Haiti to replace national police chief amid gang crisis

Haiti will replace the head of its national police force, Frantz Elbe, with former chief Rameau Normil, as announced by the prime minister’s office on Friday.

This change comes as the country grapples with a gang crisis that has displaced over half a million people.

The Haitian National Police (PNH) has been leading the fight against powerful gangs that have taken over most of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Garry Conille, who was appointed two weeks ago, confirmed the change following local media reports and shortly after Conille appointed his cabinet. The exact date for the transition is unclear but will likely follow a decree from Conille and the presidential transition council.

Haiti’s police force has been shrinking and struggling with resource shortages while combating heavily armed criminal groups, with weapons largely trafficked from the United States.

Normil previously led the PNH from mid-2019 to late 2020. Elbe, one of his successors, took over after the 2021 assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moise, and the kidnapping of 17 U.S. and Canadian missionaries by the 400 Mawozo gang.

Moise’s assassination created a power vacuum that allowed gangs to expand their territories, resulting in a surge of ransom kidnappings. A local rights group, RNDDH, reported that 20 police officers have been killed this year and more than 320 since 2015.

Police officers have also faced late pay, insufficient training, workplace harassment, threats of dismissal, and shortages of equipment.

RNDDH director Pierre Esperance criticized Elbe’s tenure as disastrous, accusing him of reinforcing gangs and hindering police efforts. Elbe did not respond to requests for comment.

Haiti’s ombudsman, the Citizens’ Protection Office, has called on Normil to swiftly develop a plan to control gangs and improve the police force. Authorities are also urged to explain the numerous killings and the escape of approximately 4,500 prisoners under previous administrations.

The U.N. estimates that gang violence has displaced 578,000 people, killed thousands, and driven millions into acute hunger. The PNH has been in discussions with Kenyan counterparts about leading a U.N. security support mission, which Haiti requested in 2022.

Esperance hopes Normil will work to dismantle gangs and restore safety for the Haitian population.

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