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#5226: Haitian Exile Proclaims Innocence (fwd)




From: nozier@tradewind.net

Haitian Exile Proclaims Innocence                                      
The Associated Press,Tue 3 Oct 2000 

NEW YORK (AP)  A Haitian exile accused of leading a paramilitary death
squad proclaimed his innocence Monday, and his lawyer prepared to travel
to Haiti to defend him against charges in the most infamous massacre in
the country's recent history.  In a rare interview,Emmanuel ``Toto''
Constant said the violence of April 22, 1994, now known as the
Raboteau Massacre,was ``a complete invention'' that never happened. 
Constant, who now lives in New York City, has been accused of complicity
in the killing,maiming and torture of thousands of civilians prior to
the 1994 U.S. invasion of Haiti. But he said he wasn't responsible     
for even one death. ``They always say that a man's judge is his
conscience, and my conscience is definitely clear,'' he told The
Associated Press.``I am innocent. I am not responsible for all those
monstrous crimes that people are trying to put on me.' Constant is known
as a former leader of the right-wing Front for the Advancement and
Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH. The group allegedly led a reign of terror
designed to break the spirit of supporters of President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, who had been deposed by a military coup in 1991. 

Part of that alleged reign of terror was what became known as the
Raboteau Massacre: Armed men came at dawn to the city of Gonaives,
forced their way into shantytown homes, made some victims lie in
open sewers, beat up old people and children and shot the ones who tried
to flee. No one knows how many people died in the attack by soldiers and
right-wing thugs because soldiers prevented the victims' families from
retrieving bodies from the sea. But 30 people were reported killed,
 and prosecutors have documented six deaths. Constant is one of 58
defendants who went on trial last week in the massacre  a case that is
widely considered a trial of Haiti's 1991-1994 military regime. In the
interview Monday, he said FRAPH was a nonviolent political
organization with nearly 200,000 members throughout the country. 

 ``I was mostly like a spokesperson for the organization. I represented
the organization,''Constant said, speaking by telephone
from the office of his lawyer in Newark, N.J. ``I'm 100 percent not
responsible for any deaths whatsoever in Haiti. I have never been a
death squad leader because FRAPH was not a  death squad.'Estimates of
the number of people killed in Haiti between 1991 and 1994 vary widely.
A government truth and justice commission determined that at least 800
were killed by soldiers and FRAPH members.Other estimates have
put the number killed at 3,000 or more. Constant's lawyer,
J.D. Larosiliere, said he was traveling to Haiti this week and planned
to appear in court. He said he would be meeting with several
co-defendants' attorneys to coordinate a defense. Constant is being
tried in absentia. He fled Haiti after Aristide returned to power and
slipped into the United States on a tourist visa. When the U.S. State
Department canceled his visa in 1995, he was arrested and ordered
deported. But he remained in custody until the following year, and he
was released under a State Department recommendation that
allowed him to remain in the United States under certain conditions.
Officials said at the time that his deportation was being delayed
because his notoriety in Haiti was such that his return could create
instability.  Since his release in 1996, Constant has been living in the
New York City borough of Queens,by his own account trying to
keep a low profile and get on with life. He worked at a real estate
business, but protests there by opponents who say he is a murderer led
him to leave the job. He was reluctant to get into specifics about
his new job.  ``I'm a consultant,let's put it like that,'' he said. ``I
think that what I've been trying to do in fact is to have people forget
about me. ... I'm definitely not a violent person, and I like my
privacy.''