Perez Molina and Ortega's political differences mask similarities on crime
Both Guatemalan President-elect Otto Perez Molina, a former general, and Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, a former leftist rebel leader, are apt to rely on military power to fight crime.
(Page 2 of 2)
But while both leaders have sketchy pasts and questionable allies, they also seem to have decent relations with the United States when it comes to fighting organized crime. Perez Molina's Patriotic Party worked closely with the embassy to draft and pass new anti-crime legislation in recent years, as well as to annul the appointment of the new head of the Institute for Public Criminal Defenders who was suspected of collusion with organized crime.Skip to next paragraph
In surprise landslide, Jamaican opposition wins back power
Parading back to Rio de Janeiro: the bookish and brainy
After dramatic 2011 in Cuba, will US-Cuban policy shift in 2012?
Boom goes the churro: Chilean court upholds damages for exploding sweets
Why did Hugo Chavez spam Venezuelans on Christmas?
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Ortega frequently criticizes the US government in public but maintains a steady relationship with the "Northern Giant" in private. The US State Department recently qualified its relations with the Nicaraguan Navy, for instance, as "excellent," and the US has given Nicaragua close to $40 million in anti-narcotics aid since 2007, a year after Ortega was elected president.
Both Perez Molina's and Ortega's governments will rely on the military to fight organized crime. Perez Molina's "mano dura," or "iron fist," policy has a heavy military component. According to an interview he gave Plaza Publica, this includes allowing the military to purge itself of corruption, something many people believe will be a difficult, if not impossible, task. Perez Molina argues that the military is the only institution that is equipped to do such a purge, but many worry about intelligence service's long history as a force of repression and, later, a virtual recruiting center and staging area for the CIACS.
Ortega has steadily increased his relationship with the military, culminating the naming of a former general as his vice president. He also exercises a tight control over the police, a policy which has been given a lot of the credit for keeping murder rates lower than in the rest of the region.
Enforcement, however, is only a small part of the equation. Both presidents will inherit deeply suspect and strained judicial systems. In Guatemala, for instance, extradition proceedings are currently stalled for at least six major criminal figures who are wanted for drug trafficking in the United States.
Unfortunately, both presidents have shown they may prioritize politics over justice. Perez Molina has been critical of the country's Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and has hinted that he may remove her before the end of her five year term.
Ms. Paz y Paz has jailed dozens of suspected high-level criminals, including over 40 members of feared Mexican gang the Zetas. In addition, she has been an outspoken proponent of the trials implicating former military officers in abuses during the civil war.
Perez Molina has also been critical of, and appears ready to cut support for, the United Nations' judicial body, known by its acronym CICIG, which has helped investigate some of the country's most powerful criminal organizations, train prosecutors and police, and modernize the country's legal code.
For his part, Ortega's rebel past seems to be interfering with his own ability to administer justice. Several guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) gained political asylum during his first term.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.