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Lawmakers want Haitian death squad leader kept in US detention

Attorney Samuel Karliner, left, and defendant Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, a former paramilitary leader accused of human rights abuses in Haiti, appears in court for sentencing on mortgage fraud in October 2008 in New York. (Jesse Ward-Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

Two U.S. lawmakers are asking the Department of Homeland Security to keep Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant detained until the Haitian government provides a plan to ensure the safety of his victims and his prosecution under Haitian law.

The founder of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, a brutal paramilitary organization, Constant and those who worked for him are accused of terrorizing and torturing political opponents in Haiti, and of having been involved in a 2004 massacre in the village of Raboteau in the country’s Artibonite Valley.

Constant is currently in U.S. immigration lockup after being released from a New York State prison, where he was sentenced in 2008 to 37 years for mortgage fraud and grand larceny while living in New York. He was among 101 Haitian nationals who had been slated to be deported to Haiti this week, but his deportation was canceled after controversy erupted over the plan to send him back.

The request to keep Constant in the U.S. is being made by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and chair of the House Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich. Both with an interest in Haiti, they made their arguments in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf.

“There is substantial reason to believe that the Haitian government will not be willing to protect its citizens from Mr. Constant,” the letter said.

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To support their argument, they pointed out that Jean-Robert Gabriel, who like Constant was convicted in absentia for the 2004 massacre in Raboteau, is currently a member of the high command of Haiti’s army. The revival of the defunct army and Gabriel’s appointment were made by current Haitian President Jovenel Moise, who is currently governing by decree after the country failed to hold legislative elections on time.

“Sending Mr. Constant to Haiti at this time, 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, is dangerously irresponsible,” the letter states. “We therefore urge the Department of Homeland Security to detain Mr. Constant in the United States, in accordance with the law, until the Haitian government provides a plan to handle Mr. Constant’s arrival safely and prosecute him under Haitian law.”

The State Department referred all questions to DHS, which did not respond to The Miami Herald’s inquiry.

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© 2020 Miami Herald

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.