[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Fri, 19 May 1995 08:33:00 -0400
From: RGosser@aol.com

Arrest of FRAPH chief poses questions for U.S.

By Jim Lobe, IPS, 19 May 1995

WASHINGTON, May 12 (IPS) - The arrest in New York this week of the chief of a Haitian paramilitary group which waged a terror campaign against supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide could create new headaches for the U.S. intelligence community.

Emmanuel Constant, head of the notorious Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), has reportedly enjoyed close ties to U.S. intelligence agencies which, many analysts believe, may have helped him escape from Haiti to the United States last December.

Constant himself has claimed that the Pentagon's Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) first recruited him as a paid agent in 1991 -- shortly after Aristide's ouster in a military coup -- and then encouraged him during the summer of 1993 to form FRAPH as a balance (to) the Aristide movement.

He knows an awful lot and he loves to talk, says Bill O'Neil, a legal adviser with the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees in New York. It's going to be interesting to hear what he has to say.

The debonair Constant, known as Toto, was arrested by special agents of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) Wednesday outside his residence in Queens, New York, after the INS was tipped off by an informer, according to INS spokesman Rudolph Brewington.

Brewington told IPS Constant was subsequently transferred to a holding facility at Wicomico, Maryland -- about 100 kms from Washington -- where he is awaiting deportation proceedings.

The INS was ordered to find Constant at the end of March, two weeks after the Aristide government -- which was restored to power by a U.S.-led multinational force last September -- asked for his extradition. At the time, U.S. officials said they had no idea where he was.

In a letter to Attorney-General Janet Reno Mar 29, Secretary of State Warren Christopher revoked Constant's visa to enter the United States on the grounds that he is the founder and secretary-general of (FRAPH) and, as such, is directly connected to an organisation whose members have been responsible for numerous alleged human rights violations.

Christopher wrote that Constant's presence in the United States could have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.

So might what Constant might say about his relationship with U.S. intelligence, according to recent accounts.

The first disclosure of Constant's ties was published last October in The Nation magazine. Allan Nairn, a respected investigative reporter, named Col. Patrick Collins, the DIA's attache in Haiti until 1992, as Constant's first handler.

Collins is alleged by Constant to have first suggested the formation of an anti-Aristide front to do intelligence work against pro-Aristide forces. So began the military-linked 'attaches' who became FRAPH after the signing of the July, 1993, Governor's Island Accords by Aristide and then-military chief Gen. Raoul Cedras.

That agreement, which was mediated by the United States and the United Nations, was supposed to pave the way for Aristide's return from exile by the end of October, 1993. But, as October approached, military repression and terrorist activity by FRAPH increased sharply.

The climax came in mid-October, when Constant -- who was, at the time, a paid CIA asset -- orchestrated a noisy demonstration at the Port-au-Prince harbour to prevent the landing of hundreds of U.S. and Canadian peacekeeping troops who were supposed to prepare they way for Aristide's return two weeks later.

Constant's ploy worked, and, to the jubilation of FRAPH and the military-backed regime, the U.S.S. Harlan Country turned around and steamed homeward.

Until the eventual arrival of the U.S.-led multinational force 11 months later, FRAPH imposed a reign of terror in which hundreds of suspected Aristide supporters were beaten, tortured, killed or raped.

Despite that record, U.S. troops were initially told not to act against FRAPH. But continued beatings and killings by the group and their military allies provoked some U.S. units into moving against the paramilitary group.

In early October, U.S. troops raided FRAPH's headquarters in Port-au-Prince and arrested 35 members. The next day, however, Constant, who had reportedly gone underground, turned up at a U.S. Embassy press conference to urge his followers not to resist the U.S. occupation.

Shortly afterwards, the Embassy said it asked Constant to surrender his U.S. visa, but when he didn't show up, the Embassy apparently dropped the matter. That made it easier for him to slip into Puerto Rico just before Christmas, after he had failed to obey a court summons to testify about FRAPH's activities. He later surfaced briefly in Washington, and then disappeared.

Meanwhile, however, some U.S. Special Forces units reportedly continued cooperating with FRAPH in rural areas. Echoing Collins, who returned to Haiti after the intervention, they said they had been told the group could help balance Aristide forces in the countryside.

The Haitian government and activists have long suspected that Constant's friends in the U.S. intelligence community aided his entry into the United States. I would not be surprised if specific individuals may have done so on their own, one knowledgeable official told IPS before Constant's capture.

The State Department said Friday Constant will be returned to Haiti, although it left unclear whether he will be extradited or deported. He would end up in the same place, so I'm not certain what the material distinction is, said spokesman David Johnson.

But what happens to him there is of concern to some analysts, particularly in light of recent jail breaks there by large numbers of prisoners.

If he is returned, he could escape or somebody could kill him, because he knows too much, said O'Neil. In the meantime, Haitians who have sued FRAPH in U.S. courts for civil damages arising out of the group's physical attacks against them and their families are hoping to gain Constant's testimony before he leaves Washington's custody.