Friday, June 15, 2012

Peña Nieto Picks Colombia Top Cop as Security Advisor

 Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto will hire former top Colombian police chief Oscar Naranjo as a security advisor. One theory is that the Naranjo pick is intended to ease US fears that Peña Nieto will take a “soft” approach to Mexico’s war on organized crime, after Peña Nieto commented that his security strategy would not place as much emphasis on drug seizures and the arrests of drug capos.

“It is important to show to the United States and the rest of Latin America we are 200 percent committed to the fight against organized crime,” one campaign advisor told the Washington Post.  “We are bringing in the best cop in the world to help us, an outsider who can offer new perspectives, who has a proven record of success.” Foreign Policy in Focus offers some more background on what Peña Nieto has previously said about Mexico’s relationship with the US when fighting the drug war.

Because Naranjo’s hiring as a security advisor was timed just two weeks before the July 1 elections, it was obviously intended to have the maximum effect in convincing uncertain voters that Peña Nieto was the strongest bet on security issues. It is also not clear just how much time Naranjo will dedicate to his new role. He told the AP that starting in July, he will divide his time between Mexico, where he might also accept a teaching position in Mexico City, and Washington D.C., where he will work as a part-time consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank.

Naranjo was a pioneer of setting up police intelligence work against drug trafficking in Colombia. Since he became police director in 2007, nearly all of Colombia’s major drug lords have been killed or captured. When Washington cites Colombia’s security advances as an example for the rest of the region, they are implicitly pointing to the professionalization of its police force, which Naranjo can take credit for. If the police had suffered a scandal as widespread and damaging as the “false positives” scandal faced by the military, it is possible that Naranjo’s image would have less of a glow. In the most recent “false positives” case, 15 soldiers, including a former battalion commander, are to stand trial for allegedly killing six civilians and presenting their bodies as rebels killed in combat, the Attorney General’s Office said Thursday.

Peña Nieto’s debate performances and his campaign in general has failed in delivering a “knock-out punch,” according to the Economist’s analysis; the decision to hire Naranjo could be just that. And as the LA Times reports, with violence appearing to escalate before the election, the best way for Peña Nieto to attract independent or undecided voters could be by presenting himself as the safest bet for Mexico’s security.

Peña Nieto took Naranjo on board his campaign just as a new video reminded many Mexicans of the corruption within their local police force. The video depicts five police officers entering a hotel and kidnapping three men, who were later found dead, reports the AP. Several other political films, released just before the election, may serve as a reminder of the PRI’s authoritarian past, making the timing of Peña Nieto’s Naranjo pick all the more effective. And the murder of a journalist in Veracruz, the fifth to be killed so far this year in the state, came as another reminder of Mexico’s incredible security challenges, which now fall partly on Naranjo’s shoulders.


News Briefs
  • Thursday, Colombia’s Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a law that allows for softer prison sentences for guerrilla leaders, should they confess their crimes under the framework of a peace deal. The law faced heated debate in Congress for eight months, but finally passed with 65 senators voting in favor, and just three against. As Semana reports, one of the main backers of the law, Congressman Roy Barreras called it “the key for peace.” La Silla Vacia argues that with the passing of the so-called “Legal Framework for Peace” is President Juan Manuel Santos’ definitive break from former President Uribe’s “Democratic Security” policy. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Representatives approved a series of sweeping reforms to the judicial system, which will place a judge in every municipality in the country. 
  • Thursday saw the 30th anniversary of the end of the Falklands Islands conflict. Before a UN committee, President Cristina Kirchner argued in favor of “talks” about Argentina’s claim to the British territory, Al Jazeera reports. This was only one part of Kirchner’s media campaign; she also took out an ad in the Guardian in which she called the Falklands "an anachronistic colonial case in the South Atlantic.” The Falklanders are supposed to vote in a referendum next year about whether or not they should keep British rule, one poll reportedly shows that 96 percent of the island’s 3,000 inhabitants will vote in favor of doing so. Mercopress has perspective on the anniversary from a Falklands Islands resident. 
  • After a two-year battle in Congress, the US ambassador to El Salvador finally saw her appointment approved. Neverthless, 37 Republican senators still voted against the confirmation of Maria Carmen Aponte, whose nomination faced endless delays because Republicans wanted more information on a past romance she had with a Cuban-born insurance salesman, reports Foreign Policy. It is likely that her nomination was approved now thanks to election year politics, writes Tim’s El Salvador Blog. The Latin American Herald Tribune printed President Obama’s statement regarding the confirmation. 
  • Jamaica’s governing party the People’s National Party (PNP) acknowledged receiving $1 million in donations from an infamous Ponzi scheme banker, reports the AP. The donation was spent during the 2007 election campaign, the PNP said. Opposition party the Jamaica Labor Party has not yet confirmed whether they received $5 million in donations from the banker, currently serving time in a US prison. These allegations emerged shortly after the government announced it was backing a new crackdown on lottery scammers, who cheat victims out of hundreds of millions of dollars each year. 
  • The ongoing violent anti-mining protests in Peru are partly spurred by the lack of investment and development in mining regions, because instead of spending the money that local governments earn from mining royalties, the local governments are just sitting on it, reports Reuters. According to the article, several years ago Lima tried to redistribute the profits earned from the taxes paid by foreign mining companies, giving local governments more power to decide what to do with the money. Now there may be as much as $3.5 billion collected over the last decade, funds which could be better spent on badly needed infrastructure projects in Peru’s impoverished mining regions, Reuters’ analysis finds.
  • The Economist on a plan by President Dilma Rousseff to make the salaries of politicians and bureaucrats public by the end of June. Brazilian Congress is currently believed to spend some $2.9 billion a year on staff salaries. The new print edition of the magazine also has analysis of security efforts in Honduras. 
  • A mayor in the US state of New Mexico was sentenced to 51 months in prison for conspiring to smuggle firearms to Mexico, reports Reuters. The mayor was arrested last year, alongside the town police chief, for plotting to buy about 200 guns to export south of the border. The case was emblematic of tensions between Mexico and the US about US gun policy, which allows for “straw buyers” like the New Mexico mayor to purchase guns that are later funneled to Mexican criminal groups. 
  • The Council on Hemispheric Affairs critiques the Amnesty Act recently passed in Suriname, which would basically grant the controversial President Desi Bouterse immunity from being prosecuted for abuses committed during his guerrilla and military dictator past. Bouterse, who has been convicted of drug trafficking in the Netherlands, is a military strongman who has confessed to ordering several massacres during Suriname’s 1986-1992 civil war. 
  • The LA Times talks to Mexican residents in the US about their views of Mexico’s presidential election.