Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, who was jailed after his deportation to Haiti by the Trump administration nearly three weeks ago, could soon find himself a free man.

The government’s chief prosecutor in the northern city of Gonaives assigned to his case told the Miami Herald that he doesn’t have any information about Constant’s alleged crimes or his 2000 murder conviction in absentia for the 1994 massacre in the seaside slum of Raboteau, just outside of Gonaives and north of the capital. 

“I don’t have any anything in my hands,” Serard Gasius, the prosecutor, said by telephone. “If there are no records or anything, I don’t think you can hold him in prison. He has rights.” 

The day after his return to Haiti, Michael Kozak, the acting assistant secretary for U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said on Twitter: “We look to Haitian authorities to pursue justice for victims of the Raboteau massacre & other crimes for which Constant must be held accountable. Haitian justice is promoting rule of law and ending impunity.”

On Thursday, the country’s justice minister, Lucmane Délile, was abruptly fired and replaced by Haitian President Jovenel Moïse via a presidential decree with Rockfeller Vincent.

A controversial figure, Vincent is a former chief prosecutor from Cap-Haïtien who was removed from the judiciary in 2017 for lack of performance but earlier this year was appointed by Moïse to head the country’s anti-corruption unit.

Délile’s dismissal came just hours after he held a press conference in which he condemned a recent demonstration of force by armed gangs through the streets of Port-au-Prince. The gang members were allowed to freely parade, even though the day before police aggressively fired tear gas against demonstrators during a peaceful sit in. 

It is unclear what the changes mean for Constant, who for now remains in a jail cell in the city of St. Marc, not far from Gonaives.

Constant is the founder of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH. Under his leadership in the early 1990s, it was considered a brutal paramilitary force, accused of carrying out the extrajudicial killings of an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Haitians in the aftermath of the 1991 military coup that ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In a rare “60 Minutes” interview, Constant later said that while running FRAPH, which was also accused of rape and torture, he was on the Central Intelligence Agency’s payroll.

Two months after the Clinton administration restored Aristide to power in 1994 with the aid of 20,000 U.S. troops, Constant fled to the U.S. on a visa via Puerto Rico. He later made his way to New York, where attempts by human rights groups to return him to Haiti to stand trial were blocked by the U.S. government. 

But in May, he showed up on a deportation flight manifest with 100 other Haitian detainees, listed as a “High Profile Removal.” He had been released into the Department of Homeland Security’s custody after serving 12 years on convictions for grand larceny and mortgage fraud.

After his scheduled deportation was exposed by the Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog, it was halted. 

Last month, however, the Trump administration finally succeeded in returning him to Haiti, where he was immediately arrested.

“For years, the international community has noted the dysfunction of Haiti’s judicial system. So this would be a stark symptom of how dysfunctional the system is: It has no records of convictions in high profile murder trials,” said Robert Maguire, the former chair of the Haitian Area Studies program at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute who once served as an expert witness in a New York civil suit filed by three of Constant’s Haiti torture victims. “It’s very bizarre.”

Gasius, the Gonaives prosecutor, said he wrote to the Haitian supreme court two weeks ago requesting documents and has not heard anything. He also said that Constant’s lawyers have filed a habeas corpus motion before the dean of the court in order to try to secure his release. continue reading

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