Tuesday, October 14, 2014

As Outrage Grows in Guerrero, So Does Pressure for Police Reform

Demonstrations in the Guerrero capital of Chilpancingo over the 43 missing students in the Mexican state turned violent yesterday, after protesters set fire to the state capital building, El Universal and the AP report. There are no reports of injury, but the incident demonstrates that public outrage is growing as officials continue to work to identify the remains found in ten mass graves in Iguala.

Meanwhile, details continue to surface about the alleged criminal ties of Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca, as well as his corrupt influence over local police. McClatchy and Spain’s El Pais have recently published detailed overviews of the repeated accusations that Abarca -- along with his wife -- governed the city with an iron fist and ordered the assassination of political opponents. International observers are increasingly referring to the Iguala case as part of a trend of growing narco-influence in local government in the country (see El Pais, Christy Thornton for Al Jazeera English and journalist Ioan Grillo in an NYT op-ed).

Ever since the disappearances gained a nationwide and international profile, Guerrero authorities have been scrambling to come up with an appropriate policy response. Governor Angel Aguirre has capitalized on the incident to focus attention on local non-compliance with a “mando unico” agreement signed last May that granted state police control over law enforcement in a number of municipalities. The Iguala mayor signed the pact, but implemented it in name only, according to Aguirre.

The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which enjoys historic control over Guerrero, has also seized on the moment to bring up mando unico. National PRD leader Carlos Navarrete has said that his party will support a plan to concentrate greater police authority in state governments in Guerrero and other PRD-governed entities.  

The proposal has generated mixed reactions from security analysts and civil society, summed up nicely in a series of opinion columns featured today by newspaper Milenio.

For Lisa Maria Sanchez of Mexico Unido contra la Delincuencia, reformers should be more skeptical of mando unico. As she writes, “Centralization and militarization of public security are two risks that lurk behind the seemingly innocuous question about the fate of municipal police.” Instead of centralizing law enforcement authority, Sanchez argues in favor of keeping local control, while deepening official commitment to transparency and democratic governance.

CIDES researcher Jose Antonio Caballero Juarez asserts that “the idea of mando unico is neither good nor bad.” However he insists that the issue of local government corruption is more complex than the “dogma” of local vs. state police control, and that the focus should be on building community relationships and strong internal controls in local police forces.

According to Ernesto Lopez Portillo, director of the Institute for Security and Democracy (Insyde), argues that the logic of mando unico is flawed. The problem in Mexico, he says, is not that local municipalities have too much control over the police, but that there is a lack of political will to properly commit to cleaning up police at all levels of government.  This is exacerbated, Lopez asserts, by government officials’ lack of awareness of international best practices regarding policing, which have in recent years emphasized the importance of local police authority.

News Briefs
  • The issue of police abuses in Mexico has dominated in international headlines recently, and yet another incident suggests it will stay that way for a least another news cycle. As the L.A. Times and Reuters report, police in Guerrero opened fire on a van full of university students on Sunday night after it failed to stop at a traffic checkpoint, injuring a German exchange student.
  • On Saturday, a radio announcer and activist representing a group of families compensation for being displaced by a dam in Sinaloa was murdered  during his weekly broadcast, which the AP describes as “the first on-air killing in recent memory in Mexico.”
  • After winning re-election on Sunday, Bolivian President Evo Morales has addressed concerns that he intends to stay in power after his next term ends. In an interview with the BBC, Morales said that he personally did not think it would be “necessary,” though he admitted that his MAS political movement might push to reform the constitution to allow him to run for a fourth term.
  • Also in Bolivia, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has still not released a final tally of Sunday’s presidential vote. La Razon reports that the TSE’s goal was to submit a count of 70 percent of the ballots by Sunday, but that OAS observers say the process has been “extremely slow.” According to a count of 42.5 percent of the ballots released yesterday, Morales won by 53.7 percent compared to 30.3 percent for Samuel Doria Medina.  By comparison, exit polls on Sunday estimated roughly 60 percent of Bolivians voted for Morales and 25 for Doria Medina.
  • Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration is quietly cutting imports in a bid to address foreign debt payments.  
  • The conventional wisdom for why President Dilma Rousseff is so strongly supported among poor Brazilians in the Northeast has been that it has to do with the success of the Bolsa Familia conditional cash transfer program. But BBC Brasil notes that Rousseff’s support there goes far beyond Bolsa Familia, as her administration has been the first in years to address the interests of the historically poor and neglected region.
  • In the latest prison uprising to focus attention on overcrowding and poor security in Brazil’s prison system, prisoners in the Guarapuava detention facility have taken control of a Parana state prison and are currently in negotiation with authorities. The AP notes that the incident occurs in the same state where last month inmates beheaded two prisoners following a similar uprising.
  • Commenting on a recent World Politics Review article by Michael Shifter and Murat Dagli on what they describe as the “pragmatic authoritarian model” adopted in Ecuador and Bolivia, analyst James Bosworth reflects on the steady death of the tired “two lefts” narrative on Latin America. To the extent that a similar “elegant” narrative exists today for the region, he notes that today most analysts have gravitated toward describing it in terms of the success of the Pacific Alliance vs. the Mercosur and ALBA blocs, a framework that has its own problems and is similarly weakened by current economic data.