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6458: Strongman Next Door (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   NEW YORK, Dec 25 (AP) -- In his heyday, Emmanuel "Toto" Constant
intimidated an entire nation. Now he's the strongman next door.
   Wanted for murder and mayhem in Haiti, Constant, 43, has lived with
relatives in a quiet Caribbean neighborhood in Queens for the past four
   The fugitive paramilitary leader once boasted that voodoo -- as well as
the CIA -- protected him from harm. But a vocal group of Haitian-American
activists wants to break the spell.
   The group has been demanding that he be deported to Haiti and tried for
atrocities committed after a military coup -- charges he denies.
   "I can't believe this guy is living in our midst," Ray LaForest, a labor
organizer and head of the Haiti Support Network, said recently. "It's an
   The anti-Constant campaign was energized last month by news that a
Haitian court had sentenced him to life in prison following his conviction
in absentia for the 1994 massacre of slum-dwellers loyal to ousted
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Activists here responded by circulating a
Constant wanted poster and turned up pressure on Washington, where
officials have argued that Haiti is still too unstable to give him a fair
   Human Rights Watch and other civil rights groups sent a letter to
Attorney General Janet Reno and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
   The letter said the trial, resulting in the conviction of 16 defendants
and the acquittal of six, "illustrates that the Haitian justice system has
the capacity to provide a fair trial to major defendants." The group said
the United States should honor Haiti's extradition request.
   "Constant's presence in New York is a daily source of dismay and even
menace to the city's large Haitian community," the letter said. "A number
of these Haitians are terrified that Constant is freely walking the
   Justice Department spokeswoman Gretchen Michael said the government's
position on Constant has not changed. "The State Department has asked us
not to deport Constant because it would be destabilizing," she said.
   Constant may be free, but he is lying low.
   For all the sightings reported by his opponents on Web sites and
elsewhere -- Toto partying at nightclubs, selling phone cards and real
estate, living the good life -- details about his whereabouts and
livelihood are few. He reportedly lives on and off with an aunt in a white
stucco house near Kennedy Airport.
   When word spread in August that Constant had gotten his real estate
license and was working in a modest storefront office in Queens, about 30
people responded with a noisy demonstration. Some screamed, "Murderer!" and
   Constant wasn't there at the time and hasn't been seen there since.
   Several calls to Constant's lawyer were not returned. But in a rare
interview with Newsday last month, he claimed he was the innocent victim of
political persecution.
   A charismatic, 6-foot-4 son of a military officer, Constant emerged as
the leader of a right-wing paramilitary group, the Front for the
Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, after Aristide was toppled in
1991. Human rights groups allege that between 1991 and 1994, FRAPH
terrorized Aristide supporters, who were killed by the thousands.
   At the time, Constant boasted that he was a paid informant for the CIA.
He ran for president, calling FRAPH a "Salvation Army" eager to help the
poor. He carried a .357 Magnum on the campaign trail.
   "The weapon is for psychological impact only," he explained. "I have the
power of voodoo with me."
   After U.S. forces helped restore Aristide to power, Constant slipped
into the United States through Puerto Rico on a tourist visa on Christmas
Eve 1994. Embarrassed U.S. officials denied accusations that they were
harboring him because of his CIA connections.
   Warren Christopher, then secretary of state, warned that Constant's
presence would damage U.S.-Haiti relations and asked Reno to deport him.
Five months later, Immigration and Naturalization Service agents captured
him in Queens.
   Constant appealed his deportation on the grounds he would be killed if
sent back to Haiti. He was released in 1996 on the condition that he not
travel outside New York City and that he report regularly to the INS.
   Raymond Joseph, publisher of the Haiti Observateur -- a right-leaning
Brooklyn newspaper long critical of Aristide -- said deporting Constant
would be unjust as long as a "terrorist government" still rules in Haiti.
   "As far as I'm concerned, Toto Constant is no threat to me and not a
threat to anyone here," Joseph said. "I've always said that the State
Department would be crazy to sent Constant to those thugs in Haiti."