Haiti: A Marked Man/Toussaint Case

Miami Newtimes, August 28 - September 3, 1997

"A Marked Man"

By Jim DeFede

This past January 22, shortly before 5:00 p.m., Dany Toussaint arrived at Miami International Airport aboard American Airlines flight 1292 from Port-au-Prince and was detained by officials from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Although he is a legal permanent resident of the United States, Toussaint had become accustomed to such delays on his trips back and forth from Haiti. During the previous twelve weeks Toussaint had been stopped at MIA three times by INS officials. On each occasion he was held for an hour or two, then allowed to leave without any explanation as to why he had been detained. He was never questioned and his immigration status was never challenged. This time, however, would be different.

His belt and shoes were confiscated and he was placed in a holding cell at the airport. Beginning at approximately 8:00 p.m., Toussaint was interrogated by an immigration inspector named James Carroll. Although some of the questions were related to Toussaint's immigration status, he says the majority dealt with political matters in Haiti and specifically with his ties to former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the country's current leader, Rene Preval.

According to Toussaint, the interview session lasted nearly seven hours, until roughly 3:00 a.m. One reason it dragged on so long was the peculiar way in which the questions were asked. According to Toussaint, the INS agent would ask a question, then type Toussaint's answer into a laptop computer. This was then followed by an awkward silence -- sometimes as long as ten minutes -- before the INS official would ask another question. Slowly it dawned on Toussaint that someone other than the agent in the room with him was actually conducting the interview -- by way of e-mail. But who?

The answer to that question can be found in Toussaint's background. He was born in Cap-Haitien on September 12, 1957. Before his first birthday, his father was killed by security forces working for Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Several years later his stepfather was also killed by Duvalierists.

Paradoxical as it may seem, these murders induced Toussaint to join the Haitian army. "When you are in the military," he explains, "you know what is going on and you are in a better position to protect your family."

Toussaint excelled in the military. Not only did he become a black belt in tae kwon do, he also represented Haiti in international karate competitions. As a reward he was sent to the United States, where he learned English at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, then went on to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he received advanced military training. By the time Toussaint completed his eight-month stint in Georgia in 1985, the political situation in Haiti had deteriorated dramatically; killings had become commonplace.

Toussaint had already moved his family to the United States, so rather than return to Haiti, he received permanent-resident status under an agricultural program. (For a time he had been a farmworker in South Dade.) He then began shuttling between New York and Miami, working for various Haitian-American organizations. He also became a vocal critic of Haiti's self-proclaimed president-for-life, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

After Duvalier was forced from power in February 1986 and replaced by Haitian army leaders, Toussaint returned to the island, where he resumed his military career. He claims he was then trained by the CIA to conduct surveillance for the military junta. "I was the best clandestine photographer in Haiti," he says proudly.

Among those he was assigned to spy on was a populist priest named Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But Toussaint claims Haitian officials wanted more than just photographs of Aristide; they wanted Aristide killed. Rather than carry out that order, Toussaint says, he went to Aristide and warned him of the plot. Toussaint once again fled to the United States, eventually settling in Miami, where he went to work at Coconut Grove's landmark E-Z Kwik Kuntry Grocery Store on SW 27th Avenue.

In December 1990 Aristide became the first democratically elected president of Haiti. One of his first calls went to Toussaint. He reached him at E-Z Kwik.

Aristide asked Toussaint to return to Haiti and become one of the commanders responsible for overseeing his corps of bodyguards. "I was working for E-Z Kwik. I had a good job, but I wanted to serve my country," Toussaint recalls. "I wanted to be part of the change. We wanted to show a different image of the army." Toussaint returned with the rank of captain.

But there was nothing easy or quick about changing the culture within the Haitian army. In September 1991 the military, led by Gen. Raoul Cedras, launched a bloody coup. At the time of the uprising Toussaint was with Aristide at the president's home in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, along with about 30 loyal bodyguards. For the next two hours, Toussaint recalls, they fought their way through roadblocks so Aristide could reach the presidential palace, where the fighting grew even more intense.

At the palace Toussaint's best friend, the head of Aristide's security force, died in the firefight. Eventually Aristide was permitted to leave the country and go into exile. Toussaint says military officials asked him to stay behind and swear his allegiance to Cedras, but he refused and tendered his resignation. He returned to Miami and his job at E-Z Kwik.

By the time U.S. military forces restored Aristide to the presidency in October 1994, Toussaint had left his job at E-Z Kwik for a new assignment as Aristide's personal bodyguard. After the president's return, Toussaint was appointed chief of the country's interim police force, a post he held through the end of 1995, when he resigned from government service. Today he owns a pair of businesses in Haiti -- a video arcade and a police-supply store. He is a member of Aristide's political party, Lavalas Family, and says he plans to run for the Haitian Senate.

Why, then, did U.S. officials detain Toussaint at Miami International Airport? And who was really behind his questioning? Toussaint says he got his answers two days after the incident, when he was transferred to the Krome Detention Center: A pair of FBI agents paid him a visit.

During Toussaint's tenure as interim police chief, several high-profile murders occurred in Haiti, most notably that of attorney Mireille Durocher Bertin on March 28, 1995. Bertin was an outspoken critic of Aristide, and so early suspicions held that she had been killed by forces within the government. Under pressure from the United States, Aristide agreed to allow the FBI to investigate Bertin's murder, but only on condition that the bureau also probe the slayings of numerous Aristide supporters as well, including Justice Minister Guy Mallory and Father Jean-Marie Vincent. More than two years later the continuing FBI inquiry has become so politically charged as to render it highly suspect.

One of the FBI agents who arrived at Krome to visit Toussaint was Mark D'Amico, who was responsible for the investigation into Bertin's death. "He told me he knows I am not the triggerman but they would like me to cooperate with them," Toussaint says. "He made it seem like he was there to help me. Anything I want I could have. He wanted to buy me. He wanted me to lie about what I know about the killings, about whether Aristide ordered the killings." Toussaint refused, saying he had nothing to do with Bertin's murder and that he didn't know who was responsible.

Toussaint acknowledges that when he returned to Haiti in 1994 he was tempted to seek revenge on those who supported the coup against Aristide. "But President Aristide gave us orders to do reconciliation," he says today. "He granted amnesty and we had to follow his orders. Inside of me, at first, I did not agree with reconciliation, because my friends who were killed never got justice. The people who killed them never went to jail. My house was ransacked and nothing happened. But I have to follow orders. Finally, I now feel comfortable with reconciliation, because those people did not know what they were doing."

Toussaint, who was released from Krome several days after D'Amico's visit, believes it was D'Amico or others at the FBI who were feeding the INS agent questions via e-mail during his January interrogation. Toussaint's Miami attorney, Ira Kurzban, suspects that federal agents used the e-mail gambit as a way of circumventing Toussaint's right to have an attorney present while being questioned in a criminal case. Toussaint says he repeatedly asked to call his attorney but was told he was not entitled to counsel because he was merely being questioned regarding his entry into the United States. Anne Figueiras, a spokeswoman for the Miami office of the FBI, declined to comment.

Although INS officials initially told Toussaint they would go to court to have his residency status revoked, seven months have passed without any action. Miami INS spokesman Lemar Wooley would not comment about any possible action the INS might eventually take against Toussaint.

Kurzban, who in addition to representing Toussaint is also an attorney for the government of Haiti, argues that the United States's ham-handed treatment of Toussaint is typical of its dealings with Haiti in general. For example, when FBI agents went to Haiti to investigate Bertin's death, Kurzban asserts, they were predisposed to believe that Aristide was responsible. "The FBI was being briefed by the U.S. intelligence guys in Haiti," says Kurzban. "These are the same guys who were in Haiti during the September 1991 coup that removed Aristide and who some people believe may have had some responsibility for the coup. So the orientation they were getting when they came in was that Aristide's people were behind this killing in some way, without any proof except for the fact that Bertin was on TV as a critic of Aristide. But anyone who knew Haitian politics knew she was not a threat to Aristide. She was just a person who shot off her mouth a lot."

Although the United States helped restore Aristide to power, many senior U.S. officials have never been comfortable with the former priest and his fervent brand of nationalism. The prospect of Aristide running again for president in 2001 is clearly something they do not relish. "The fear is that he doesn't toe the line," Kurzban says. If they can brand Aristide -- as well as his most loyal supporters -- with Bertin's death, Toussaint contends, then they may be able to keep him from running for office. Many Republicans in Congress, particularly North Carolina's Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have been vociferous opponents of Aristide and have repeatedly criticized the Clinton Administration for not being more aggressive in pursuing the FBI investigation into Bertin's death. Indeed, it is possible that such congressional  pressure on the FBI may have been partly responsible for Toussaint's detention and questioning.

Although Toussaint returned to Haiti this past April, new obstacles have arisen to keep him from re-entering the United States. An amendment to the bill authorizing funding of the State Department appears to have been proposed with the specific intent of barring Toussaint's return. The measure, which recently passed Congress, allows INS officials to exclude anyone the Secretary of State believes participated in political killings in Haiti.

"On its face, obviously, who can complain about going after and excluding human rights violators?" Kurzban asks. "That's the thrust of what it is -- unless you really know what the politics are. This is a bill written to exclude ten people from the United States, and to put pressure on them.
"Look at what the standard is," Kurzban continues. "The standard is ridiculous. It says, 'reason to believe that there is a credible allegation.' What does that mean? That means that if the FBI says they think they have information -- even though it wouldn't stand up in a court of law -- that is sufficient to exclude someone from the United States who has been a long-term permanent resident. Where's the evidence? What this does is allow the government to get off the hook by not having to prove anything."

Kurzban says he has no doubt the measure was written specifically with Toussaint and a handful of other people in mind. "I've been practicing immigration law for twenty years and have never seen an immigration bill establishing grounds for exclusion directed toward specific individuals," he adds. "Whatever the objective is here, it is bad law and bad public policy, because, if they want to go after human rights violators, then they ought to do it in such a way to cover human rights violators wherever they are in the world. But to single this out -- it is obvious to me what it is. It's really going after three or four major people, with Dany at the top of the list, and six or seven other people solely because of very short-term, very narrowly focused U.S. foreign policy."

The only way to have the ban lifted, according to the law, is for suspects to cooperate with the FBI. "The exemption is that if you cooperate, we will forgive everything, which is the same offer that has been made to Dany and others before," Kurzban says. "It was made to Dany when they stopped him at the airport. This is designed to try to induce them to testify falsely against Aristide, Preval, or anyone else in the government." Kurzban says he is considering a possible legal challenge to the measure, believing that it is unconstitutionally broad and violates Toussaint's rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

Although the law would also apply to those suspected of killing Aristide's allies, Kurzban says he doubts it would ever be used to that end. "Given the history of the State Department, it is a virtual certainty that they will not apply it toward anyone who was involved in the murders of Aristide's supporters," he says.

Kurzban notes that members of Cedras's family have been allowed to reside in the United States. In addition, the U.S. government granted political asylum to Marc Valme, a major in the Haitian military, even though he was identified as one of the leaders of the coup against Aristide. (He was subsequently indicted by a Miami federal grand jury on drug-trafficking charges.) "How the U.S. decides to grant asylum to Valme is absolutely amazing," Kurzban says with exasperation.

But no more amazing than the decision earlier this month to allow Emmanuel Constant, former leader of the murderous right-wing Haitian paramilitary group known as FRAPH, to live and work freely in the United States. Although he is wanted in Haiti for numerous human rights violations, U.S. officials are considering his application for political asylum. In 1995 Constant told the CBS program 60 Minutes that he had been a paid agent of the CIA from 1991 to 1994. "That just goes to show you what this country's agenda is," Kurzban shrugs. "As long we find you useful we don't care what you do."



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