Securing Borders on Land and at Sea
By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo January 16, 2018
When Commissioner Michel-Ange Gédéon assumed his position as director general of the National Police of Haiti (PNH) on April 8, 2016, he promised to keep working to professionalize the 15,000 members of the institution. After 20 months in office, he continues to work on his pledge.
Commissioner Gédéon participated at the 16th annual Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), held in Georgetown, Guyana from December 6-7 2017. CANSEC’s participants discussed the regional efforts to counter transregional and transnational threat networks (T3N). Commissioner Gédéon spoke with Diálogo about his first participation in CANSEC, Haiti’s security threats, and PNH efforts to secure the borders to protect the country from drug trafficking and criminal international networks.
Diálogo: What is the importance of Haiti’s participation in CANSEC?
Commissioner Michel-Ange Gédéon, director general of PNH: The threats are the same everywhere in the region, and the best way we can address them is by information sharing. We cannot share information if there’s no contact amongst leaders in the region. I’m interested in having CANSEC in Haiti, also.
Diálogo: Is terrorism a major security concern for Haiti?
Commissioner Gédéon: Fortunately, no, but we observe what’s going on in foreign countries. Our observation pushed us to be more focused on the existence of mosques in Haiti. Although terrorism is not a threat to us currently, we’re preparing to prevent terrorist activities in the future.
Diálogo: What are the security threats that Haiti faces?
Commissioner Gédéon: In the recent past, we’ve been dealing with kidnappings and murder, however, today there is a huge decrease in both. Our concern is about drug trafficking. We do not produce drugs, but Haiti is seen as a transshipment colony. There are lots of weaknesses in terms of control of our borders—land, maritime, ports, and airports—, but we are working to have total control of our boundaries. We receive drugs, especially in the southern part of Haiti, in Les Cayes, Grand’Anse, an area close to Jamaica and Colombia. We are currently making huge efforts to address this issue and information sharing is the key to our success.
Diálogo: What other efforts is Haiti undertaking to control the vulnerability of its borders?
Commissioner Gédéon: We started implementing our border police project with the specialized unit called PoliFront, whose fundamental mission is the security of the border and the fight against T3N. We’ve been working with the Haitian Coast Guard on reinforcing our capacity by purchasing vessels and increasing personnel. We have joint efforts by the Anti-Drug Unit and the Haitian Coast Guard in some areas to fight drugs, arms, and human trafficking.
Diálogo: Along with drug trafficking, Haiti has been dealing with the proliferation of illegal gangs. How does PNH address this situation?
Commissioner Gédéon: Back in 2000 we had some red zones like Aquin-Sud, Cité Soleil, Martissant area, Grand Avin, and Bel Air, but we pacified all those areas with the joint efforts between MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti]) and PNH. However, gun circulation remains a huge concern, especially when those gang members are related to politicians, it complicates the police work. Today, I can guarantee that PNH has better control of gang activities in the country. We know their identity, and we’re looking for them.
Diálogo: How have PNH responsibilities shifted following MINUSTAH’s conclusion in Haiti in October 2017?
Commissioner Gédéon: PNH has always done their job despite the fact that we had MINUSTAH presence in Haiti. For example, we had recent elections without violence, and our force was responsible for the security. We had events like the Haitian Carnival that drew large crowds and we handled it successfully.
With the conclusion of MINUSTAH, PNH is more focused on the transfer of competences from MINUSTAH to our personnel in terms of managing staff and resources, so we can have tools and techniques to maintain security. We are in the process of choosing those MINUSTAH positions with expertise in areas like human resources, logistics, and intelligence so we can transfer and share their skills with our PNH. When it’s time for them to leave, the United Nations will be sure that our forces can do the job without additional support.
Diálogo: Is there a time-frame for this transfer to take place?
Commissioner Gédéon: Two years. We are looking at 2019.
Diálogo: Does PNH work with other military forces in the region to counter transnational threats?
Commissioner Gédéon: We’ve developed a good relationship with all of our partners in the region. We also have a good relationship with the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] to combat drugs. We have initiatives to hold police or security meetings with our partners from Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and many of our officers are trained in countries like the United States, Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia. We’ve sent our people to receive training and they come back using their skills to help with all types of trafficking and crimes.
Diálogo: How will PNH work with the reinstated national army?
Commissioner Gédéon: After the dismantling of the Haitian Army in 1994, the police took over their position. After 22 years, it’s going to be a new experience again working with an army after the decision was made by authorities on November 18th, 2017 to remobilize it. The police’s mission is to serve and protect the life and goods of citizens while the Army will be focused on defending the territory, medical, aviation, and the environment, among many other responsibilities. It seems we can operate together, each at our own level.
Diálogo: What accomplishments did PNH attain in 2017?
Commissioner Gédéon: The gender unit is one of our accomplishments, as it is our will to have a larger percentage of women inside the force. We also worked on the concept of community policing and the PoliFront. We were able to investigate the behavior of our personnel with the reinforcement of the Internal Affairs Office. Our success is also about the transparency of our force. We are in the process of building a good relationship with the community and the public in general.
Diálogo: What is your message to the region?
Commissioner Gédéon: Threats are the same everywhere, and the police are unique everywhere. We need to get together to address those threats; alone we cannot, but together, we can.