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Latin America Blog

Exporting Nicaragua's citizen security model

Nicaragua could be a citizen security model for other Central American countries to imitate, but some elements are harder to transfer than others, writes guest blogger Hannah Stone.

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“Our policing model is a model that is preventative, proactive, communitarian, deeply rooted in the heart of the community, and I think that that is its greatest strength, and that is what makes the difference,” she told the press last year (in Spanish). The force was created after the Sandinistas took power in 1979, replacing the National Guard of the Somoza regime, and police officials like to say that it arose from the people, and has maintained a close connection with them (in Spanish).

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Some voices have highlighted structural advantages in the Nicaraguan security forces. Francisco Javier Bautista Lara, former deputy director of the force, has pointed to institutional factors as one of the reasons for its security successes, saying that both the army and the police have a high degree of stability compared to other countries in the region (link in Spanish). He cited Guatemala as a country with a particularly high rate of turnover in police leadership, which means that there is less continuity in policies, and prevents office-holders from building up experience.

He also said that a factor in the success of the Nicaraguan model is that decisions on leadership and promotions were not influenced by political considerations, making the police force more professional and free from outside influences. This statement is extremely dubious, given the highly-charged atmosphere of Nicaraguan politics. Indeed, Bautista’s own promotion to deputy director in 2001, by then-President Arnoldo Aleman, was described by some as a product of his loyalty to the authorities rather than his professional achievements.

Granera’s position has also been closely linked to the country's turbulent politics, with US cables released by WikiLeaks revealing deep divisions between her and the president. In a 2009 cable embassy staff posited that Ortega keeping Granera in the post might be a way to “keep his friends close and his enemies closed away,” to prevent her from emerging as a political rival. Her re-appointment as police chief in 2011 was surrounded by questions over the political motives, with speculation that Granera, who herself fought with the Sandinista guerrillas in the 1970s, had made some sort of deal with Ortega.

It seems safe to say, then, that insulation from politics is not a factor behind the success of Nicaragua’s security policies.

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