U.S. frees Haitian wanted at home in rights violations Rights groups furious at 'security' fears, delay in deportation of Constant

June 18, 1996|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

U.S. officials have freed a former Haitian paramilitary leader and one-time paid CIA informant wanted in connection with hundreds of human rights violations in Haiti, including murder and torture.

The release of Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, former head of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), infuriated human rights groups, particularly on learning that his deportation is being delayed indefinitely because of "security risks" in Haiti.

Although officials would not say where Constant went after his release Friday from the Wicomico County Detention Center, sources familiar with the release agreement said he flew unescorted to New York City, where he has family.

Constant is to meet regularly with immigration officials, but is not required to wear an electronic monitoring device, they said.

"His whereabouts will be known [to the Immigration and Naturalization Service], and he will be available for removal when the time comes," said INS spokesman Russ Bergeron.

Haitian officials say they are eager to try Constant, who fled Haiti after Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned as president in September 1994. Constant's group is accused of murdering and torturing Aristide supporters while the president was in forced exile.

"We had nothing to say or to do with his release," said Haitian Ambassador Jean Casimir. "We have always expressed that we are ready to receive him at any time, including yesterday or the day before."

But, he added, "I will not pass judgment on the action of your government."

Immigration authorities said Constant could be jailed for no more than six months after the deportation order was issued in December. They can continue to detain someone judged a threat to the community, but officials said Constant does not fit that description.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "Constant is probably one of the most reviled public figures in Haiti today. His notoriety would make his deportation at this time a potential source of instability in Haiti. We want sufficient mechanisms in place that some security risks are taken care of."

Ira Kurzban, an American attorney for the Haitian government, disagreed with that assessment.

"Both of those things are untrue and really demonstrate the length to which the intelligence community will try to cover up its own participation," he said.

Kurzban called the release "outrageous." The Haitian government, he said, provided the documents for Constant's return and received assurances of it from the United States.

The executive director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, Jocelyn McCalla, called the release "absolutely senseless, absolutely upsetting."

"They had an obligation to take him directly to the airport, put him on a flight and make sure he went back to Haiti."

Constant says he would be killed immediately if he is returned. Others say escapes from Haitian jails are routine, and that Constant could slip away.

Authorities arrested him in New York last year after Secretary of State Warren Christopher determined that Constant's presence might imply U.S. support for his activities.

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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