Friday, September 12, 2008

Constant Sorrow

By Bernice Yeung
Mother Jones, May/June 2008 Issue

Commentary: It wasn't Toto Constant's human rights violations that finally landed the Haitian paramilitary leader in prison. It was mortgage fraud in Long Island.

on a weekday morning last August, I sat in the visiting room of the Coxsackie Correctional Facility in upstate New York gazing at the elaborate concertina wire that surrounds it. After a long wait, a metal gate clanged shut and in walked Emmanuel Constant, founder and former leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (fraph), an organization linked to the rapes and murders of pro-democracy activists in Haiti during the early 1990s. He smiled pleasantly and extended his hand for a firm shake.

I'd seen footage of Constant back in his heyday sporting tailored suits before a throng of microphones and firing up rallies with a raised fist. Now he appeared somber in state-issued forest-green slacks and a yellow polo shirt. He had the same long, equine face and pronounced jowls, but at 51, his short Afro was flecked with gray and he wore drugstore-style glasses. Working the media is perhaps Constant's greatest skill—he is personable, charming, even likable. But he wasn't ready to trust a surprise visitor, he said, so we made small talk, chatting about the public-speaking and memoir-writing classes he'd taken prior to lockup and about his jailhouse reading of John Grisham and self-help books.

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