Herald Staff Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- It's far from perfect, but the fledgling Haitian National
Police force is about the only institutional success Washington and the international
community can cite since a U.S.-led military force restored a fragile democracy
here in September 1994.
A rare bit of good news amid the turbulence of present-day Haiti came when
Pierre Denize agreed to President Rene Preval's request that he stay on as acting
chief after his three-year term expired March 5. As director general, he has been
given much of the credit for what success the 6,300-member police force has
``There was considerable relief when he agreed to stay on,'' a foreign official said.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, in his mandated quarterly
Haiti to the Security Council last month, lauded the ``highly professional''
performance of the force. ``This is all the more commendable since it was created
in a country with no civilian police experience,'' Annan said.
Reappointment of Denize -- pronounced deh-ni-ZAY -- is subject to Senate
ratification. But Preval declared the parliamentary term at an end Jan. 11, leaving
the country without a legislative branch and with a barely functioning government in
a 20-month political standoff.
Replaced repressive army
Denize, 47, headed a drug rehabilitation center in Port-au-Prince before
the top police job in March 1996. At that time, the force was less than a year old.
It replaced a repressive army that was disbanded by Jean-Bertrand Aristide
shortly after the U.S.-led forces restored him to the presidency.
Denize agreed to Preval's request to stay on, he said in an interview at
headquarters on a Port-au-Prince hilltop overlooking the sea, ``basically for the
same reasons that motivated my taking the job in the first place.''
``I think changing the notion of the public force is historically necessary
advent of democracy in this country. And because it has given me the chance to
observe and have the privilege to lead these 6,000 youngsters who are doing this
job. . . . A lot of them had other opportunities at personal growth, but engaged in
this effort under sometimes unacceptable conditions of work. But [they] have held
on and, overall, done a fantastic job.
``I think that we owe it to them to make this a viable institution that
serves the Haitian people.''
Denize said he looks back on ``three positive years, particularly with
an eye to the
notion of institutionalization, which was our mandate.''
``We've done this . . . by trying to ensure more and more professionalism
necessary to perform as policemen. There is certainly much more to be done, but
overall my evaluation is that the past three years have been very, very positive for
This is not to say the force has no flaws. There have been corruption,
power and other irregularities, but they have been largely at the individual level.
Denize acknowledges that one of the ``major threats'' to the institutionalization
the force is the pressure to use it for political purposes.
``We have a 200-year-old tradition of the force as a tool of political
said. ``So the institutional neutrality of the police certainly goes against the grain of
a whole bunch of political sectors, each and every one of which would like this
force folded up in its back pocket.''
That concern was echoed by the Annan in his report to the Security Council
which he said it is ``of vital importance that the police [force] maintain its political
neutrality. Any attempt to politicize the Haitian National Police would jeopardize
the real progress that has been achieved during the past three years, and would
undermine the growing confidence of the Haitian people in their public service.''
Denize, too, sees an improving public perception of his force but says
continues to scrutinize them very closely.
``There is from the public a very just evaluation as to the overall improvement
the institution and the overall professionalism of the force and also a very constant
critical eye to the small pieces that don't work. . . . Yet I think the public has
developed a certain respect for this police force. It collaborates much more with
Denize acknowledged that 6,300 police officers -- each making $300 a month
are far from adequate in a rugged country of eight million people; that there
probably should be three times that many.
``The army had 7,000, but the army didn't have my problems,'' Denize said.
``They operated with intimidation and fear. ''
Copyright © 1999 The Miami Herald