• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, cuba.foreignpolicyblogs.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Ask a self-employed Cuban how she came to possess the goods she is selling, and she might tell you that they came from “Roberto.”
The euphemism indicates that the goods are stolen, and given the scarcity of many products and the unreliability of state retail stores in Cuba, many new entrepreneurs in Cuba are struggling to cobble together their businesses and turning to alternative – and under-the-table – economic strategies. In fact, the channel of goods coming into the country from family, friends, and mules is estimated to have ballooned recently to more than $1 billion per year. This should be no surprise to the state, since Cubans lack access to a wholesale market by design. But these informal imports, currently running under the radar, are about to face a 100 percent tax that will go into effect in September.
In the course of the ongoing economic overhaul by the Cuban state, new challenges are indeed arising every step of the way. The path in this case is easy to trace.
- The Cuban government lays off workers from the public sector in order to eliminate its inefficiencies and encourage a private sector to develop.
- The country does not have the mechanisms to support a new private sector, however, so those new entrepreneurs are forced to get creative. They start acquiring more goods through informal channels in order to maintain their supply.
- In this (true) scenario, the Cuban state misses out on any kind of revenue from those “imports”. So the government slaps a 100 percent tax on this kind of trade, which looks more like an effort to stifle the informal trade altogether than an attempt to get in on the spoils.
The problem is that Cuban small business owners will be left in a lurch if this is not coupled with the natural counterweight policy – that is, creating a clear way for entrepreneurs to get the goods they need through official channels – which would allow the Cuban state to earn some revenue from the private sector trade while still generating viable conditions for small businesses in the private sector to operate.
I suspect that sounds too much like capitalism.
But with 387,000 Cubans now self-employed (out of a total island population of 11 million) and a state goal to add another 240,000 private-sector jobs this year, policies that make the lives of private sector entrepreneurs and employees more difficult seem counterintuitive.
The Cuban National Assembly is set to meet on Monday. Here’s hoping we see a good plan.
IN PICTURES: Cuba economy
– Melissa Lockhart Fortner is Senior External Affairs Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy and Cuba blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. Read her blog, and follow her on Twitter @LockhartFortner.
Venezuela's recent approval of a set of sweeping judicial reforms intends to speed up the processing of court cases and ease the burden on the country's overwhelmed prison system, though a closer examination of the measures reveals that they may do more harm than good.
On June 12, Venezuela’s attorney general announced the approval of several far-reaching judicial reforms, marking the culmination in a series of pledges issued by the Chavez administration to stem the country’s rising violence rates. Aside from rolling out a new security plan, the government had promised to tackle inefficiencies in its judicial system and the reforms to Venezuela’s Organic Penal Procedures Code (COPP) are designed to do just that.
This is the seventh set of reforms to the code since President Hugo Chavez took office 13 years ago. The minister of prison affairs praised the recent changes, asserting that they would help eliminate the “pebbles” that make the judicial system slow and inefficient. As the Council on Hemispheric Affairs observed, of the nearly 2,000 criminal complaints that an average prosecutor in Venezuela receives, only 20 go to court and only two end in convictions.
Despite the intentions for expedited, efficient proceedings, the reforms have been lambasted by many members of Venezuela's opposition – criticism the government declared to be politically motivated – and drawn plenty of scorn from Venezuelan legal scholars. “One of the unspoken aims of these reforms is the total political control which this administration wants to wield over the justice system,” criminal lawyer Alberto Arteaga of the Central University of Caracas told El Nacional.
“These reforms aren’t serious and are pretty improvised,” Francisco Abreu, a judicial expert and professor at the University of the Andes, told InSight Crime. “The government is making some rushed decisions partly to show that they’re taking action against insecurity. But at the end of the day, these penal code reforms are totally regressive.”
Of the measures passed, three are particularly controversial. These include:
1- Declaring that there will be “increased citizen participation” in selecting and appointing judges.
While the new code is short on specifics on how this process would work, this point is a step further away from an impartial, nonpartisan election of judges. Such a reform opens the door for judges to be appointed based on political favoritism, or their overall willingness to gear their rulings towards the governing party. Groups like the Organization of American States (OAS) and Human Rights Watch have already detailed how independent judges have been increasingly replaced by Chavez loyalists, to the point that Venezuela’s judiciary can no longer be considered truly independent from the government.
2- Creating tribunal courts to handle minor infraction cases, involving crimes that would result in a maximum 8-year prison sentence.
This solution is meant to address the huge backlog of cases in Venezuela’s criminal courts, and allow cases to be processed more quickly. However, creating a new network of local tribunals means finding the judges and public defenders qualified enough to staff them. Considering that in some states the average number of cases handled per public defender has reached as high as 520, according to the US State Department, it is unclear where the government will find the staff needed to run the new municipal tribunals.
3- Allowing trials to be conducted without the presence of the accused, or behind "closed doors"
This is the murkiest of the changes and has sparked some of the most heated criticism from the opposition. The measure is intended to confront the significant problem of trial proceedings being delayed when the accused (or public defender) fail to show up to court. The president of Venezuela’s Supreme Court specifically highlighted the failure of suspects to show up for trial as one of the main reasons why trials move so slowly. However, the opposition argue that the measure goes against Venezuela’s Constitution, which states that no trial can be carried out without the presence of the defendant, critiques that the president of Venezuela’s Supreme Court has dismissed as baseless.
It is worth noting that there are different reasons why a defendant could refuse to appear in court. In some cases involving organized crime, for example, prison bosses – or “pranes” – have been known to issue orders over whether a suspect should appear in court or not, one indication of how little authority the courts wield. In other cases, prisoners are forced to pay prison guards to take them to their trial. Those who cannot pay miss their court dates, and may see their case drag on for months.
Defendants have also been known to refuse to appear in court because they say they won’t receive a fair trial, in protest against what they describe as the system’s pro-government political bias. This happened most prominently in the case of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiani, a fierce critic of the Chavez government who was jailed in 2009.
In another cause for concern, Article 316 of the reforms states that judges will have the right to conduct trials that are closed to the public, in "whatever circumstances" that the judge considers necessary for the "normal development" of the trial. This is a new addition to the four previous exceptions to a public trial in Venezuela. Prior to the reform, trials could only be conducted privately if they violated the privacy of an actor involved, if they could endanger national security, reveal commercial secrets, or if a minor was testifying. Needless to say, this addendum could open up the trial system to numerous abuses.
It is clear that Venezuela is in urgent need of judicial reform. However, these new measures will only further compromise judicial independence, and could open the door to the abuse of power by the courts. While the reforms have been upheld as evidence that the government is taking action against Venezuela's judicial inefficiencies, this is arguably not the kind of action that best serves Venezuela's needs.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
The Nasa tribe in Colombia has long been caught in the crossfire between government and FARC attacks. As the fighting has increased in recent months, the tribe has asked both sides to leave the area.
The Colombian government has based much of its security strategy around territorial control and protection of populations. Security gains in recent years have come due to increased security presence in population centers. They believe that removing the military from the area would cede ground to the FARC and be a step back in terms of security.
This led to an odd event yesterday in which the indigenous, armed only with sticks, attacked a Colombian military outpost. The Colombian military, to its credit and with a bit of role-reversing irony, did not retaliate with violence and actually engaged in some non-violent resistance strategies to try to prevent their removal from the base (BBC, El Tiempo).
How much sovereignty do indigenous have over their territories? In recent years, it's a question we've seen play out in Bolivia with plans to develop a road through the TIPNIS reserve, in Ecuador with water rights, and in Peru with fights over development in the Amazon that left dozens dead in Bagua. Questions about national vs local control, particularly of indigenous areas, are often tense and are made even worse by the presence of a third party criminal/terrorist/guerrilla group like the FARC who are also trying to control territory.
In Colombia, the question is whether an indigenous group can request that government security forces completely leave its territory. In some ways, though not formally, it's a request for sovereignty or even secession from the country's government. In this situation, the Colombian government is left with two bad choices: leave the area and perhaps allow the FARC to gain further control or engage in some sort of repression against the indigenous group so that the security forces can stay.
The fact yesterday's confrontation occurred without a single death is remarkably positive given the tensions. The less violence, the better. I think the Colombian government understands that they need to find a non-violent way out of this confrontation without giving up territory or control to the FARC in the process. They should accept mediation and negotiations and work with the community to find the right balance.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Caracas Chronicles. The views expressed are the author's own.
“The thing about life in Venezuela,” Katy said to me one evening, “is that everything is so … precarious.”
It took me a while to digest what she meant exactly.
I was telling Katy the stories from my latest trip back home – family problems, issues without solution, how upside-down everything seems.
My wife, as you know, is not Venezuelan, so I always pay attention to how she sees my country – through her own eyes.
1. dependent on circumstances beyond one’s control; uncertain; unstable; insecure: a precarious livelihood.
2. dependent on the will or pleasure of another; liable to be withdrawn or lost at the will of another: He held a precarious tenure under an arbitrary administration.
3. exposed to or involving danger; dangerous; perilous; risky: the precarious life of an underseas diver.
4. having insufficient, little, or no foundation: a precarious assumption.
Today you’re alive, but tomorrow you might not be.
Today you’re free, but tomorrow, who knows.
Today you were on time for work. Tomorrow, who knows? You might be stuck in traffic for three hours.
Today you found cooking oil on the shelves. Tomorrow …
Today you own your house, your savings, your car. Tomorrow, you may wake up with nothing.
Today you are healthy. Tomorrow you may have dengue, or mal de Chagas.
Today you can travel overseas. It may be the last trip you’re allowed to make.
Right now, you’re reading this blog. In half an hour, the lights might go out.
I guess it helps explain why, in the midst of a precarious reality, one clings to family. Friends. Booze. Religion. Santería. Government handouts.
It helps to deal with the precariousness.
– Juan Nagel is a writer for Caracas Chronicles, the place for opposition-leaning-but-not-insane analysis of the Venezuelan political scene since 2002.
Have you ever wanted to own a pet lion, but your wife won’t let you keep a 500-pound cat of prey in the house?
Well, Nicaragua’s national zoo is offering the next best thing. For a slight sponsorship fee ($35,000 to build a lion pit and $100 in monthly cat chow bills), the Nicaragua Zoo will let you name their new lion after yourself – and they’ll take care of cage cleanup for free.
“We’ll send photos and letters to let the sponsor know how their lion is doing,” says Marina Argüello, director of the Nicaragua Zoo. As an added visitation perk for the benefactor, Ms. Argüello also seems open to the idea of waiving the 15 córdoba ($0.64) park entrance fee.
The unnamed African lion, which came to Nicaragua thanks to a transoceanic cat swap that sent a pair of local tigrillos to the Berlin Zoo, is the newest resident of Nicaragua’s surprisingly engaging zoo and animal rescue center on Kilometer 16 of the Carretera Masaya.
The globe-trotting feline also has the delightful distinction of being one of the original 23 passengers on Blue Panorama’s lonely inaugural flight from Italy last week. That alone, perhaps, explains why the flight was so empty (if you had an African lion sitting behind you on the plane, you’d also want to put about 200 empty seats between you and it) and why the in-flight meal offering was “raw gazelle flanks and a side saucer of warm milk.”
The cat’s passage here on the first commercial flight from Rome to Managua also means that, for the time being, a statistically curious 4.3 percent of all visitors who have traveled to Nicaragua directly from Italy fit into the amusingly unexpected category of “African lion.”
A Lion among Ladies
The 14-month-old male lion will soon be pleased to learn that he was brought here to mate with a couple of fetching lionesses donated by the Guatemalan Zoo. To set the mood, zookeepers are already dimming the cage lights and piping in the song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the Lion King soundtrack.
If the romantic rendezvous are successful, it will be the first time African lions have been bred in captivity in Central America, according to Argüello. A previous attempt in Nicaragua to breed a pair of elderly ring lions rescued from a traveling circus produced sad results, Argüello says.
But with a virile young lion king and a couple of flirty feline friends, the zoo is expectant about the love-connection possibilities. Still, considering the zoo doesn’t have enough money to provide for one lion, much less a plentiful pride, Argüello says the number of conjugal visits will be limited until some sort of sustainable financial plan or foster-care program is put into place.
Given Nicaragua’s financial limitations, scraping together another $35,000-plus in lion money won’t be an easy task. The government, historically, has not taken too much interest in providing for its animal friends. In 2003, the National Assembly temporarily cut all funding for the zoo, forcing the animals to take an unexpected hunger strike that ended after public outrage shamed lawmakers into once again providing a modest food stipend for their more loveable counterparts in the animal kingdom (Some pundits suggested that an acceptable – and perhaps preferred – alternative to congressional funding would have been to let the animals loose in the National Assembly, to thin the herd, so to speak. Then, as the big cats licked their whiskers and slept off a heavy meal, the monkeys could try legislating for a while and Nicaragua would welcome an unprecedented moment of peace, prosperity, and rule of law.)
The government currently provides about 40 percent of the zoo’s annual operating budget of $435,000, according to Argüello. The rest of the money comes from the private sector and other friends of the zoo.
Still, Argüello is hopeful that someone – or some business – with a fondness for felines will come forward and sponsor the new African kitty and his leonine appetite, before he sets his sights on the tapir’s cage.
To sponsor a lion, write zoo director Marina Argüello at email@example.com.
– A version of this story ran on the author's site, nicaraguadispatch.com.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.
While the international media had a heyday with strange news tidbits from Brazil's prisons, few have explored the complexities of the country's incarceration system. There are a number of policies and programs in place to try to protect prisoners' rights and reduce the inmate population, though a new penal code could have important implications for the overburdened prison system.
Estimated at around 500,000, Brazil's prisoner population is the fourth-largest in the world. The inmate population tripled in the last 15 years. Many prisons are overcrowded, with an estimated deficit of 200,000 spots for prisoners. At present, the country's prison population is 66 percent larger than the actual system has room for. Terrible conditions and human rights abuses are frequently cited as consequences of overcrowding. (Corruption of prison guards is also a problem, allowing drug traffickers to continue operating with impunity, sometimes from thousands of kilometers away.)
So in order to contain the prisoner population, many new policies are focused on reducing the number of prisoners and shortening sentences. But it's important to note that while some of prisoner programs and policies might be considered innovative by some, in Brazil – where crime affects the daily life of much of the population – much of public opinion tends to be against prisoners' rights.
The big news over the past two weeks comes out of a prison in a small town in Minas Gerais, where jailmates ride stationary bikes to create electricity and earn reduced sentences. The idea is for the inmates – who range from petty thieves to murderers – to be productive, make the town safer by providing electricity for public lighting, and theoretically, to reduce recidivism and the overcrowded prison population.
Another story that came out recently is about a program that offers reduced sentences to inmates who read books, and prove they've read them by writing reports. Called Redemption through Reading, the program will be launched at four high-security prisons with some of the country's most hardened criminals. Federal prisons are also offering education programs to reduce sentences by going back to school.
There are already policies in place that seek to protect prisoners' rights and try to reduce recidivism. Perhaps one of the most controversial policies is that of the "prisoner's grant." Called the auxílio-reclusão, dependents of prisoners serving time receive up to R$915 ($449 USD) per family per month. In order to qualify for the benefit, the prisoner must be a contributor to the social security system, and cannot be working or earn a salary from a former job. He cannot receive money from a pension or sick leave, either. Also, the inmate must have earned equal or less than $449 at his most recent job. In other words, the program targets low-income families of prisoners.
It's an incredibly controversial program, since those opposed not only disagree with the state supporting criminals' families, but also the fact that the monthly amount is more than the minimum wage, which stands at R$622 ($305 USD) nationally. Because of the growing prison population, the government's expenditures on this program increased by 60 percent from 2006 to 2009. Those opposed to the program also argue it rewards and even incentivizes crime. Last year, a congressman introduced a bill to prohibit the auxílio-reclusão to families of criminals convicted of rape, murder, and drug trafficking.
Next, there's the right to intimate visits, which are guaranteed to all prisoners, regardless of crime or sentence, by law. (There's an interesting National Geographic special on this topic, which you can watch here and here.) The law also accounts for gay couples. The idea is that these visits help prisoners' mental health and can potentially reduce recidivism. There are also work programs, which enable prisoners to reduce sentences through employment. There are even entrepreneurship programs that encourage prisoners to start their own businesses while still in prison.
But over the coming months, a new penal code could have an impact on Brazil's prison system. Currently under development in the Senate, the code is one of the most important pieces of legislation that will be under consideration during Dilma [Rousseff]'s presidency. Along with altering punishment and sentences for an array of crimes, the new code could increase the maximum sentence. Currently, the maximum sentence a prisoner can serve is 30 years, regardless of the crime committed. Under the new code, this could increase to 40 years. Another big change is the proposal to reduce the age of criminal responsibility. Currently, it's 18 years of age in Brazil, but the new code could reduce the age to 13. A separate bill is under consideration in the Senate to reduce the age to 16, and could be voted on this year. While legislators hope the new penal code could discourage crime, it will undoubtedly have an impact on the size of the prisoner population, making prison policy even more critical over the next few years.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Caracas Chronicles. The views expressed are the author's own.
The government is implementing gasoline rationing in Venezuela’s border states.
The way they are doing it is by installing a chip on each vehicle. The idea is to put a maximum weekly limit on the number of liters each car can purchase. The chip is already in place in the border state of Táchira, and is currently being rolled out in Zulia, another border state. Twitter is aflame with rumors it will soon be mandatory nationwide. Andrés Rojas from El Nacional thinks it’s gonna happen.
As with all rationing schemes, this one is bound to have, shall we say, “unintended consequences.” These are ripe for cutting edge economic research. Here are a few that I can think of, off the top of my head:
1. When the black market for gasoline appears (“when,” not “if”), we will learn the actual market price for gas. We can then use that to estimate the exact amount of the gas subsidy. We can also see how the black market varies between, say, Maracaibo (which is far away from non-rationing states) and El Venado (which is right on the edge of a non-rationing state).
2. Since the price of gas has been fixed for years, we really don’t know what the elasticity of demand for gas – the percentage change in demand when prices rise – in Venezuela is. The appearance of a black market can provide us with data to estimate this.
3. If each chip goes on a vehicle, this creates a perverse incentive: buy more cars, and you can buy more gas. So it would be interesting to see what the effect on the demand for cars is thanks to the appearance of the chip. It would also be nice to see if the demand for public transportation increases, and how this increase compares to the increased demand for cars.
4. There will now be a greater incentive for people to steal cars and/or chips. It would be interesting to see how the rationing scheme affects crime.
5. For those people living in border communities between states that ration and states that don’t, how far will they be willing to drive to get extra gas? We could measure the increase in demand for gas in border states, and weigh that against the distance and time people are willing to spend to get cheaper gas, to calculate the cost of time and distance per person. It could assist us in calculating the cost of traffic.
These are just off the top of my head. Any others you can think of?
– Juan Nagel is a writer for Caracas Chronicles, the place for opposition-leaning-but-not-insane analysis of the Venezuelan political scene since 2002.
President Obama minimized the national security impact that Venezuelan President Chavez has had on the United States, with his campaign saying, "Hugo Chavez has become increasingly marginalized and his influence has waned. It’s baffling that Mitt Romney is so scared of a leader like Chavez whose power is fading...." The Romney campaign and its surrogates have come out full force on Chavez's friendships with Iran and ties to various terrorist and criminal groups.
The biggest problem in Venezuela, however, is not ties to Iran or the degradation of democracy, it's the lack of citizen security. The numbers from the first six months of 2012 show 9,510 murders took place in Venezuela. That's 52 murders per day, putting the country on pace for 68 murders per 100,000 population by the end of the year. Those numbers make the country one of the top two most violent in the world (along with Honduras).
For comparison, Venezuela's murder rate will be three to four times higher than Mexico's and the total number of murders will be higher than Mexico's, even with a quarter of the population. Venezuela has over twice the rate of killings in Colombia, which is classified as being in a state of internal armed conflict.
Those murders in Venezuela aren't a direct national security threat to the United States, but they are a sign of a weak government incapable of completing the most basic of tasks. It is a threat to Venezuelans, who must live with the violence, and to Venezuela's neighbors, who must worry about the violence and weapons spilling across its borders.
President Obama is correct that Chavez has not had a significant national security impact on the US in recent years and that his influence is waning. But we should be concerned about what the post-Chavez environment in Venezuela will look like, whether it occurs this year or later in the decade. Once the political distraction of its clownish leader is gone, the realization that Venezuela is facing levels of violence on par with an internal armed conflict may well be an issue that the hemisphere cannot ignore.
The leftist candidate in Mexico's presidential election has formally filed a challenge to the July 1 presidential race – and most Mexicans won't be happy about it, at least according to a new poll out in the daily Reforma.
Yet the same poll shows that a significant portion of Mexicans surveyed believe the race was dirty, either somewhat or very much so.
The challenge filed just before a midnight deadline Thursday by leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who also contested the 2006 presidential race after he lost that election, could hurt the image of his Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), especially among those who say the candidate cannot accept democratic defeat. Yet amid deep skepticism over the functionality of democracy, his pushback against the the win of Enrique Peña Nieto, who hails from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is creating a “watchdog” culture that could ultimately help Mexicans regain more faith in their democracy as the PRI, which once ruled Mexico for 71 years straight with a tainted democratic record, comes back into power.
The court has until Sept. 6 to resolve the complaint, and the results are unlikely to be overturned, as some of Mr. Lopez Obrador's central accusations – such as the PRI was buying votes on election day – are so hard to prove.
Peña Nieto was poised to win the race by a landslide, but in the end the margin of victory was much smaller than expected. Lopez Obrador, who lost the race by about 6 percentage points, says that the PRI used illicit funds to buy votes and usher Mr. Peña Nieto into power. One particular scandal has broken out over gift cards for a supermarket chain in Mexico City allegedly handed out by the PRI in exchange for votes. The left has also said that the television industry exhibited mass bias in their favorable coverage of Peña Nieto leading into the race. Lopez Obrador already demanded a recount directly following the announcement of election results, which Mexico's electoral institute carried out, deeming Peña Nieto's win valid.
And yet Lopez Obrador has forged forward in disputing the race.
In a poll published in Thursday's edition of Mexico's leading newspaper, two-thirds of Mexicans said that Lopez Obrador should accept the results of the race. Among his followers, the number nof those who feel he should accept the results is much smaller, but it's still a majority, at 56 percent.
Lopez Obrador has been deemed the ultimate “sore loser” by his foes. When he lost the race in 2006 by a razor-thin margin, he declared fraud and shut down parts of downtown Mexico City with a six-week street protest.
Yet the Reforma poll also captures long-held skepticism about politics and suspicions that dirty tricks still persist: 40 percent in the same poll say the race was either somewhat or very tainted.
The mixed sentiments reflected in the Reforma poll – 40 percent say the race may have been unfair, yet 76 percent want the results to remain standing – can be interpreted in many ways. Do Mexicans trust their democracy or not? Are politics clean? Do systems work? The answers are both yes and no.
But for those who feared that a return of the PRI would mean a return to the past, Lopez Obrador and others questioning Peña Nieto's mandate could be playing an important “preventive” role. The PRI has long maintained it represents a new generation of leaders committed to democracy. Many Mexicans said they would have to wait to see how the PRI rules in power to judge if that's really true or not. But the vote-buying allegations, street protests, and now Lopez Obrador's lawsuit could mean that the test is already under way.
Retired Colombian police chief General Oscar Naranjo makes a sexy choice as a security adviser for Mexico's President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, but the bureaucratic and political challenges Naranjo will face in Mexico may surprise him and strangle his attempts to reform the country's security forces.
Naranjo is highly qualified for the job, having already lived through the transformation of a discredited police force. In the 1980s, when Naranjo was a sprite, young officer, Colombia's police looked eerily similar to Mexico's: almost completely at the service of the narcos. These days, Colombia's police are a model for the region. They train police forces around the hemisphere, and Naranjo's appointment as Peña Nieto's security chief is the crowning moment of this reach.
The single greatest achievement during the reform period was Colombia's development of the most sophisticated and effective police intelligence service in the region. As the head of the intelligence branch for years, Naranjo was at the forefront of that reform.
This experience goes beyond understanding how to create a professional police force. Naranjo has also worked very closely with corrupt police officers and has been accused on more than one occasion of being corrupt himself.
One of his colleagues from the force, Danilo Gonzalez, became the head of a criminal enterprise of current and ex-officers known as the Devil's Cartel. Gonzalez was killed in 2004. Other colleagues have been or are now facing extradition to the United States to confront drug trafficking charges.
So Naranjo knows how awkward it is to work every day with people you do not trust and gently ease them to the door to minimize the harm they can do. This is essential, though rarely acknowledged, to any reform effort, and something that Mexico has begun, albeit halfheartedly and in a piecemeal manner.
Naranjo also understands the job. He knows how to walk the fine line of pleasing his boss (the president) and his benefactors (the United States). He is political without coming across as a politician.
He knows and understands the press better than any other police commander in the region. To cite just one example, Naranjo himself broke the news that his brother (repeat: HIS BROTHER) was to be charged with drug trafficking in Germany, thereby controlling the story.
However, in a strange way, Naranjo has had it easy in Colombia. For nearly a decade, he was the commander of a large national police force. Colombia has about 180,000 national police officers. Naranjo also controlled the different branches, from intelligence to special operations.
He could move his troops, helicopters and intelligence infrastructure at his own discretion. He could focus on a leader or a logistics hub. He could centralize his databases and other streams of information. He could marginalize his worst and most corrupt personnel, and maximize the use of his best and most honest officers.
Colombia has also been receptive to outside assistance, much more so than Mexico. This means money, equipment and technical assistance came over a period of decades. There are, of course, limitations to this aid, and Colombians eventually understood they needed to take command, rather than "depending" on the gringos. The results are obvious: the lifespan of a Colombian capo these days is measured in weeks, not years.
In Mexico, Naranjo will be looking at a very different scenario. Mexico, a country with more than double Colombia's population, has 450,000 police, but only 32,000 are at the national level. The rest are mostly state and municipal officers, technically out of federal purview or control.
Perhaps more daunting is Mexico's political climate. The sectarian nature of Mexican politics has made security policy a real wild card. Peña Nieto will most likely continue much of what the current administration started, albeit in a more subtle and quiet manner. But other things, such as police reform, will almost surely be shelved as Peña Nieto's party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), settles into power in 21 of the country's 32 states.
Current President Felipe Calderon has unsuccessfully pushed to nationalize the police, and would settle for having the states absorb the municipal police forces. But neither will happen before his term ends in December, and the PRI is federalist to the core, making reform next to impossible in the next six years.
Naranjo may be able to help some to implement reform on the local level. But so far, these attempts have been politically and tactically challenging, and maybe even counterproductive. Purges have left areas undefended or pushed former cops right into the hands of the criminals (perhaps officializing already existing relationships).
Naranjo will also be staring at a different organizational chart and some political battles that may make his time rotating chairs in Colombia (he bypassed several higher-ranked generals to become police commander, for example, forcing those above him to retire) seem like a walk in the park.
In Colombia, the police is part of the Defense Ministry. However, in Mexico, the police is part of the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) and compete with the Defense Ministry and the Attorney General's Office, among others, for resources, prestige, and information. The result is that the security and judicial forces in Mexico do not trust each other and do not work very well together. Within this context, the SSP, which has been the greatest beneficiary of new security monies under Calderon, is seen as the "spoiled child" of the current administration.
This battle plays out on various levels, including over who controls intelligence, the exact area where Naranjo could do his best work. But the new PRI government (and its allies in the military) seem sure to make the SSP, a target for "reform," i.e., debilitate it by stripping it of resources, mandate, and intelligence capabilities. That was clear from Peña Nieto's first declarations in which he talked of an army-generated special forces unit.
A weakened SSP could make the police a second option in the strategy to fight organized crime. And this may be Naranjo's and Mexico's biggest challenge: keeping police reform and its forces at the forefront of the security side of the anti-crime equation.
– Steven Dudley is a director at Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.