MANAGUA – Efforts by President Daniel Ortega to involve his controversial Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs) in the work of the National Police are raising concerns that the Sandinista Front is trying to make new inroads into an organization that was born of revolutionary roots in the 1980s and has since made strides to become a non-partisan and professional institution.
Ortega, who has criticized the police in past months for losing the mysticism and ethical values of their revolutionary counterparts, has called on the National Police to work with the CPCs to fight “a battle” on crime and citizen insecurity.
“The incorporation of the people [in police work] is fundamental,” Ortega said in November during the creation of the National Commission of Citizen Security, which will coordinate the CPCs’ work with police. “This is the starting point in this battle… We have 10,000 police and 29,160 citizens, which is to say we have a total of 39,160 people – still not enough to fight this battle.”
The CPCs are neighborhood groups that have been set up by the Sandinistas all across the country under the banner of “direct democracy.” Critics, however, worry that they harken back to the days of the infamous Sandinista Defense Committees, which were the “eyes and ears of the revolution.”
National Police Commissioner Aminta Granera, a former Sandinista guerrilla, shares Ortega’s enthusiasm for involving the CPCs in police work. She says that the security issues facing Nicaragua today are dramatically different from the days of the war and former National Security Doctrine from the 1980s.
Today, she said, the focus is on citizen security, which requires a new approach to police work that is both preventive and proactive.
“In Nicaragua, with the focus of this President of Citizen Power, where the people are president, it’s the community that needs to define security needs and priorities,” Granera said, echoing Ortega’s political language.
Yet not everyone thinks it’s a good idea for the National Police to work too closely with the CPCs.
Roberto Cajina, a security and defense consultant, warned that the National Police could jeopardize its public credibility if it gets too involved with Ortega’s partisan project. He says that the police is still a young organization that is in the process of solidifying itself as a professional institution, and that getting involved with the CPCs, which are run by Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo, could create a sticky situation that may confuse the chain of command.
Cajina said it’s still too early to determine how the relationship between the police and the CPCs will evolve, but warns that there’s a risk the situation could mutate into one similar to the experience of the Sandinista Defense Committees, which started as neighborhood watch groups in the early 1980s but quickly transformed into neighborhood spy groups that keep tabs on political enemies.
Some experts have been more straightforward in their criticism of the CPCs’ collaboration with police, warning that the citizen councils could act as a “Trojan Horse” for Ortega to insert his Sandinista project back within the framework of the National Police.
“This is part of Ortega’s attempts to reconquer the police and win influence within the institution,” said Roberto Orozco, a security analyst with the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy.
Orozco notes that the majority of the police’s high command, most of whom are former Sandinista guerrilla commanders, are scheduled to retire in the next two years.
According to law, police officers must retire after 30 years of service, and many of the Sandinista officers have now been in uniform for the entire 28 years since the police were founded.
Although officers are no longer allowed to be openly partisan, it is no secret that many police – and most commanding officers –identify as Sandinistas. Orozco said that the president appears to be trying to play upon those revolutionary sympathies in an attempt to gain greater influence and space within the institution for his political project.
Oddly enough, one of Ortega’s tactics for doing this is by reprimanding the police for losing the values of the Sandinista revolution.
“The police and army came from the revolution with a great mysticism, but in the last 16 years of neoliberalism and savage capitalism, there has been a decomposition everywhere, we have to admit it,”Ortega said during his Jan. 10 State of the Nation address.
Some police officers today, “independent of their values as revolutionaries and fighters, began to fall into the clutches of this decomposition.”
Ortega added, “Our goal has to be to reinstall the police with ethics, morality and economic resources.”
In doing so, Orozco warned, Ortega could also be trying to reinstall the police with a sense of political calling that goes beyond their institutional loyalty to the president.
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Civil society groups, which have been leery of the CPCs since the beginning, claim that Ortega is reinventing the wheel by trying to involve his citizen councils in police work.
Other community organizations, such as the Social Crime Prevention Committees, are already organized in neighborhoods around the country. The crime prevention committees are 15,000 members strong and have been working with the National Police for more than a decade.
Commissioner Granera acknowledged the tension between the neighborhood watch groups. She said the leaders of the existing crime prevention committees have told her the CPCs “want to take our jobs away.”
Granera said she tells them, “It’s not about taking your jobs away. Here we all have to unite and work together.”
Elías Chévez, head delegate of the CPCs in Managua, also insists the citizen councils will not be attempting to replace other neighborhood watch groups, rather complement their work.
Chévez told The Nica Times that the CPCs will “speak in name of citizens to reestablish relations with the National Police and other institutions, such as the army.”
However, the details of that relationship remain foggy, which has security experts skeptical.
“The police still haven’t said clearly how this relationship will work,” said defense consultant Cajina. “There is a lack of transparency and information about all this.”