Haitian strongman Emmanuel ‘Toto’ Constant is back on US deportation flight to homeland

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As Haiti enters the third week of a nationwide judges’ strike, former Haitian strongman and death squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant is back on a scheduled deportation flight to Port-au-Prince.

Haitian Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe relayed the information during a virtual Monday meeting with more than a dozen representatives from the human rights sector while informing them that he was still fighting to get a delay in Constant’s removal from the United States, two people confirmed to the Miami Herald.

Pierre Esperance, who was among the meeting’s participants, said Justice Minister Lucmanne Delille assured him and other human rights advocates that Constant would be immediately jailed upon his return to Haiti if the government wasn’t successful in its efforts to get him removed off Tuesday’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Air deportation flight.

The executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network, Esperance called the United States’ removal decision both “inhumane” and lacking logic at this time, given the number of rapidly spreading infections of COVID-19 both in Haiti and within its prison system.

“The U.S. recognizes there is insecurity in Haiti; that the institutions are weak and not functioning. They recognize there is a weakness in our health system. Yet they are deporting someone to Haiti while publicly saying they are worried about the crowding in prisons with the coronavirus,” Esperance said.

“It’s not humane what they are doing; it doesn’t have any logic. You can still deport people but wait until the country has a better handle on the COVID-19 crisis, and there is some stability in terms of the justice and security.”

The U.S. State Department declined to comment and referred all inquiries about Constant’s deportation to the Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond to requests for comment Monday. Haiti’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, which handles diplomatic relations, did not respond to requests for comment.

“Everybody in Haiti knows the role that Toto Constant played in Haiti between 1991 and 1994 in respect to the armed paramilitary group,” Esperance said. “And, unfortunately, his old team that’s still here, and that’s occupying positions of power.”

During a U.N. Security Council meeting on Haiti on Friday, the Trump administration’s top diplomat to the global body, Ambassador Kelly Craft, publicly chastised the Haitian government for failing “to fully follow through on its March 27 decision to release pretrial detainees accused of minor crimes, as well as medically vulnerable prisoners nearing completion of their sentences,” to reduce the potential impact of COVID-19.

Craft began her remarks by saying “COVID-19 has placed significant stress on Haiti’s already fragile health care system.”

In his report to the council, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said as of June 3, only about 750 individuals had been released from the prison system, which has a detainee population of 10,708 prisoners. The number, the report said, falls far short of the estimated 5,000 discharges necessary to allow Haiti’s prisons and detention centers to better manage the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Such concerns and the regular deportation of detainees from the U.S. continues to raise alarms in Haiti, where requests for a halt in deportations have been ignored by the Trump administration.

Tuesday’s flight will mark the seventh ICE Air deportation flight since Haiti confirmed its first two coronavirus infections on March 19, according to data compiled by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which uses public data to track such fights.

Since March, the number of infections has continued to climb in Haiti, with the government registering 5,211 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 88 deaths as of Monday, figures that most say are an undercount.

A notorious human rights violator, Constant is a former CIA informant. While on the agency’s payroll, he founded one of Haiti’s most brutal paramilitary forces, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH. The force has been linked to the murders of at least 3,000 political opponents dating back to the 1990s.

In November 2000, Constant was sentenced to a life sentence by a Haiti court for a 1994 massacre in the rural village of Raboteau, north of the capital of Port-au-Prince. At the time, he was living in New York and was convicted, along with 14 others, in absentia.

In 2008, Constant was convicted of mortgage fraud and grand larceny in New York and sentenced to 37 years in state prison. He was released in April after serving 12 years and placed in U.S. immigration custody.

For months, Jouthe’s government has been trying to delay Constant’s return by appealing to the Trump administration through diplomatic channels. Though they have never publicly said why, Constant’s presence back in Haiti is a headache the government would prefer to not have to deal with given its many other challenges.

U.S. lawmakers Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Andy Levin, D-Mich., have also attempted to get a delay in Constant’s removal from the U.S. They both wrote to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security urging for a stay in deportation until the Haitian government could provide a plan to prosecute him under the law.

Sending Constant to Haiti without a credible plan by the Haitian government to prosecute him for his past crimes and protect the people of Haiti from potential future crimes, they argued, “is dangerously irresponsible.” The lawmakers also noted that some of Constant’s collaborators remain in positions of power today in Haiti.

Responding to Waters’ and Levin’s concerns, DHS Deputy Director Matthew T. Albence said earlier this month that DHS was “working closely with the U.S. Department of State to ensure the Haitian government is prepared to receive him.”

Outside of jailing Constant, the Haitian government doesn’t appear to have a plan.

The country’s judges have been on strike for three weeks over a number of grievances, including the justice system’s paltry $14 million budget allocated by President Jovenel Moise in his recently published budget.

Esperance said the strike, along with the start of the judicial calendar year, means the earliest Constant may appear before a Haitian judge is perhaps November.

Under Haitian law, Constant has the right to invoke a new trial, and the procedure is started again from the beginning, with no presumptions from the previous trial. But the same evidence can be used.

Haitian law also gives him the right to ask for pretrial release, which former Dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier received when he arrived back in Haiti on Jan. 16, 2011, when he faced corruption charges.

Constant can make pretrial challenges to the proceedings and argue that there is not enough evidence linking him to the massacre. He can also argue there are procedural flaws in the case against him, or that the statute of limitations has run out.


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