Haiti’s National Police are ready to take the lead, director says
Update: On Tuesday, Normil Rameau was sworn-in as acting director of the Haiti National Police.
A month after arresting one of Haiti’s most wanted gang leaders and exposing a troubling connection between gang leaders and a member of the nation’s parliament, the head of the country’s beleaguered police force is out of a job.
Haiti National Police Director Michel-Ange Gédéon was told on Monday by Haiti President Jovenel Moïse that he would not be staying on, and that his replacement would be announced as early as Tuesday morning.
The president did not say who the next chief would be. But those familiar with the decision said the choices come down to two individuals: Normil Rameau, Gédéon’s one-time No. 2 and former head of Haiti’s Central Directorate of the Judicial Police; and Noel Charles Nazaire, the head of the country’s prison system. Rameau, who is currently assigned to the Haitian embassy in Washington, was told last week by the presidential palace to report to Port-au-Prince.
“Under my tenure, bandits always had to be worried regardless of their political affiliation,” Gédéon, 46, said Monday, summarizing his three years as Haiti’s top cop.
In Haiti, he said, bandits are everywhere — in the city, in the countryside, the slums and the villas — and Haitians must continue to “fight mercilessly against bandits and traffickers of all kinds.”
Gédéon was appointed to the job in 2016 by interim Haiti President Jocelerme Privert and ratified by the Haitian Senate, but his mandate expired last week. Moïse, who has authority under the constitution to appoint the police chief, could have named him to a second term. Some observers in the international community, which funds most of the police force, wanted him to keep Gédéon on the job.
But despite months of lobbying by foreign diplomats in Port-au-Prince for continuity in the 15,937-member police force, Moïse decided to let Gédéon go and appoint his own chief.
The switch in command comes as Haiti continues to undergo a worsening political and economic crisis with no functioning government and Moïse continues to face calls for his resignation from political opponents and anti-corruption grassroots activists. It also comes as the United Nations prepares to permanently end its peacekeeping operation in October after 15 years.
Rebuilding the Haiti National Police and training police officers have been key priorities for the U.N.., which in its most recent report from the secretary-general to the U.N. Security Council warned that “without stronger support from the government and the international community, Haiti’s police force risks losing the gains” in professionalization it has achieved.
Some of those gains, Gédéon said, came under his tenure. He credits his administration with not only making the police more professional, but less political. Among some of the measures carried out under his leadership: adding more women to the force; providing more training opportunities for officers at the Inter-American Defense College in Washington and similar institutions in Chile; and promoting officers to middle management positions.
Another significant achievement, he said, was tackling corruption in the force. Under his leadership, the institution recovered 834 weapons from no-longer-active officers and recuperated thousands of dollars in money that was still being paid to fired or deceased cops.
But that’s not all, said Pierre Esperance, a leading human rights advocate in Haiti, who initially was unsure about Gédéon, the former police chief of west region — which includes Port-au-Prince. Gédéon had been dismissed by former Haitian President Michel Martelly and spent two years on the sidelines before being tapped by Privert.
“Our experience with Gédéon has been nothing but positive. Under him, the police had courage,” Esperance said, referring to two police investigations, one on the November 2018 massacre in the La Saline neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, in which two presidential appointees were implicated, and the other on gang leader Arnel Joseph, which exposed his relationship with Sen. Garcia Delva.
The first police chief to rise through the ranks and not the army, Gédéon is widely respected among officers who view him as an inspiration in a country where former police chiefs usually came out of the military.
Still, he and Moïse have a contentious relationship at best. Supporters of the president often wanted Gédéon to be repressive against protesters, and didn’t like his push back on their attempts to politicize the police. With few resources, he regularly led a force that was ill-equipped to intervene in gang-affected areas, or even regular policing.
“He’s a professional. He always listened to his officers. However, he was working with bare bones. People sometimes commend the job the police are doing but they have no idea under what conditions they do it with,” Esperance said. “Gédéon spent three exceptional years as the head of the police where the executive fought him for no reason. [Gédéon] was loyal to the authorities.”
If there is another trait that Gédéon should be commended for, Esperance said, it’s the fact he “doesn’t do repression against the protesters.”
Still, Gédéon has come under fire as Haiti has witnessed a resurgence in gang activities and insecurity in the past three years. Last July, when protesters shut the country down for three days, many questioned whether Gédéon and the police were up to the task.
“The [HNP] is often singled out for every spurt of acts of banditry because our society is facing a lack of training and information,” Gédéon said Monday. “The police cannot fight disorder alone and can only take social control; other actors and social groups must be involved. Security is a collective job.”
Gédéon leaves the job after his cops made two of the most highly celebrated arrests in recent memory: drug trafficker and rebel leader Guy Philippe, and Joseph, the wanted gang leader.
Philippe, a newly elected Haitian senator at the time of his capture by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Haitian police, was arrested in January 2017, months after Gédéon officially took over. Joseph’s arrest came last month after a manhunt that lasted more than two years.
Joseph’s arrest briefly sparked a campaign among some in the population for a renewal of Gédéon’s term by Moïse.
Frustrated by his inability to control the police, Moïse told an audience in Miami at a public meeting he planned to ask his prime minister to invite him to a gathering of the police council so that he could give directives on security measures. Later his administration told Gédéon that he had to run all administrative changes by the prime minister first.
Parliament member Jerry Tardieu, who introduced a law in 2016 to modernize Haiti’s police force, said if Gédéon and Moïse enjoyed a better relationship the police could have accomplished more.
“If I were the president, I would have rallied him to my side and given him all of the resources he needed,” Tardieu said. “I think his three years were diminished by the fact that the president never trusted him and did not allow him much margin to maneuver. He could have done more, but had to pay a price because of this ongoing suspicion on the part the president.”
Gédéon conceded that the “up-and-down” relationship had “counterproductive consequences for both the security governance and political governance.”
He added that while he has always stressed that the Haiti National Police needs to “remain apolitical and a public service institution,” few people are tolerant of individuals who adhere to this philosophy.
“In a society as polarized and confrontational as Haiti, the desire to have control over the country’s public force, be it the army or the police, has always tried almost every government.”