Haiti on Monday installed a new police director for the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and surrounding western cities after removing veteran cop Michel-Ange Gédéon from the post over the weekend.
Vladimir Paraison, who was Gédéon’s counterpart for the northern region that includes the country’s second largest city, Cap-Haitien, replaced Gédéon, who has been in charge of Haiti’s largest police region for the past three years.
Haitian National Police Director General Godson Orelus told the Miami Herald the change was an administrative decision taken by the Superior Council of the Haitian National Police (CSPN), and has nothing to do with the current shake up taking place inside the beleaguered HNP.
In addition to Godson, CSPN members include the prime minister, ministers of justice, interior, defense and inspector general of the police.
Sources say about a dozen Haitian police officers — several of them high profile cops including the director of traffic and a former head of the Haitian version of DEA — have had their U.S. visas revoked amid an ongoing U.S.-led vetting of the 11,000-member force.
Godson confirmed that several HNP officers have been put on administrative leave pending the completion of the investigation.
“Gédéon’s removal has nothing to do with that; he has not had his U.S. visa revoked,” Godson said. “I can’t allow them to try and dirty his name. He has nothing to do with this.”
The weekend decision to remove Gédéon, 41, surprised many in international circles and in Haiti, where popular radio journalist Garry Pierre Paul-Charles took to the airwaves of his Scoop FM radio program Monday afternoon to spend more than an hour denouncing it.
“Gédéon had a great attitude and worked to protect people,” Paul-Charles said, calling the decision political, which Godson denied.
Little is known about Paraison, whose aggressive tactics with protesters and use of tear gas in Cap-Haitien demonstrations have come under scrutiny from human rights activists and the international community.
“He doesn’t respect what the 1987 Constitution says about people’s rights to protests,” Pierre Esperance, director of Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network, said about Paraison. “He doesn’t want to accept people’s rights to protests.”
Paraison’s human rights record is a concern for the international community, sources say. Esperance said that Paraison was fired from the police on March 31, 2000 after “abandoning post,” and later reintegrated. Godson defended the decision, calling it “a transfer, not a promotion.”
Paraison could not be reached for comment.
Esperance worries that anti-government protests in the capital could become more repressive. His group, he said, will launch an investigation in coming days into the changes.
“Gédéon is a guy who is well-respected in the police. The human rights community has no complaints about him, whether when he was responsible for the Port-au-Prince police station or as departmental director,” Esperance said. “He always took into consideration, when there was proof, our concerns about cops being implicated in illegal activity.”
“He, himself, never fell to the pressure to act unconstitutionally or illegally,” Esperance said.
Gédéon has been lauded by officials in the U.N. peacekeeping operation (MINUSTAH) and U.S. for his handling of the increasing anti-government street demonstrations. On Monday, high school students protested in Port-au-Prince and just last week, thousands of anti-government protesters shut down a major capital street.
One of the few Haitian officers with training from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations, Gédéon is most recently credited with writing the curriculum for a new community policing program that was launched in the capital last year with international backing, and expanded to other Haitian cities.
His other accomplishments include putting an end to months of terror in Petit-Goave, a coastal city where armed bandits were terrorizing the population and unsuspecting motorists. The UN allowed HNP to lead the operations, and later commended Gédéon’s leadership as an example of a strengthening force.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently told the security council “the Haitian National Police are increasingly proactive and visible,” while lauding the new community policing initiative.
“Crime prevention and crime fighting efforts led by the national police and supported by MINUSTAH in sensitive urban areas, have resulted in a decrease in major crime [incidents] in 2013, compared with 2012 and dismantling of several criminal gangs,” he wrote.
Still none of that seem to have been enough. While the police investigative unit has seen a success with a sharp drop in kidnapping, Godson said Gédéon has failed to produce results on the streets of Port-au-Prince where he oversees 2,673 officers, including anti-riot police who have been taxed with demonstrations.
Godson said the CSPN felt that the director had not done enough to beef up police presence in the streets of Port-au-Prince, or strengthening police stations under his command.
“For a while there has been this split on the CSPN about the work [his office] is doing,” Godson said. “If it was just on how he has handled the demonstrations, he would be in the job indefinitely. There, there are no complaints.”
For now Gédéon, who joined the force 19 years ago, will be transferred to police headquarters, where officers usually linger for years without a job or new assignment.