Pastor arrested as war criminal
By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
TEMPLE TERRACE -- Since coming to the United States from Haiti in 1995, Hebert Valmond has become an influential member of Tampa's thriving Haitian community.
He became a pastor, opened his own church and bought a home in an upscale neighborhood.
But on Monday, in a move that shocked local Haitians, immigration officers armed with a deportation order arrested Valmond. They say he participated in the 1994 torture and massacre of two dozen peasants in his homeland.
"A lot of people know him. I never heard anything about him committing any crimes," said Ed Jean-Pierre, a member of the Haitian Association Foundation of Tampa Bay. "I know a lot of people in the army did a lot of bad stuff, but that doesn't mean everybody did."
Valmond, 52, of 6110 Soaring Ave., was a lieutenant colonel in the Haitian army. In 1998, a Haitian court issued a warrant for his arrest in the killings at the seaside community of Raboteau.
He moved to Florida in 1995, records show, and married a U.S. citizen. Patricia Mancha of the U.S. Immigration and Nationalization Service said Valmond entered the country on a six-month visa. He was a state-licensed security officer and a certified nurse assistant.
On April 11 of this year, an immigration judge ordered Valmond to be sent back to Haiti after an investigation into his involvement in the Raboteau massacre.
According to published reports, Valmond was a high-ranking member of the paramilitary government for former Haitian dictator Raoul Cedras. He was sixth-in-command, said Richard Krieger, the head of International Educational Missions, a nonprofit organization that researches and promotes detaining and deporting foreigners accused of war crimes.
Under Cedras' command, Valmond and dozens of others allegedly raided Raboteau, an extremely poor community 93 miles north of the country's capitol city, Port-Au-Prince, in April of 1994. The military forced their way into homes, tortured people, forced some to lie in open sewers and killed them, reports said.
"Valmond was not just a bystander, nor was he a low-ranking official," Krieger said.
All of the people killed were supporters of Jean Bertrand Aristide, the country's current president. In 2000, 22 Haitians -- including Cedras and Valmond -- were tried in absentia. Valmond was found guilty of murder, torture, destruction of homes and other crimes.
The trial was a milestone for Haiti's government because it was the first time paramilitary leaders had been tried for human rights violations.
According to the INS, Valmond is not the first alleged Haitian war criminal to be arrested in Florida. There have been at least a dozen others, Mancha said.
"When someone doesn't want to be found, they do everything possible to hide," Mancha said. Florida's large Haitian community makes that easier. The Haitian community here has grown substantially in recent years -- to an estimated 20,000 Haitians in the Tampa Bay area.
Last week, a former Haitian general also involved in the Raboteau massacre was reported to be living in Orlando and working at Walt Disney World. Disney executives said Jean-Claude Duperval ceased working for the company on April 12, according to Newsweek.
Last year, the INS arrested Carl Dorelien, a former Haitian army colonel who also allegedly participated in the same massacre as Valmond. Dorelien, who won $3.2-million in the Florida state lottery, is appealing his extradition to Haiti.
Valmond is being held at the Sarasota County Jail. INS officials are proceeding with deportation orders, but officials said Valmond may have a right to appeal his case.
Valmond's brother-in-law, Emmanuel Revolus, refuses to believe that Valmond was involved in the attack.
"We grew up together," said Revolus, who lives in Tampa. "I know him as a good man."
Revolus said that because Valmond was a member of the Haitian army during an especially tumultuous time in the country, he is being unfairly portrayed as a killer. Revolus sharply criticized the INS for detaining his brother-in-law and maintains that U.S. officials do not know the complexities of Haitian politics.
If Valmond is deported to Haiti, the ruling government will almost certainly kill him for being part of Cedras' army, Revolus said.
"The INS should have a good investigation before they get involved in a case like that," said Revolus. "It's like they work for the government of Haiti."
-- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report, which used information from the Associated Press.
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