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#1113: Civilian Police Force Brings New Problems in Haiti (fwd)


November 26, 1999____- NY TIMES____ by David Gonzalez
 Civilian Police Force Brings New Problems in Haiti 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Renan Etienne keeps his military academy
diploma hanging in his office, although it is an odd decorative touch.
He is the Port-au-Prince commander for the Haitian National Police, the
civilian force that replaced the brutal and corrupt Haitian army.  
After Etienne spent eight years as a military officer, his career there
ended in 1994 when the reformist President Jean-Bertrand Aristide 
disbanded the military.  The Haitian military worked hand in hand with
the country's dictators,  brutalizing and terrorizing civilians in the
decades that preceded Aristide's  election in 1990. Then the military
deposed him and forced him into exile. After he returned with American
backing, he replaced the military with a  civilian police force. Etienne
was among a handful of former officers with both the experience  and
clean records to qualify them as commanders for the mostly rookie 
police force.       "It's the same job," he said tersely on a recent
day.    But his two careers are hardly comparable. Unlike the army, the
civilian  force, which was trained by police officers from a U.N.-led
mission, is        seen as being relatively respectful of human rights.
But also unlike the
 army, which had ample weapons and resources to back up its power, the
fledgling force finds itself at times scrambling to meet its basic
needs. That has led, he said, to a morale crisis.  "We do not have
enough human and material resources," Etienne said. "It  seems if you
have radios, they have no batteries. If you have cars, they  have no
tires. If you have guns, they have no bullets."  Nearly four years since
it was founded, and just months away from the  end of the full-time
American military presence in the capital, the Haitian  National Police
is struggling to maintain order while people complain  increasingly
about crime and a lack of security.  Of the original 5,300 members,
1,000 have been dismissed for  corruption or human rights abuses, and
the force is trying to recruit replacements. Without enough seasoned
commanders, normally culled from the ranks of street-savvy officers,
some towns have no police  supervisors. Specialized units critical to
investigative work are just now being formed. These internal challenges
are made all the more difficult by external  pressures. Haiti's judicial
system badly needs reform: caseloads are  backlogged for years, judges
are poorly trained, and many are believed  to be corrupt. Criminals with
enough influence are freed soon after their  arrests. Human rights
monitors suspect that several police officers,frustrated by the failings
of the courts, have taken part in vigilante killings.  "It would be hard
enough under normal conditions," said Pierre Denize, the chief of the
Haitian National Police. "The conditions here have been less than
normal. If I, as the head of this institution, said we do not need      
anything more, I would be very wrong. Institutional development is a
 notion that entails 15-year spans of time. Here, we're talking about
four years."  The most troubling challenges yet emerged in February,
when popular organizations aligned with Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas
political party, citing the crime problem, clamored for the resignation
of Robert Manuel, the  vice minister for state security, whose
jurisdiction includes the police  force. Manuel is part of the
administration of Rene Preval, Aristide's hand-picked successor. But
with Aristide apparently planning to run  again, the two have become
rivals.  Manuel finally resigned under pressure in October, and soon
afterward,  Jean Lamy, considered to be a candidate to replace him, was
  assassinated. No arrest has been made in the case. When Denize went to
 Lamy's funeral, demonstrators loyal to Aristide disrupted the service
and  heckled him.  The events are an echo of old-style Haitian politics,
with the police leaders coming under relentless criticism by political
groups seeking to  put their allies in key positions to gain an
advantage in legislative elections scheduled for March. The fear is the
police will be used to intimidate voters or to protect fraud. "There has
always been the courting of the force by different political parties,"
Denize said, casting an occasional glance at a bank of security   video
monitors in his office.  Colin Granderson, the executive director of the
United  Nations/Organization of American States International Civilian
Mission in  Haiti, said the pressures on the police are of special
concern at a time  when the government is already functioning without a
Parliament or  constitutionally appointed prime minister. The government
has been virtually paralyzed for two years over the refusal of an
opposition legislation to approve a prime minister and then the end of
the legislative terms and a postponement of new elections.  "There is a
lot of concern about what is happening with the police and if they are
going to be destabilized or fall into the clutches of Aristide,"  
Granderson said. "You are dealing with a police force started from
scratch and thrown into a cauldron. It is not a propitious environment." 
 The force's top commanders, as well as other government officials,
insist they will not allow the police to become politicized, a message
they have sent repeatedly to the rank and file. The officials are
supported by international officials and diplomats, who have conveyed a
similar message to Aristide.  Yvon Neptune, a spokesman for Fanmi
Lavalas, suggested that some of the recent disturbances, protesting a
lack of security for citizens, were the work of provocateurs and that
his party was not in a position to name  police commanders. But he added
that his party's criticism of the police force's performance was
legitimate.  "The way that the public is not feeling confident about
what is happening with security is the same way that Fanmi Lavalas is
very much  concerned," he said. "We as a political organization
questioned the situation. We have not contented ourselves to say the
police force is young and doesn't have enough material. We also have to
question those who are in charge, not only how they perform, but what
are their  policies."  Along the streets of the capital, police officers
are rarely seen, except for  a handful of officers in crisp blue-and-tan
uniforms directing traffic. There have been some brazen assaults, like a
recent robbery of a food  wholesaler in which 10 armed men exchanged
gunfire with the police. Two robbers were killed, but the rest escaped. 
 Some downtown merchants are so fearful of crime that they allow only
 one customer at a time into their stores, while many residents stay
inside  in early morning and evening hours to avoid falling prey to
bandits. "This is a Dracula country," said Fredy Antoine, a mattress
salesman at the teeming Solomon Market. "If you have a couple of dollars
in your  pocket, anyone can come and tell you to give it to them."      
The man appointed prime minister after the legislature went out of
office,  Jacques Alexis, said the original design of the police force
was part of the problem. "When we asked for high school diplomas for the
new recruits, we ended up with people who saw the police as a transitory
position and  who were waiting for the next opportunity to move on when
something better showed up," he said. "There was the temptation of drug
trafficking and other cases of corruption," he said. "That is why the
next group of recruits will be selected from candidates without high
school diplomas who see the police as a job where they feel valued and
as a way to move up." Alexis also said that Haiti needs the files on
political crimes and human  rights abuses committed by supporters of the
coup against Aristide  because they might still be involved in criminal
activity. The documents  were seized by American troops and have not
been released because they contain the names of American agents and
intelligence methods. "Maybe we could not prosecute all the cases,"
Alexis said. "But the fact  that the people who are still out on the
street know we have the files -- then perhaps that would be a means of
controlling them and calming them   down."  While conceding that crime
has increased, Denize said that it is not as  bad as in some other
countries. He said the level of violence is  "inexplicably low"
considering that most people in the capital live crowded in
poverty-wracked shantytowns. He said some of the growing  outcry about
security comes from upper-class residents who have lived comfortably in
the hills overlooking Port-au-Prince. These people, he said,
traditionally were "very well protected by the  army that served them
and the repressive, dysfunctional system that went  with it." "When this
bulletproofing was no longer there, they fell prey to criminality      
like everyone else," he added.  The concerns over security, he said,
must be seen as part of a complex of problems facing the nation: an
economic crisis, criminals who are deported to Haiti from the United
States and Canada, and drug traffickers who can buy favors and silence. 
"We have real social factors that put criminality on the rise," he said.
And it is a very democratic criminality.