'More from the Exile Files'
The life of ex-despots isn't all jail and frozen assets.

From the Mojo Wire - September 1997

By Jen Sullivan

The notoriously slippery Col. Michel-Joseph Francois helped topple Haiti's elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, then terrorized his country as chief of the police and secret police under dictator Gen. Raoul Cedras; some 4,000 Haitians were killed. Francois fled in 1994 to the Dominican Republic, where he lived off a half interest in his brother's car-wash, yet somehow bought a $400,000 house and sent his kids to an exclusive private school. Though convicted in Haiti of assassinating an Aristide supporter, he was never extradited. When the Dominican Republic deported him last year for plotting another coup in Haiti, the wily Francois landed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where he runs a modest furniture store and rents a home in another ritzy neighborhood.

That's where U.S. prosecutors nabbed him last March and charged him with smuggling 33 tons of cocaine and heroin into the U.S. from his private airstrip in Haiti, while taking millions in bribes from Colombian drug lords. Francois denied it all and stewed in a Honduran prison until July, when the Honduran Supreme Court nixed U.S. extradition efforts for lack of evidence and sent the killer back to his shop to sell tacky living room sets. If "Sweet Mickey" ever did take the stand, the CIA might blush -- he was associated with two CIA-created and -funded groups, Haiti's national intelligence service (SIN) and the death-squad Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH). He also received U.S. military training at the Army's notorious School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., and is widely reputed to have been on the U.S. intelligence payroll. "All that I did," said Francois of the drug charges, "I did according to the norms of my country, not according to the norms of the United States." Don't give us too much credit, Mickey.

Club Panama

Advice to Francois and other CIA-tainted despots: Head for a certain Central American haven, aka "Club Panama." Thanks to its liberal asylum policy and banking secrecy laws, the tiny isthmus nation is now home to a stunning rogue's gallery of exiled strongmen like Gen. Raoul Cedras, who now rules supreme over a computer graphics shop in downtown Panama City -- just upstairs from the Dairy Queen.

Cedras, who seized power in Haiti in 1991, helped execute the usual atrocities -- you know, murder, torture, assassination -- until ousted by the U.S. in 1994. Now he's kickin' it in P-Town, living in an exclusive neighborhood with wife, kids, nanny, and his old bud Gen. Philippe Biamby, who helped him into power and served as the Haitian army's chief of staff. The two are living large on the $79 million that the U.S. government kindly unfroze for them when they left power in 1994; many Haitians believe they stole the money from state coffers. The U.S. also flew Cedras and Biamby to Panama, gave Cedras a rent-free beach villa in Panama, and agreed to lease three homes he left behind in Haiti for $5,000 to $12,000 a month.

Killer in Queens

Another CIA darling, Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, leader of the death-squad Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), is now desperately trying to secure political asylum -- in the United States. In 1994 he fled Haiti for Queens, New York, where he lives with his auntie, sells phone cards, goes nightclubbing, and collects McDonalds Happy Meal toys. Though Bill Clinton condemned the "brutal atrocities" that Constant and the Cedras junta committed under "the most violent regime in our hemisphere," the U.S. has steadfastly refused Haiti's requests to extradite Constant, claiming that he would not get a fair trial in Haiti.

In May 1995, the State Department declared that Constant's expired tourist visa wasn't cutting it, and threw him in a Maryland jail to be deported, but Toto claimed political asylum, sued the U.S. for $50 million for "illegal detention," and walked out of jail last year with a sweetheart deal. The details remain secret, but the upshot is this: There's a standing order to deport him, but enforcement will be delayed indefinitely. Why the kid gloves? Constant says the CIA signed his paychecks for the three bloody years of the Cedras junta, and Washington plainly prefers those files remain closed: U.S. officials still won't release the FRAPH documents they seized in the 1994 invasion.


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