visa, and in February,
1995, he was arrested in Queens on orders of a red-faced
Clinton administration, which declared him persona non grata.
On June 14, 1996, Constant was released from a jail in Wicomico
County, Md., after signing a five-page agreement, whose terms
Constant is not supposed to disclose, with State and Justice
Last week, Constant said his Newark-based lawyer, J.D.
Larosiliere, has advised him not to talk about his past ties to
American intelligence agents.
However, with nods and brief answers, he did confirm the
following outline of his work with U.S. officials: In the
months after the coup against Aristide, a Defense Department
attaché from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince approached
Constant and began paying him $700 a month as an informant.
Constant said his knowledge of computers and his contacts with
the Haitian military made him valuable to American intelligence
officials. "I'm very good at analyzing the situation," he said.
"I was privileged to have a lot of information." In addition to
having a telecommunications company, Constant said he worked as
director of social affairs under the post-coup de facto
government of Marc Bazin. In that capacity, he helped build a
database about people and places all over Haiti.
Constant's first flirtation with notoriety came on Oct. 11,
1993, when he and dozens of anti-Aristide militants mobilized
at the port of the capital city, waving guns and yelling
threats against Americans. Their goal was to prevent the
docking of the Harlan County, a U.S. ship transporting 216
American and Canadian soldiers who were the advance guard of an
international plan to restore Aristide.
FRAPH was born out of that demonstration. Constant would later
reveal that U.S. intelligence officials were aware beforehand
of plans for the dockside demonstration but did not try to stop
it. Clinton ordered the Harlan County to turn back, dashing
hopes for Aristide's return for another year.
During this time, Constant says, he met almost daily with the
CIA station chief in Port-au-Prince, driving around town with
him and sharing ideas about Haitian politics. And in this
period, FRAPH expanded throughout the country, as its members
acquired weapons in violation of an international embargo and
terrorized cities and villages. Haitian refugees interviewed by
American officials and human- rights groups say FRAPH was
involved in murders, rapes, beatings and even the burning down
of whole neighborhoods.
This violent past will come alive again in about three weeks.
On Sept. 12, Haiti is scheduled to begin the trial of 59
people-36 soldiers and 23 FRAPH members-accused in the deaths
of eight Aristide supporters in the Raboteau section of
Gonaives, Haiti, on April 23, 1994. Among the accused FRAPH
members, only two are not in Haiti: Constant and his FRAPH
co-founder, Jodel Chamblain, who is believed to be in the
While Constant and Chamblain are not accused of firing weapons
in the Raboteau incident, "they started an enterprise that
involved massive violations of human rights, and ... the fact
that they started the enterprise makes them liable for all the
acts," asserted Brian Concannon, the lead attorney for the
Haiti-based Bureau of International Lawyers.
The bureau is helping the Haitian government prosecute the
crimes stemming from the coup against Aristide.
Concannon said he wants Constant returned to Haiti. "If
Constant arrived today, certainly within a couple of weeks we
could file a lot of cases against him," Concannon said in a
phone interview from Haiti.
Concannon said the United States had been hindering efforts to
build a case against FRAPH and Constant by refusing to turn
over 160,000 pages of documents that U.S. soldiers seized from
FRAPH headquarters and Haitian army headquarters in late 1994.
The United States is apparently trying to identify and erase
the names of all Americans who dealt with FRAPH, Concannon
And the Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a lawsuit in
U.S. courts in which it demanded and received some formerly
classified documents held by the CIA and Defense Intelligence.
Some of the documents point a finger at Constant.
One CIA memo reviewed by Newsday cites a source in Haiti who
said, "FRAPH members Jodel Chamblain, Emmanuel Constant and
Gabriel Douzable met with an unidentified military officer on
the morning of 14 October to discuss plans to kill Malary."
Aristide's justice minister, Guy Malary, was assassinated with
his chauffeur and bodyguard on Oct. 14, 1993.
The center alleges that on Oct. 16, 1993, in the Carrefour
section of Port-au-Prince, hatchet-wielding FRAPH members beat
a pro-Aristide woman, Alerte Belance, and left her for dead.
Belance, who is missing her right forearm and is deaf in her
right ear, now lives in the New York area.
Last week Constant denied any involvement in Malary's death or
in the brutal assault on Belance.
"I was not at a meeting," he said of Malary's killing. "I heard
about [the killing] on the scanner, like anyone else." Constant
said that if he is deported to Haiti to stand trial, he will
surely be tortured and killed. The U.S. government has cited
that possibility in allowing him to remain in New York, where
he says he reports every Tuesday to INS officials in Manhattan.
On June 12, 1996-two days before Constant was released from
detention-a Baltimore official of the INS told him, "[Our]
information indicates that you will be put in prison, and that
a prison riot will be staged as a diversion during which an
attempt to kill you will be made." A transcript of that
conversation, signed by U.S. government officials, is among the
files in the office of Constant's attorney, Larosiliere. INS
officials last week did not return calls seeking comment on the
alleged death plot.
Speaking in Haiti, the attorney helping prosecute FRAPH members
denied Constant would be killed or harmed.
He said a former Haitian army captain, Castera Cenafils, had
been in jail five years, alive and well and waiting for his
trial in the Raboteau mass-murder case. "He hasn't been
touched," Concannon said of Cenafils.
Although Constant says he is offended and outraged at the
allegations against him, he often appears to be enormously at
ease. Much of his spare time he spends going to the movies or
watching videos at home or attending parties.
"I'm the No. 1 client of Blockbuster," he said.
He has gained 20 pounds since his days in Haiti and now wears
wire-rimmed glasses. He sports an earring in his left ear.
Haitians have reported seeing him at discos and even at voodoo
ceremonies, but Constant says he is not a regular disco-goer
and is not a devotee of voodoo.
He said he is from a family of devout Catholics. But at least
one local Catholic priest has refused to perform sacraments for
When Constant was released from prison in June, 1996, his
mother went to Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Cambria
Heights and asked the priest to celebrate a mass of
thanksgiving for his release. The priest agreed and accepted a
donation of about $25, Constant said.
When more than half a dozen members of the family showed up at
the church for the morning service, though, the Rev. Jean
Augustin Francois recognized Constant and told the mother he
could not celebrate a mass for her son.
Francois returned the money to Constant's mother.
Francois, now assigned to the St. Thérèse Lisieux Roman
Catholic parish in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, said:
"I did something which, in my judgment, was right. My
conscience is clear." He refused to comment further, saying he
did not want to offend Constant or Constant's mother.
Growing up in Haiti, Constant lived a life of privilege. His
Gerard E. Constant, who is now dead, was commander of the armed
forces under the late Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier during the
highly repressive 1960s.
Emmanuel-known by his nickname, Toto-attended private schools
in Haiti and lived for a time in Spain before going to college
in Montreal as a teenager. In Montreal, he studied computers
and was put on the payroll of the Haitian embassy there to
promote the interests of Haitian businesses.
In 1984, he moved to an apartment in Flushing, commuting to his
job as a UN diplomat representing Jean-Claude (Baby Doc)
Duvalier, who took power in Haiti after Francois Duvalier's
death. In 1986, an era came to an end, as Jean-Claude Duvalier
fled to Europe amid growing protests against the 30-year family
And in 1988, Toto Constant, now without his steady government
paycheck, left Queens and returned to live in Haiti.
Constant said that at the time of the 1991 coup against
Aristide, he was working as a consultant with Haitian army
officials, setting up a nationwide telecommunications system in
Haiti. He said he wanted to make it clear, however, that at the
time of the coup, he was in Miami with his father, who died
nearly three weeks afterward.
Looking back on his last decade in Haiti, Constant says he
realizes many thousands of Haitians in New York hate him for
the things he is accused of doing. But he scoffs at the two or
three dozen people who showed up to demonstrate outside his
home and outside Rigaud Realty last week.
If he were really guilty of killing hundreds of people, "There
would be at least 15,000 people there," he said.
Constant said his real enemy is the Center for Constitutional
Rights, which has spearheaded much of the public outcry against
his release from jail.
"They're a pain in my butt, the center is," he said Thursday,
speaking at his home.
Meanwhile, Constant said, he will do what any respectable guy
would do in his shoes: look for work. Three years ago, he lost
his job selling telephone cards after news articles appeared,
and now he has lost his real-estate job.
Lately, he has been trying to use his computer networking
skills to establish a "home-based" business of some kind, he
"One thing I'll tell you," he said, referring to the position
he just lost after the Aug. 12 demonstrations. "That was the
last time anybody's going to find out where I work."
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