The Miami Herald
March 31, 1999
Haitian police commended for performance

             DON BOHNING
             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 report on
             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 assuming
             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 police
             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 to the
             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 protects and
             serves the Haitian people.''

             `Positive years'

             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
             the institution.''

             This is not to say the force has no flaws. There have been corruption, abuses of
             power and other irregularities, but they have been largely at the individual level.

             Denize acknowledges that one of the ``major threats'' to the institutionalization of
             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 power,'' he
             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.''

             Neutrality stressed

             That concern was echoed by the Annan in his report to the Security Council in
             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 the public
             continues to scrutinize them very closely.

             ``There is from the public a very just evaluation as to the overall improvement of
             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
             the police.''

             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. ''


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