This weekend President Clinton released one of Haiti’s most feared leaders of Haiti’s death squad, Emanuel Constant. This happened two years after President Clinton used the brutality of Haitian government forces as a reason to attack Haiti. Possible reasons behind this decision are discussed, including the connection of Constant and CIA.
DEMOCRACY NOW Release of Emmanuel Constant June 18 1996
Amy Goodman: Today we have learned that, Emmanuel Constant, the leader of the dreaded Haitian military death squad has been released, here in the United States by the US government. That’s our topic on Democracy Now, I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined by two guests, Michael Ratner, Center for the Constitutional Rights attorney, in New York City and we’re joined by Jean Jean-Piere, who is a Haitian journalist. He writes for the Village Voice.
How is it possible that on Friday, Emmanuel Constant, who was being held in an INS detention facility in Baltimore, Maryland was released? Now, the US government says, that they are waiting for the Haitian government to ensure Constant will be safe if he’s deported back to Haiti. In the meantime, they have released him, here in this country. Michael Ratner, can you explain what has happened? Which must come as a surprise to many people in this country.
Michael Ratner: Well, I think the US explanation of waiting to be safe is nothing but an excuse. I don’t think they ever wanted to send Constant back. He’s been in a jail here for over six months. I think the explanation is fairly straightforward. Which is, Constant, who was the architect of many of the abuses during the coup period was a paid agent of the CIA. A paid informant, a paid worker. [inaudible 00:01:21] his organization the right wing … paramilitary organization, the death squad that did many of these killings was actually, many people believe set up by the United States.
I think what they’re really doing is taking care of someone who carried out, and was on the US payroll during the coup period. It has nothing at all to do with whether he’ll get a fair trial, or all the excuses they’re making about Haiti. It’s true, but they don’t want to do it. They don’t want to send him back, because they don’t want him to go to jail and they figure they owe him something. Therefore they’re going to let him loose on the streets of New York. Where, New York, Washington, Miami, where if anything he could be extremely dangerous. This is a community of progressive Haitian people, in many respects, Aristide supporters. I just can’t believe that the United State could let contrary to law, contrary to any common sense, would let basically, a killer out on the streets where he can continue to do his damage.
Amy Goodman: Jean Jean-Piere, how many people were killed during the three year coup in which Aristide was deposed and Emmanuel Constant, head of the FRAPH had free reign in Haiti?
Jean Jean Piere: Well, the figures [inaudible 00:02:23] by many UN rights organizations, it’s five thousand upwards. As you [inaudible 00:02:27] at the beginning of your piece, they [inaudible 00:02:41] dramatically … giving people a picture of the terror on which Haitians have been living during the reign of the military. What I think … what is surprising is … the fact is, to Constant, he is the man who at least intellectually he’s responsible for many, or most of these killings.
I, of course I do concur with Michael, the idea of leaving Constant here in the United States, in New York. It’s a very dangerous one for the simple reason that eventually he will be … he will blend in to the population. This idea of having the immigration, that’s what I read, an AP wire report. The immigration service is monitoring Constant here in Queens. It is after a few months, probably less, that this is going to be relegated to the back burner and they’re not going to be bothered with Constant. I think his presence is dangerous.
This is a guy who has no trade. All he knows how to do is, is to instill terror within this Haitian community. Whether abroad or in Haiti. Remember there are many FRAPH representatives here. FRAPH offices here in New York, and Miami, and Canada. I think it’s a dangerous precedent by letting this guy out. Although, one might say, legally, since Haiti does not have any treaty of extradition with the United States, it was just an immigration matter. If his visa was revoked, how come they let him here in the states? That is something I’m trying to grapple with.
Amy Goodman: It’s interesting how the Reuters news wire puts it, it says ‘A Warrant was Issued for Constant’s Arrest’. He was apprehended in New York five months later. This is about a year ago. The fact is, that he came in to this country, he was allowed in. It was only after there was tremendous outcry, which embarrassed the Clinton administration, about why he was allowed to move around freely, that the Clinton administration went after him and finally detained time. Here they have released again. Now, Michael Ratner, at the Center for Constitutional Rights, you have filed suit against Emmanuel Constant. A civil suit. Can you explain what that’s about?
Michael Ratner: Well, what we really filed was a suit against FRAPH. Which, is the paramilitary death squad that was terrorizing Haiti during this period of which Constant was the head. We subpoenaed Constant in that case, took his deposition a number of times in the prison in Maryland. Constant, is not technically a defendant but the organization of which he is the president is a defendant. It was a lawsuit filed, really on behalf of a plaintiff Alerte Belance. Who, maybe some of your listeners are familiar with. Who was a woman in Haiti who was … they attempted to kill her, sliced off part of her arm, her face, they left her dead in the killing field. She eventually made her way to the United States. Where we were able to sue FRAPH and bring Constant in on the case.
I do want to say one thing that Jean Jean mentioned about the extradition business. There is actually an extradition treaty with Haiti in the United States. Haiti did make a demand for extradition. As well as, of course, he’s under deportation order. The United States said there wasn’t enough evidence in the extradition request, of course, they could have still deported him to Haiti. In effect, the last six months have been spent by a number of Haitian investigators gathering the evidence that I believe would have been now easily sufficient not only to require his extradition but to try and convict of both torture and murder in Haiti.
In the light of that evidence, I think what actually happened here, I think he may have been … it’s possible that he many have been on his way back a few months ago. I think at that point the United States didn’t believe there was enough evidence to really convict him other than being the head of FRAPH. Which, might not have been alone, sufficient. I think the investigators in Haiti then got sufficient evidence of two particular incidents of fire in Cite Soleil, that he was involved in setting. That killed a number of people, and a particular instance in which he was present while a person was tortured. I think once we had those two cases built up against Constant, they realized that if he goes back to Haiti, he’s going to jail for a very long time.
Amy Goodman: We should remind people what Cite Soleil is, one of the poorest areas of Haiti. A slum in Port-au-Prince. Where many of Aristides staunchest supporters were. It was in December of 1993, that a whole area of Cite Soleil was torched by FRAPH supporters. It sounds like what you’re saying, and in talking to an investigator earlier today, they have evidence that links Emmanuel Constant to the scene of that crime.
Michael Ratner: That’s correct. Evidence of him directing that crime as it was going forward, directing the burning. I think, that once we established that evidence, that basically, the United States we made a decision that said “we’re not sending him back.” Sadly, very sadly, Jean Jean and I have both said, it’s a complete outrage, but it’s consistent with the US position with regard to these very serious human rights violators and violations.
They have been unwilling, essentially, to lift a finger to help the Haitian government in prosecuting either Constant, or anybody else. I guess, the documents come to my mind when I think about the one hundred and fifty thousand pages of documents. That line by line document who did the abuses to whom during that three year period. The US sees them during the invasion, it is now holding them, and has been unwilling to give them over the Haitian government. Documents that would be crucial in finally uprooting a system of violence in Haiti that has gone on for a hundred years.
Amy Goodman: I just want to describe the scene for people. For those of you who remember watching CNN and other networks when the US troops moved in. One of the most dramatic scenes, was them moving in to FRAPH headquarters, the paramilitary headquarters in downtown Port-au-Prince. As well as, FAHD headquarters, that’s the Haitian military headquarters. Taking out low level FRAPH members, for example, from the FRAPH headquarters. Taping their mouths, binding their hands, and saying, this was the beginning of bringing justice and law and order to Haiti.
Well, at the same time, and what the cameras weren’t catching, were the soldiers bringing out the boxes of these documents. Now, in the next few days, these FRAPH members were all released, but the documents never were. All though … in fact, I was there last year, and talked to the embassy spokesperson whether they would release these documents, he said “Yes, we are releasing them. We’re in negotiation with Aristide,” when he was president at the time. In fact, they haven’t been released. Is that right, Michael?
Michael Ratner: That’s correct. They have not been … they’re willing to release the documents only in what we call in legal terms, redacted form. Which means, a lot of the names erased, and a lot of information erased. Haiti, correctly has said, “They’re our documents, they’re our papers, and we want the full set of documents so that we can pursue justice in our country.” Here you have the United States, not only with the release of Toto Constant, but with the documents and in a number of other ways, basically impeding any serious investigation in to the killers that ruled Haiti for the three years.
Amy Goodman: Jean Jean Piere, are we seeing US electoral politics being played out on the Haitian stage? On the one hand, you have President Clinton not wanting Constant to return because of what would be exposed with his relationship with the US CIA. We don’t see senate majority leader, or former senate majority leader Bob Dole, who while he was majority leader, sent down a delegation to Haiti to investigate what the investigators were investing. He was not calling for the return of Emmanuel Constant.
Michael Ratner: Well, I think, you’re right but it goes beyond US electoral politics, at least for 1996. I think at the heart of this, is the practice of the CIA by using proxies in Haiti. To do the dirty work of this low intensity warfare that has been institutionalized by the United States in the wake of the second world war. I think, it is a pattern that we see still unfolding in Haiti. Yes, President Clinton, is not really interested in getting Constant back. For the simple reason, the CIA was involved but the pentagon, I think, probably would have more to loose, more so than the white house by [inaudible 00:11:40] Constant back to Haiti.
Again, you’re so right by mentioning Bob Dole. Yes, the delegation went to Haiti, issued a report, a scalding report on the Clinton administration. I think they all … it’s not explicitly but at least tacitly agreed that the bottom line is, to keep Haiti where it is or even worse state by not doing anything to bring justice to the Haitian people. I spoke to President Preval my last trip to Haiti for The Voice and he told me that, he’s pursuing the getting of the documents but he’s still confronted by this hurdle put by the US. This idea of redacting, or taking off all the names of American nationals, and we’re talking about American nationals, not just American soldiers. People who are part of FRAPH who are naturalized citizens. Yes, I don’t think either Bob Dole or President Clinton is interested in getting Constant back to Haiti. I think the only hope now is the Center for Constitutional Rights to at least pursue him by civil suit on behalf Alerte Belance. I don’t think politically, this is, we’re going to see any end to it soon.
Amy Goodman: Michael, maybe you could explain what the US interests in Haiti are right now. You have the President Rene Preval following through very much on the US’s neo liberal plan there. Opening Haiti up to US investment. Corporate investment, like, Disney making their Pocahontas pajamas there, paying less than the minimum wage, et cetera. You also have them stepping in the way of any kind of justice, to clear the way for a healthy society.
Michael Ratner: Well, I think it’s a very, very narrow interest. It’s one that wants to see privatization of certain industries. When I say privatization, whether it’s flour mill, or the electric company, or the telephone company, it’s really privatization that essentially transfers those assets to Americans and others who are going to bid on them. It’s a very, very narrow interest.
Which is essentially a capitalist interest of transferring money from basically, the people of the country in to private hands. It’s not an interest in seeing the overall health of Haiti. It’s an interest really in a few people benefiting from the wealth of Haiti.
Amy Goodman: In fact, aren’t those people who are benefiting, many of those are the supporters of the coup.
Michael Ratner: Well, that’s right. Who else …
Amy Goodman: People like Cedras and Constant.
Michael Ratner: Who really invests in Haiti and who buys, it’s the elites who run the country and probably a few outsiders. It’s really going to be continuing to put political, I mean, economic power in the hands of the very elite that ran the coup. While, some political power is now in the hands of the people, or the masses of Haiti, essentially, the country is still run economically by the same people who ran the coup.
You’re not going to get a real change in Haiti, I believe, until that economic situation is changed. The United States obviously, is by its privatization policies as well as keeping these documents that will show us who in the elite ran the coup will be continuing Haiti to have the same economic base that its had for a long time and the elites and having no real change for the masses people of Haiti.
Amy Goodman: Former-
Michael Ratner: It’s a very, very sad situation.
Amy Goodman: Former President Aristide met with President Clinton yesterday, do you know if he raised the issue of Emmanuel Constants release just two days before?
Michael Ratner: I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to his office today. I’m hopeful he did. I’m sure with a case that … when I worked with President Aristide that we worked very hard on, he was obviously a crucial person. I spent a lot of time in Maryland, with one of the other counsel for Haiti trying to get at Constant and figure it out. It was really a high priority of his I am sure he is very, very upset that Emmanuel Constant is allowed to stay in the United States.
Amy Goodman: Well, I want to thank you both very much for joining us. Jean Jean-Piere of the Village Voice, a Haitian-American reporter. I also want to thank Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City. As we learn at this hour, in the last few days that Emmanuel Constant, the leader of the dreaded FRAPH, the paramilitary organization responsible for thousands of deaths, has been released in the United States.
Here, FRAPH has been in some ways vindicated because he has been released. He has not been sent back to Haiti. As those tens of thousands of pages of documents that show the link between the US and Haiti, have also not been sent back to Haiti. We’ll continue on this story, on another day. Right now …