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Public Order


National Police, Port-au-Prince
Courtesy United States Agency for International Development

Although the armed forces continued to be the nation's ultimate law-enforcement agency, they had almost no juridical capability. Armed forces regulations provide for a judicial service, however, and the 1987 Constitution indicates the existence of a Military Court, the jurisdiction of which is limited to times of war or military discipline.

The 1987 Constitution presents a significant theoretical departure from Haiti's past. It proposes a separate police corps and a new police academy under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. Political developments in Haiti since 1987, however, have precluded implementation of these changes. Nevertheless, the mission of the police corps was almost indistinguishable from the mission spelled out for the FAd'H. The characterization of the police as a corps armée (armed corps) reinforced this similarity in missions.

The only identifiable police force in Haiti operated in Portau -Prince as part of the armed forces. This 1,000-member force had few operational or technical capabilities, even though it was responsible for narcotics and immigration control and criminal investigations. In the late 1980s, the Narcotics Bureau, commanded by an army major, had acquired some visibility and resources of its own, with a reported staff of about twenty-five people.

There was no true rural police. Small garrisons, operating under military department command, with some cooperation from the lowest central government administrative head, section chief (chef de section), were responsible for rural security. In effect, the heads of these 562 rural communal sections (sections rurales communales) functioned as police chiefs, as adjuncts of the nation's military infrastructure. This fusion of civil and military administration continued to be possible because of the broad range of responsibilities assigned to the Ministry of Interior and National Defense.

After 1986 the armed forces failed to reestablish a nationwide police force and to subdue the VSN and other vigilante groups. Some observers have argued that links between the senior army command and remnants of the VSN have paralyzed reforms in Haiti's judicial system. An illustration of their point was the reported incorporation of some VSN personnel into FAd'H units and some members of the VSN, as plainclothes paramilitary agents, in the Dessalines Battalion. Other VSN members found their way into cadres of the Port-au-Prince police force, particularly in the Criminal Investigation Unit (Recheraches Criminelles--renamed in 1988 the Anti-Gang Investigations Bureau), which was traditionally based at the Dessalines barracks. The demise of the Dessalines Battalion and the Leopards, the latter of which had served as Haiti's special weapons and tactics unit, raised questions in the spring of 1989 about the future of a national police force.

The Avril government reported some success in cracking down on abuses within the security services, but violence continued to be a serious problem. Insecurity rose dramatically after 1986 with the formation of ad hoc paramilitary groups that had direct links to the VSN and indirect links to the military. Many of these paramilitary groups engaged in banditry with no political motivation. The security situation in rural regions and at the section chief level remained unclear in 1989.

The human-rights record of post-Duvalier governments was generally negative. A major problem was the inability, or the unwillingness, of the FAd'H to contain domestic political violence. Government and military personnel apparently sanctioned and participated in attacks on politicians and other activists, particularly during the second Namphy government. The Avril government boasted an improved record in this area, but as of mid-1989, it had proved incapable of restoring order.

Haitian military and police often brutally interrogated detainees. Rural section chiefs, who wielded considerable power within their limited jurisdictions, arbitrarily harassed and physically abused citizens, according to some reports. In an effort to address this problem, Avril dismissed a number of section chiefs, and issued a decree in December 1988 that ended appointments of section chiefs and proposed putting the posts up for election (see Urban Dominance, Rural Stagnation , ch. 9).

Harsh conditions prevailed in the prison system. Hygiene, food, and health care were inadequate, and prison staff regularly mistreated inmates. The Avril government closed two facilities closely associated with the repression of the Duvalier regimes-- Fort Dimanche and the detention center of the Criminal Investigation Unit, both in Port-au-Prince--because of the abuses that had commonly taken place there.

Political turmoil between 1986 and 1989 resulted in popular justice and mob violence. The international media reported on some of this violence and featured scenes of burning or dismembered bodies. Continued human-rights violations are likely to attract international criticism during the 1990s. Lasting improvements in internal security, however, appeared unlikely without the establishment of functional civilian institutions and some resolution of the status of the former members of the tonton makouts.


Serious research on Haiti's military is scarce. Part of the problem lies in the nation's chaotic history, which has resulted in the destruction of primary documentation, or has simply made research in the country risky or unwelcome. Much of Haiti's archives burned down in 1883, and in 1912 the National Palace blew up. Obtaining material on Haiti has been difficult. For example, Robert Rotberg notes that the research for Haiti, the Politics of Squalor was "possible only with the personally granted authorization of Dr. François Duvalier."

Contemporary sources on Haiti's national security are practically nonexistent in either French or English. Useful information can be found in three specialized studies, one in French, Armée et Politique en Haïti by Kern Delince, and two from a British military analyst, Adrian J. English, Armed Forces of Latin America and Regional Defense Portfolio, No. 1: Latin America. There are also lively secondary sources that can be useful but must be read with a careful eye. These include Papa Doc: The Truth About Haiti Today, by Bernard Diederich and Al Burt, and Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy, by Elizabeth Abbott.

Alternatively, the reader is directed to more scholarly volumes that intermittently make reference to Haiti's national security. English sources include the monumental work by Robert Debs Heinl and Nancy Gordon Heinl, Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, as well as Rotberg and Christopher Clague's Haiti, the Politics of Squalor. The United States military occupation is well covered by David Healy's Gunboat Diplomacy in the Wilson Era: The U.S. Navy in Haiti, 1915- 1916 and Hans Schmidt's The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934. See also the opinionated studies by Alex Dupuy, Haiti in the World Economy, and Patrick BellegardeSmith , Haiti, the Breached Citadel. Both of these works contain useful references to the military's role in politics. Specialized, and often politically motivated, coverage can be found in the occasional records from United States Congressional hearings on Haiti and the reports published by human rights organizations. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1989

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