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5840: Convicted in Haiti 'Toto' Constant fears extradition (fwd)
Convicted in Haiti 'Toto' Constant fears extradition
by Ron Howell Staff Writer NEWSDAY (NY)
Speaking hours after learning he was convicted in Haiti in connection
with a massacre-and sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor-Queens
resident Emmanuel "Toto" Constant said Friday he is worried U.S.
authorities may eventually send him back to the troubled Caribbean
nation. "They [Haitian officials] are going to try to come up here and
push for extradition," Constant said, speaking in a phone interview from
his residence in Laurelton. "We know that's what they have in mind . . .
I am taking this very seriously." Calling himself a "victim," he
insisted on his innocence and argued that the trial against him and 36
other former military and paramilitary leaders was a "political" move by
their enemies in Haiti. A U.S. State Department official said the United
States has no intention at the moment of arresting Constant and
returning him to Haiti. The official, speaking from Washington on the
condition his name not be used, said the United States believes the
Haitian criminal justice system is"weak" and that "Mr. Constant's
presence in Haiti could lead to social disorder." But one Haitian
activist in New York City said the conviction will ultimately strengthen
the case for extraditing him. "We believe it makes our case stronger,"
said Ray Laforest, a leader of the Haiti Support Network, which has held
demonstrations outside Constant's home demanding he be sent back.
Laforest said a coalition of human rights groups opposed to Constant's
presence in the United States is planning to hold a candlelight vigil
outside 26 Federal Plaza on Dec. 13.Among the 36 others who were tried
and convicted on Thursday were ex-Haitian military commanders Raoul
Cedras, Phillipe Biamby, Michel Francois and Carl Dorelien.Cedras and
Biamby are living now in Panama. Francois is in Honduras. Dorelien
resides in Miami, where three years ago he won $3.2 million in a
state lottery. Human rights groups link Constant to a right-wing reign
of terror following the 1991 right-wing army coup against President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide.Aristide was returned to power by U.S. troops in
October, 1994. Two months later, Constant fled Haiti and entered the
United States on a valid visa.Embarrassed that an accused terror group
leader was living freely in the United States, U.S. immigration
officials eventually arrested Constant in early 1995. He then began to
talk to reporters while in custody about his shadowy associations back
in Haiti with intelligence operatives at the American Embassy there.
He said the American Embassy officials were supporting him-indeed paying
him a monthly stipend-even as he led a right-wing paramilitary
organization known as the Front for the Advancement and Progress of
Haiti. The group has been linked to widespread acts of violence.
He hinted that he might say more if he were freed from detention. U.S.
officials released Constant in 1996, and he has been living ever since
with relatives in Queens. He said he reports weekly to U.S. immigration
officials in Manhattan.Under Haitian law, Constant and the others
convicted in absentia will face new trials if they return to the
country. Constant's attorney, J.D. Larosiliere of Newark, called this
week's trial "a joke." He said he tried to speak to the court on his
client's behalf but the judge in Haiti refused to let him do so. "This
was clearly political," he said. "It was orchestrated just short of
these so-called elections they are about to hold." Haiti is planning to
hold presidential elections later this year.