In December of 1990, Haiti, then the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, held its first ever democratic elections, selecting Jean-Bertrand Aristide with 67% of the popular vote. Aristide, a left-leaning populist and former Catholic priest, officially took office in February of 1991. Eight months later, he was ousted by an Army-led coup, making way for a military junta government that would rule Haiti until 1994.
As commander-in-chief of the the Armed Forces of Haiti (FADH), Raoul Cédras became the de facto leader of this military regime. While he oversaw the FADH and National Intelligence Service, Emmanuel “Toto” Constant established a paramilitary group known as the Armed Revolutionary Front for the Progress of Haiti (FRAPH). FRAPH’s goal was to undermine supporters of the deposed Aristide, a task the group achieved through a brutal campaign of extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, torture, arbitrary detention, and massive sexual violence against women. At least 4,000 people were killed, with countless more raped and tortured.
Constant, it turns out, was an agent to the United States. Between 1992 and 1994, the CIA provided the Haitian death squad leader with arms and funding in exchange for information, a fact that both Constant and US officials later admitted. The original link between FRAPH and US intelligence agencies was uncovered by Allan Nairn, an investigative journalist in Haiti at the time of the coup. According to Nairn, the “US Defense Intelligence Agency encouraged the formation of FRAPH, essentially a terrorist group.”
Within Haiti, the true origin of Constant’s paramilitary death squad remains an unsolved piece of a traumatic puzzle. When we spoke to Pierre Buteau, a professor at the University of Haiti’s Institute of African Studies and Research, he seemed to have more questions than answers. “Was it a spontaneous movement?” he wondered. “Was it a movement that was organized by the military? It’s very, very mysterious about the financial situation.”
These unanswered questions mean that FRAPH’s victims and their families have not seen justice. “No one knows exactly who helped Constant,” says Bueatu. “Nobody did reports about what they did to my family.”
In 1994, Aristide was restored to power, with help from the United States and the international community. Emmanuel Constant was granted a tourist visa to enter the US, where he subsequently went underground. He was found hiding in Queens in 1995 and quickly arrested, with plans made to send him back to Haiti. While in jail, Constant conducted an interview with 60 Minutes in which he revealed his collaboration with the CIA and threatened to divulge more secrets should he be convicted.
The following May, Emmanuel Constant was set free with two conditions: he would be forbidden from leaving Queens except for certain visits to the INS office in Manhattan; he would not speak about Haitian politics or the details of his legal agreement.
In 2001, a Haitian court convicted Emmanuel Constant in absentia and sentenced him to life in prison for killings in Gonaives, Haiti. The United States government declined the extradition request, and Constant continued living in Queens.
Seven years later, a U.S. court convicted him of mortgage fraud. Constant is currently serving that sentence in a maximum security prison in New York.
Feature image via the Center for Justice & Accountability