Since that day, last August, he had become what he called an "investment consultant," which mostly meant selling and renting properties as covertly as he could. Whenever I was with him, his cell phone rang. Usually he slipped into Creole, but occasionally he'd say things like "I can show you the place tomorrow. No problem. Heat included. Okay. Au revoir."
He told me he was concentrating on credit reports, because a lot of Haitians were unfamiliar with them. "I need to establish some kind of income here," he said.
Once I listened to him raise and lower his voice like an auctioneer: "Hello. Oui. Oui ... I saw the apartment ... They were asking one thousand, one hundred dollars, and I'll bring it down to a thousand ... Everything is included ... Okay? ... It's Cambria Heights, very nice neighborhood, very quiet, very, very safe ... I'm working very hard for you."
His wife called one day, from Canada, where she had gone with their four children out of fear for their safety. "My wife is leaving me," he said when he hung up, lighting another cigarette. "We're having discussions about the kids. I wanted them to come the way they used to, and she doesn't want them to. So we're having an argument, but everything will be okay."
After a while his phone rang again, and I asked if I could look around the place. "No problem," he said. I headed upstairs, past several cracked walls and closed doors. Constant's room was on the third floor. It was small and cluttered with videos and men's fashion magazines. By his bed was a framed picture of him from his appearance on 60 Minutes. In one corner was a small shrine. Candles and figurines of Catholic saints, which often play a role in voodoo, were arranged in a neat circle. As I bent down to inspect them, Constant called out my name. One of the statues was the patron saint of justice; on its base was inscribed, "Be ever mindful of this great favor and I will never cease to honor thee as my special and powerful patron." Constant called my name again, and I hurried downstairs. "Let's go out," he said, putting on a leather jacket.
The Haitian community in New York, as in Haiti, is segregated, largely according to class. The poorest Haitians are in Brooklyn, and those of greater wealth and status have fanned out into more-affluent settlements like Laurelton and Cambria Heights. As we walked through Laurelton, I could smell roasting griot, or pork. The sound of compas, Haitian dance music, blared from grocery stores. We passed several men smoking in the cold, chatting in Creole. "I need some meat," Constant said, heading toward a butcher shop. The store was packed, and we could barely fit inside. A small circle of Haitians were playing cards in the back. As Constant pressed up against the counter, I realized that everyone was staring at him. "I need some goat," he said, breaking the sudden silence. He pointed at some enormous hind legs hanging from a meat hook. He glanced at the back, where several people seemed to be saying something about him, but he appeared unfazed. The butcher began to cut through the bone and gristle of a goat leg. His thick arm pushed down, slicing in clean strokes. "Everybody here knows who I am," Constant said on the way out. "Everybody. They've all read about me or seen my picture." He darted across the street to a barbershop. A closed sign hung on the door, but he could see the barber inside, and Constant banged on the window, pleading with him to take one more customer. "There's another barbershop down the street," he told me, "but if I went there they'd slit my ..." His voice trailed off as he drew his fingers across his throat and let out a strange laugh.
A Courthouse in Haiti
T he trial was more than a thousand miles away from New York. On September 29 of last year a Haitian court began trying Constant on charges of murder, attempted murder, and being an accomplice to murder and torture—charging him, in effect, with the Raboteau massacre. I went there with J. D. Larosiliere in October, as the trial was reaching its climax. Twenty-two people—mostly soldiers and FRAPH paramilitaries—were being prosecuted in person. Constant and the leaders of the junta were being tried in absentia.
As the last U.S. troops prepared to pull out, the country was, as ever, a shambles. Although the Clinton Administration's policies had stemmed the bloodshed, success in "nationbuilding" was elusive. Eighty percent of the people were unemployed, and two thirds were malnourished. Gangs still roamed the streets. Drug-running planes took off and landed with impunity. Even the heralded new democratic system was believed to be rife with fraud. Aristide, after having put his protégé René Préval in power, was running for the presidency again amid allegations that he was trying to pack the parliament with his supporters. Political thuggery and assassination, this time from both the right and the left, were beginning to occur again. "Now everyone knows I was right," Constant told me later. "Everyone has seen what has happened under Aristide."
The trial itself was a potential flash point for violence. The U.S. embassy warned Americans to stay away from the area for fear of "large scale demonstrations, tire burnings, rock throwing and worse." As our plane landed, Larosiliere told me that he had been warned about potential assassination attempts. "If they attack me, it will only help me prove my case," he said. "If I'm not safe, then how can my client be safe?"
At the airport we met a large man with mirrored sunglasses and a military bearing, who would serve as Larosiliere's "attaché." "You cannot depend on the police to have security," the attaché told me. "So you need to be armed to protect yourself." The attaché pushed our way through a crowd of taxi drivers, bag handlers, beggars, and pickpockets. I smelled flesh and sweat and food, and as we rushed to the car, I tried to deflect the arms outstretched to help me with my things. "Welcome to Haiti," Larosiliere said.
The city of Gonaïves, where the courthouse was located, is only seventy miles from Port-au-Prince, but it took us half a day to get there. Nearly all the roads in Haiti are unpaved. The Americans started to build a paved road after the invasion, but they gave up and the road now ends abruptly on the edge of a slum. We rumbled past Aristide's new estate on the outskirts of the capital, where he increasingly secludes himself; past the old Club Med, abandoned since 1999, along with almost all the other tourist sites; past irrigated plains where peasants rolled up their pant legs to wade through fields of rice. Then we headed north, past arid, desolate land where nothing seemed to grow but cacti, until we came upon Gonaïves.
The courthouse was in the center of the city, surrounded by tractor-trailers—a makeshift barricade to prevent mobs from rushing in. We entered a small, squat building, where armed guards searched us for weapons; the attaché told me he had left his gun behind, but he stayed close to Larosiliere's side. We passed through one room and then another; finally, to my surprise, we headed into an open courtyard, where the trial was being held under a billowing white canopy. The judge sat at a table, wearing a black robe and a tall hat with a white band. He had a bell in place of a gavel. To one side of him, sitting in neat rows, were the prosecution and the jury; to the other side were the defense and the twenty-two accused, behind a cordon of armed guards. Larosiliere joined the defense, and the attaché and I sat at the end opposite the judge, with the scores of observers and alleged victims.
I had barely sat down when a lawyer for the prosecution began to scream at Larosiliere, jabbing his hand in the air and demanding that Larosiliere tell the court who he was and why he was there. The attaché, who had been at my side, was on his feet before Larosiliere answered. The crowd filled with murmurs: "Toto Constant! Toto Constant!" People looked around as if Constant might be under the canopy. The lawyer began to bark again at Larosiliere; the attaché now stood by Larosiliere's side, his arms crossed on his chest.
Most of the alleged victims had already testified that on April 22, 1994, soldiers and FRAPH members had descended on the village of Raboteau, known for its staunch support of Aristide. They described being driven from their homes, forced into open sewers, robbed, and tortured. In past attacks the villagers had fled to the sea, where their fishing boats were tied up. But when they did so this time, they said, the attackers were waiting for them in boats and opened fire. "In order to escape ... I took to the sea," one of the villagers, Henri-Claude Elisme, had said in a sworn deposition. "I climbed aboard my boat; I saw Claude Jean ... fall under the soldiers' bullets." Abdel Saint Louis, a thirty-two-year-old sailor, said, "I fled ... into a boat. At sea I saw another boat arrive. Thinking they were people trying to escape, I came closer to them. I then saw Youfou, a FRAPH member, piloting a group of soldiers. They fired in my direction. I called for help. They arrested me, beat me, and forced me to guide the boat. Seeing other people in a boat, the soldiers fired in their direction and hit two girls: Rosiane and Deborah."
By the end of the assault, according to the prosecution witnesses, dozens of people were wounded and at least six were dead; the prosecution estimated that the actual toll was much higher. Most of the bodies had allegedly been buried in shallow graves along the sea and either eaten by animals or washed away. "When I went down to the shore I saw [my brother's] boat covered in blood," Celony Seraphin testified. "I only found him on April 28 ... tied up with Charité Cadet; both had been murdered. I was not authorized to remove the body ... I demand justice for my brother."
The testimony occasionally elicited angry shouts from the spectators, and the judge would ring his bell, trying to quiet the courtyard. That afternoon Karen Burns, a forensic anthropologist from the United States, was sworn in. A Canadian expert on DNA was scheduled to follow her. It would be the first time that forensic evidence and genetic evidence were introduced in a Haitian court, and the courtyard fell silent. Burns stood in the center of the gathering, surrounded by the skeletal remains of three people, excavated from the edge of the sea in Raboteau in 1995. As she spoke, spectators and jurors craned their necks to look at the bones. Burns held up one and said, "This is the pelvis right here." She put it down and picked up another bone. "This individual was found with a rope tied around his neck, and this is the rope that was retrieved." As she held up the rope, there were several gasps.
Larosiliere—who, like his client, maintains that the massacre was fabricated as propaganda to discredit FRAPH and the military regime—remained unimpressed. "I live for testimony like this," he told me that night, drinking a glass of rum, as we sat with the attaché at the hotel restaurant. "It's bullshit. Come on! [This wouldn't be allowed] in an American courtroom with the federal rules of evidence! She did a scientific study on a site with no integrity. Everyone and everybody walked around it. Come on. You know I can go to graveyards and pick up skeletons from anybody and put them down."
Refilling his glass, Larosiliere said that the prosecution's entire case was preposterous. If there had been any organized military involvement at all, he said, no evidence would have been left on the beach. "Those bodies would be put on a truck, and they'd be taken out on the Rue Nationale—"
"You got it," the attaché agreed.
"—or the highway—"
"At night," the attaché added.
"—and dumped into—"
"The Source Puante," the attaché said.
"Sulfur ditches," Larosiliere explained. "The best place, because the sulfur eats the body."
As he spoke, several international human-rights observers sat down next to us. They stared at Larosiliere, whom they recognized from the courtroom. His voice seemed to grow louder as he noticed them. Finally one of them began to argue with him about Constant. "If for one instant, sir, I believed that Haiti could sustain a true trial for my client, I'd be the first one to throw him on the plane," Larosiliere said.
Later I asked Brian Concannon, an American human-rights lawyer who had spent most of the previous five years in Haiti spearheading the trial, if he thought Larosiliere's concern about the fairness of the tribunal was legitimate. Concannon said he thought it was not. He told me that the judicial system, which had received more than $25 million in American aid for reform, had slowly and steadily evolved in recent years. The judge and one of the prosecutors, for instance, had gone through a training program funded in part by the United States; another prosecutor had gone to France, where he studied at a judicial academy. Concannon said that although it had taken years to accomplish, the trial was extraordinarily fair by any standard. Indeed, he said, it had become a kind of prototype for the judicial system in Haiti. Perhaps most important, despite fears by Constant that he would be killed, not a single defendant so far had been harmed in prison or in a courtroom. "The defendants were given the benefit of all their rights under Haitian law and under international treaties to which Haiti is a party," Concannon said. "They were allowed to present witnesses, alibis, and exculpatory evidence."
As for Constant, Concannon said, the case was based on the same legal precedent used to prosecute Nazi leaders after World War II and, more recently, war criminals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. "Constant started an organization that was specifically designed to [carry out]—and in fact carried out—massive violations of human rights," he said. "Constant then provided that organization with training, money, and weapons. He has liability as a commander. It was the same with Nuremberg. He was in charge of a criminal organization and is responsible for the crimes of that organization." Though there was no evidence that Constant had been on the scene at Raboteau, Concannon said, there was indisputable evidence that FRAPH members participated in the attack and systematically terrorized the community. And, he said, there was probably more evidence against Constant in the thousands of pages of secret documents confiscated by U.S. soldiers in their 1994 raid on FRAPH headquarters, documents the Clinton Administration had so far refused to return to Haiti—fueling allegations that Washington was trying to conceal its ties to FRAPH and Constant.
On the second day of our visit Larosiliere decided to stage a protest. In the middle of the proceedings he rose from his chair and stood stiffly in the courtroom. The trial came to a halt, and everyone stared at him. Then he marched out the door, the attaché a few feet behind him. There was an angry chorus of murmurs. A prosecution lawyer denounced the move as merely a ruse, a sign that Constant's lawyer had intended from the outset not to use the tribunal for justice but only to discredit it. ("My understanding of an adequate murder defense is that you spend more than a few hours at the trial," Concannon told me. "We've worked on this case full-time for four and a half years.") After Larosiliere left, I sat for a while and stared at the dozens of alleged victims sitting on the back benches. Many of them had bought suits for the trial. The young women, some of whom had been shot, wore white dresses that somehow stayed pristine in the dusty heat; they sat with their backs perfectly straight. On several occasions these people had walked miles to the capital to pressure their government for justice. They had written songs about what had happened. And they sat there now, as rain began to fall, and as a clerk collected the bones strewn on the table, and as rumors filled the country that another coup attempt had been thwarted in the capital. As I finally rose to go, a young man who had seen me arrive with Constant's lawyer stopped me; before I could say anything, he spat at my shoe and walked away.
"T hey tried to get me to come out to beat me up," Constant told me shortly after I returned. He was eating a piece of chocolate cake in a Queens diner. Tensions in the community had intensified since the beginning of the trial. Larosiliere had told him to leave the house during such demonstrations, to avoid confrontations. But Constant always remained nearby. "I have to protect my mother and aunt in case one of them go crazy," he told me. Ricot Dupuy, of Radio Soleil d'Haiti, told me candidly, "There are Haitian groups who have toyed with the idea of taking the law into their own hands and killing him." Constant claims he has a small coterie of supporters who keep an eye out for him. "I can tell you, when they come in front of my place, fifty percent of the people out there are my people," he said. "They pass by in case there is any trouble."
Though it is hard to know the precise numbers, Constant maintains some hold over a small following of former FRAPH members, Tonton Macoutes, soldiers, and Duvalierists who also live in exile. Demonstrators say that in at least one instance a car showed up outside his house to monitor them. "They came by taking pictures of us, and we took pictures of them," Ray Laforest told me.
"I don't want to play a deadly game," Constant said of Laforest, "but I have stuff on him, and ..." He let his thought trail off.
One day I was sitting with Constant in his house, reading a copy of his book manuscript. Someone had helped him write the first few chapters.
My media image, both internationally and in the U.S., has been a source of anguish for me. Topics that suggest my alleged involvement with the CIA, being a human rights abuser, operating "voodoo politics," being a bogeyman, making Haiti "a place of fear," being a "tough guy," a "gunman," "dog," an "attaché," and, last but not least, a "spook," an "S.O.B." and a "double spy" have been a source of wonderment about why I have been so suddenly accused in the media.
As I was reading, the phone rang in the kitchen. Constant went to it, and I could hear him speaking in Creole. A moment later he walked back into the room. "You're here for a part of history," he said. "The verdict came out. I've been sentenced to life imprisonment and to hard labor, and they're taking over all my property in Haiti."
He dropped into his rocking chair, looking around the room. He lit a cigarette and rocked back and forth. Apparently the jury had deliberated for four hours and had found sixteen of the twenty-two defendants in custody guilty, twelve of them for premeditated murder or being accomplices to murder. All those in absentia were convicted of murder and ordered to pay the victims millions of dollars in damages. "I hate to lose my things back home," Constant said, "because eventually my mother has to go back there." He lit another cigarette and pulled on it deeply. "I better call J.D.," he said, referring to Larosiliere. He picked up his cell phone, trying to concentrate. "They have a verdict against me," he said into the phone, leaving a message for his lawyer. "I need to speak to him. Okay? They have sentenced me to life and hard labor!"
A few minutes later the phone rang, and Constant picked it up in a hurry. But it was a reporter asking him for a comment. He stumbled through something and hung up. The phone rang again. It was Larosiliere. "What do you think's going to happen here?" Constant asked nervously. "Okay ... yes ... okay."
He handed me the phone. I could hear Larosiliere's voice crackling through the receiver before I put it to my ear. "I have one word to say about all this: bullshit." Larosiliere said that the Haitian government would now try to extradite Constant, claiming that a legitimate tribunal had convicted him with the blessing of international observers. But, he said, they still had to show that the verdict was fair and prove in a U.S. court that Constant deserved to be sent back. It is important to point out that under Haitian law, if Constant surrenders or is arrested, he will have the right to a new trial.
Constant called me a few days later. His voice was agitated. "There are all these rumors out there that they're about to arrest me," he said, "that they're coming for me." He said he had to check in with the INS the following day, as he did every Tuesday, but he was afraid the authorities might be planning to seize him this time. "Can you meet me there?"
By the time I arrived at the INS office in Manhattan the next morning, he was already standing by the entrance. It was cold, and his trench coat was wrapped around him. He told me that his mother, who was in Florida, had called to tell him that other Haitian exiles had been arrested. I could see circles under his eyes. Pacing back and forth, he said that he had stayed at a friend's house the night before, in case the authorities showed up at his house to arrest him.
I followed him into the elevator and up to the twelfth floor. The room was filled with immigrants. Constant tried to check in at the front desk, where a poster of the Statue of Liberty hung, but the woman there said they weren't ready for him yet. He sat down and started to ponder why he had been kept free for so long. "This is what I'm trying to find out and that nobody has been able to analyze it with me. Why are they keeping me alive? I don't know why, in fact. A friend of mine told me one day, he works for intelligence here, and he said there is somebody, somewhere, that is following everything about me, every court paper, every legal action, every immigration matter, and this is the only person that really knows why they are keeping me alive."
A few minutes later someone yelled out his name, and he leaped to his feet. He approached the desk with his INS form and checked in, as always. The woman took the sheet of paper and walked into a back room, where she consulted with somebody. Then the woman returned and, just like that, Constant was smiling, leading me to the elevator, calling his mother to say he was okay, and rushing across the street to buy a new suit in celebration of his freedom.
The next week two dozen Toto Watchers gathered outside the INS carrying signs that showed alleged FRAPH victims: a murdered boy with a shirt pulled over his head; two men lying in a pool of blood. "We are here to demand that Toto Constant be sent back to Haiti to stand trial for crimes against the Haitian people," Kim Ives, a writer for the Brooklyn-based newspaper Haïti Progrès, yelled through a bullhorn. "If you're opposed to war criminals and to death-squad leaders living as your neighbors in New York City, please join us." Human-rights activists began to join the protesters. There was a sense that this was the last chance to persuade the U.S. government to send Constant back to Haiti—that if it wouldn't do so now, after the conviction, it never would. A UN expert on Haiti, Adama Dieng, who had served as an impartial observer at the trial, had already called the verdict "a landmark in [the] fight against impunity," and in one of the last moves of the Clinton Administration, according to two U.S. officials, the documents confiscated during the raid on FRAPH headquarters had been sent back to Haiti. So far the files have not been made public, but they may contain more evidence of FRAPH's crimes and could add to the case for Constant's extradition. Still, most activists remain skeptical. Brian Concannon told me after the trial, "The presence of such a horrible killer in the U.S. shows that the U.S. supports those activities. There is, unfortunately, no other credible explanation."
Outside the INS office several in the crowd were bent over, trying to light candles in the freezing wind. "How can they not send him back?" a Haitian man asked me. "He has been found guilty by a Haitian court. Why is the CIA protecting him?" Suddenly there was a loud, unified chant from the crowd: "Toto Constant, you can't hide! We charge you with genocide!"
A t one of our last meetings, after Jean-Bertrand Aristide and George W. Bush had each been sworn in to their respective offices, Constant called and said he had to see me. His legal status remained unchanged. He had been talking to his "advisers," he said, and he needed to tell me something. The political terrain had shifted in both countries, he said. There was more and more resistance to Aristide, even in Queens. Bombs had recently exploded in Port-au-Prince, and the regime had blamed Constant. He denied any role, but he said that Haitians from all over were calling, waiting for him to act, to step up.
At the Haitian restaurant where we met, he told me that people had "been publishing articles, and they say, 'Look at this guy who has been convicted for murder in Haiti and he's getting stronger and stronger every day.'" He sipped a glass of rum. "A lot of people in Haiti are watching me. They haven't heard from me. They don't know what's going to happen, but everyone has their eyes on me, and people are sending me their phone numbers from Haiti. People here try to reach me. Political leaders are trying to reach me. There is a perception that if ... Aristide is on the go, I'm the only one that can step in. I can't let that thing get to my head. I have to be very careful and analyze it and make it work for me."
As people entered the restaurant, Constant looked over his shoulder to check them out. He waited for two Haitian men to sit down, and then he turned back to me and said that he had to do something dramatic or he would be a hostage in Queens for the rest of his life. "If I stand up and make a press conference, and even if I don't say anything but I just attack Aristide, that's going to give strength to the opposition down there, that's going to give strength to the former military, that's going to give strength to the former FRAPH members, that's going to give strength to everyone who didn't have the guts because they didn't see who would take the lead." He had recently received a new spate of death threats, he said. Someone had gotten hold of his cell-phone number and had warned, "I'm going to get you no matter what you do." I asked if he was afraid of what might happen if he so brazenly broke his gag order and called a press conference. He said that he wasn't sure what would happen, but it was his destiny. "I've been prepared since young for a mission, and that's why I've stayed alive," he said. He glanced over his shoulder again, and then he leaned toward me. "I'm either going to be President of Haiti," he said, "or I'm going to be killed."