We Should Give Haiti Compassion, Not Sick People

  • Posted on: 23 May 2020
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Washingtoin Post
By Editorial Board 

THE UNITED STATES, the Western Hemisphere’s richest country, has the means and moral obligation to treat Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest, with compassion — at least sparing it the intentional infliction of more hardship than it already suffers. Judging from its recent actions, the Trump administration is wavering on that obligation. Earlier this month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials came close to sending to Haiti five individuals who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, as well as a notorious Haitian death squad leader. They were removed from the manifest of a deportation flight to Haiti after their scheduled deportations were exposed — by the Miami Herald, in the case of the Haitians with the coronavirus; and by a think tank blog, in the case of the death squad leader.

Both cases were close calls for Haiti, which suffers from political instability and an anemic health-care system. But now the Herald reports that the Trump administration is again planning to deport the death squad leader, Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, as early as next week. Earlier this spring, U.S. officials deported at least three Haitians who, after arriving in their home country, tested positive for the coronavirus, which at the time had barely gained a foothold there. Removals to Haiti are continuing. It remains unclear whether testing for the coronavirus is mandatory for individuals scheduled for deportation. ICE said last month it would expand testing for detainees, but officials acknowledged they did not have access to sufficient tests.

In Haiti, a presidential advisory commission on covid-19 has asked the United States to suspend deportations while the pandemic remains a threat. In Congress, Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat, has introduced a bill that would achieve the same goal. The disease in Haiti has spread rapidly in recent weeks as tens of thousands of Haitian laborers returned to their home country from the Dominican Republic, which revoked their legal status as it grapples with the worst outbreak of covid-19 in the Caribbean. Many of the returning Haitians are likely to transmit the infection in a country with just a few dozen ventilators and scarcely 120 intensive care beds.

Haiti is no better equipped to deal with the return of Mr. Constant, who was convicted in absentia for a 1994 massacre. (He has spent the past 12 years in a New York state prison, having been convicted of mortgage fraud and grand larceny.) In the years after a 1991 military coup in Haiti, Mr. Constant, now 63, led a paramilitary organization that terrorized Haitian supporters of the ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide; Mr. Constant’s followers were blamed for several thousand deaths and countless instances of rape and torture.

Despite that record, it’s thought unlikely that Haiti’s government, which includes some who are sympathetic to Mr. Constant, would be prepared to bring him to justice if he were returned to the country. To the contrary, it’s probable that he would worsen the country’s already volatile political state. Deporting him would serve neither Haitian nor U.S. interests.

 

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12 June 2020

Miami Herald

BY JACQUELINE CHARLES

The deportation of notorious Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant from the United States back to Haiti is a question of when, not if. The Department of Homeland Security, responding to concerns raised by Democratic lawmakers Maxine Waters and Andy Levine about Constant’s pending deportation to his homeland, makes it clear it still intends to remove the human rights violator and is working with the Haitian government to do so.

Citing the Immigration and Nationality Act, Deputy Director Matthew T. Albence said the ability to hold Constant is limited. Constant has been in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since he was released from New York State prison in April following a 2008 conviction on mortgage fraud and grand larceny. “To mitigate the risk of disruption posed by Mr. Constant’s eventual removal to Haiti, DHS is working closely with the U.S. Department of State to ensure the Haitian government is prepared to receive him,” Albence said. “We hope these efforts will encourage the Haitian government to create a plan to handle Mr. Constant’s arrival and to permit justice and accountability to prevail.”

Waters, a longtime Haiti advocate who serves as chair of the House Financial Services Committee, told the Miami Herald she’s not satisfied with the response. “The judicial system there is more than weak and we were concerned even without including a description of what’s going on there now in some of these vulnerable communities,” Waters said about the joint letter she and Levine sent to DHS and the State Department expressing concerns that the Haitian government could not protect its citizens from Constant. “That’s why we wrote to our immigration and customs to try and find out exactly what could be done to avoid him going back, particularly quickly,” she added.

The letter does not provide a deadline for the return of Constant, who twice appeared on flight manifests for deportation since his release from prison and was once again spared on a deportation flight that arrived on Tuesday in Port-au-Prince. Behind the scenes, the Haitian government has been seeking to delay his return while also being forced to accept other deportees. Even without Constant’s return, Haiti’s current government has its hands full. On Wednesday, the head of the National Association of Haitian Magistrates, Justice Jean Wilmer Morin, publicly confirmed that the country’s judges had gone on strike to protest the justice system’s paltry $14 million budget following the publication of President Jovenel Moïse’s budget four months before the end of the fiscal year.

The country’s justices of the peace are also on strike since June 1. They are not only requesting more money, but new courthouses and the renewal of the terms of some judges. Waters said the new developments are only some of the reasons why she doesn’t have “any faith that the judicial system would be able to contain” Constant. “He still has people there who were involved with him,” she said, adding that she is concerned about those connections and “what this means further for Haiti, which is in a tough place right now.”

A onetime CIA informant, Constant founded the brutal paramilitary force 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. In 2000, while he lived in the U.S., Constant was sentenced in absentia to life in prison by a Haitian court for his involvement in a 1994 massacre in the northern village of Raboteau in the Artibonite Valley. He was convicted along with 14 others.

Under Haitian law, Constant should be arrested at the airport and imprisoned after his arrival back in Haiti. He then 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.

Brian Concannon, the former head of the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, which represented Constant’s victims in the Raboteau trial, said the U.S. hope that “its efforts will encourage the Haitian government to create a plan’ is meaningless.”

“Rep. Waters’ letter explained how the Moïse’ administration has provided ample cause for skepticism that it will ‘permit justice and accountability to prevail,’” Concannon said. “Meaningful action requires that the U.S. government use its substantial leverage on the Moïse’ administration to insist that an effective prosecution is done.” Waters said Constant’s return is only one of the issues that has her concerned about Haiti. She is disturbed by the overall troubling human rights environment which has led to several deaths recently and is affecting the response to COVID-19.

In a letter to U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison last month, Waters voiced her concerns about a series of violent attacks in several impoverished Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. The attacks, she said, had been carried out by a former policeman-turned-gang-leader Jimmy Cherizier, commonly known as Barbecue, while being accompanied by police.

Waters said in one attack Cherizier invaded the Cité Soleil shantytown, burned houses and killed people while accompanied by three Haiti National Police armored personnel vehicles. The attack reportedly followed similar attacks in the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of Tokyo, Delmas and Pont-Rouge over two days, in which police officers allied with Cherizier stood by while houses were burned and people were killed. “These reports, if true, represent an outrageous and appalling escalation of politically motivated violence against the people of Haiti,” Waters wrote.

Human rights organizations in Haiti confirmed that on May 24 there were at least six killings in Cité Soleil. There were also allegations that five women were raped and more than 50 houses were looted and 20 others burned. At least 100 families have left the area in fear of their lives, a diplomatic source told the Herald. There was a second attack between May 26 and 27 where at least 10 people were injured. Police have yet to confirm that Cherizier was involved.

Cité Soleil’s mayor also confirmed the attacks in a radio interview, though he did not mention the involvement of Cherizier. The shantytown, which has become a model of peace in recent years, had become so violent, he said, that he could not even pass out masks to the population to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reminding Sison of the ambassador’s own background as a human rights officer in Haiti when she joined the State Department, Waters said she had a responsibility to “prevent the country from descending into a downward spiral of chaos and violence.”

“As a United States Ambassador, it is your responsibility to develop good relations between the United States and the countries in which you serve,” Waters wrote in the letter on May 28. “ The United States cannot have good relations with countries that do not respect the rule of law and internationally recognized human rights.”

Waters said she has yet to receive a response from Sison. “It’s an awful shame that Haiti has to continue to go through this kind of injustice without any regard for the possibility of having a decent quality of life for all of the people,” Waters told the Herald. “They struggle, struggle and fight, fight, fight and on top of that, they have to be concerned about someone like Constant who founded and led the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti or FRAPH. It was brutal.”

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.
 

BY JACQUELINE CHARLES AND MONIQUE O. MADAN

Miami Herald

JUNE 22, 2020

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 weren’t successful in its efforts to get him removed from Tuesday’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Air deportation flight.

The executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense.Network (RNDDH), 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. Department of State declined to comment and referred all inquiries about Constant’s deportation to the Department of Homeland Security, which said that ”due to security concerns, [DHS is] not able to discuss specific removal arrangements prior to an individual’s repatriation.” 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.

In his report to the council, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that 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. continue 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 have 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 officials 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. 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 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.” Waters told the Herald on Monday that she has not received any “definitive” information about Constant’s deportation to Haiti and was hoping the U.S. would wait until the Haitian government had made proper arrangements for him to be received.

“We’re hopeful that the United States does not release him to Haiti; the Haitians have enough problems,” without having to deal with a man “who is responsible for a massacre in Haiti,” Waters said. “I just hope there is a proper way to retain him in Haiti if he arrives and we’re not sure about that.”

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 Moïse in his recently published budget.

Esperance said the strike, along with the start of the judicial calendar year, mean 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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