Today Baby Doc, Tomorrow Toto Constant?

Supporters of "Baby Doc" Duvalier awaiting his return last night at the airport in Port-Au-Prince. Photo by Mark Murrmann

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With Haiti in the midst of fresh political turmoil, Mac McClelland’s on-the-ground scoop about the return of dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to quake-ravaged Haiti (accompanied by Mark Murrmann’s great photos) was a creepy reminder of something that manipulative Haitian thug leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant told MoJo contributor Bernice Yeung back in 2008.

Then in jail awaiting trial for real-estate fraud in the United States—he fled Haiti in 1994 when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned to power, landing in Queens, New York—Constant revealed that he still had political aspirations. “I can even be the president, the prime minister,” he told Yeung. “It’s strange to be locked up in prison upstate and talk about being president of Haiti, right? It’s strange…. Strange meaning it’s happened before. That people have come from jail to become leaders of their country.”

As Yeung recalled in her piece (which you can read here), Constant was founder and former leader of a group called the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, linked to the rapes and murders of pro-democracy activists in Haiti during the early 1990s:

Human-rights watchdogs say the group was modeled after the Tontons Macoutes, [François “Papa Doc”] Duvalier’s personal police force, which shook down, tortured, and killed the dictator’s political opponents.

According to declassified CIA reports, FRAPH conducted violent attacks, ran extortion rackets, and became a “major perpetrator of abuses.” The Organization of American States has reported that members of Constant’s group, the army, and the police terrorized Haitians “with complete impunity.” Victims described gang rapes by as many as five FRAPH members while their young children were forced to watch. “Supporters of Aristide were severely intimidated, and in some cases, killed,” says John Shattuck, assistant secretary of human rights under President Clinton.

At the time, any reader would have dismissed Constant’s comments as hubris, the delusions of an egotistical man raised on wealth and connections, whose father was a key lieutenant for Papa Doc. With Baby Doc’s return to Haiti, I’m not so sure. Constant is still in prison in the United States. He got 12 to 37 years—an unusually long stint for fraud (the judge took Constant’s legacy into account)—but he has already served four and a half, and will be up for parole before you know it.

It’s an open question whether a $19 million civil judgment against him for his role in rape, torture, and murder will make any difference, but you can be sure Haitian Americans and human-rights groups, not to mention the staff or Mother Jones, are going to be keeping a close eye on these  developments.
 

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REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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