Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 298 | Mayo 2006



Do We Have the Police We Deserve?

The murder of “underworld king” Jerónimo Polanco has revealed a whole load of murky and hidden affairs that leave Nicaragua’s National Police highly compromised. It must resolve this crime satisfactorily if it is to clean up its image. But even that may not be enough.

William Grigsby

Two bloody events have again called Nicaragua’s National Police into question. The inadequate training of police agents and officers, which has focused on an ethical response but should perhaps stress self-protection better, was demonstrated on February 15 when a furious peasant in Juigalpa, department of Chontales, killed a police captain and wounded two officers who were trying to disarm him. Then on March 30, Managua police chief Carlos Bendaña’s private driver was linked with a horrific murder; the identity of the victim only added to the media frenzy.

Both cases provided lessons and raised questions. But one thing’s for sure: Nicaragua’s police force is having a tough time internally and could become the next victim of the corruption invading our state institutions. There’s still time to sort things out, but a number of members of the force—including some very high level officers—are providing examples of the perverse consequences of neoliberalism.

Persuade before shooting, but keep a distance

The Juigalpa tragedy didn’t just demonstrate weaknesses, it also revealed the noble nature of many police officers. The head of internal affairs in Chontales, 31-year-old Lieutenant Pablo Antonio Bonilla, was killed when trying to talk 29-year-old Carlos Antonio Dávila into handing over a knife and giving himself up quietly. Dávila had turned up at the station bent on harming his wife, who had gone there to report his previous violent behavior against her.

Apparently convinced he had succeeded in talking Dávila around, Lieutenant Bonilla approached him. It was a fatal error: the crazed man stabbed him to death and managed to wound another two officers from the Police’s Judicial Aid Department before being downed by two shots fired by another officer who came to his comrades’ defense.

The whole incident was filmed by a local TV crew and carried on national television. Most of the population and some specialists questioned the conduct of the police officers, who “let themselves be killed like idiots.” In any other Latin American country the aggressor would have been gunned down before he’d had a chance to unsheathe his knife, but Lieutenant Bonilla had a different kind of professional training: first try to persuade and only shoot as a last resort.

The unstoppable rise of Jerónimo Polanco

The other case, the murder of Jerónimo Polanco in late March, was diametrically opposed to the tragic events in Juigalpa because of the people involved, the details of what happened and its political consequences.

Most Managuans, men in particular, have heard about the strip joints owned by Jerónimo Polanco and his wife Victoria Ríos, which are all too frequently witness to bloody events. It was also common knowledge that Polanco had amassed a fortune in just 13 years. His most famous strip joint, modestly known as Aquí Polanco [“Here Polanco”], is located in eastern Managua, very close to the Wholesale Market. He was also owner of El Muelle, down at the Lake Managua boardwalk. He obtained the construction permit for the latter in 2001 thanks to his generous donations to the electoral campaign his long-time friend Evert Cárcamo, then Sandinista deputy mayor of Managua.

Years of success allowed Polanco to lavish gifts on relatives, neighbors, friends, police officers and politicians, including Cárcamo and even FSLN general secretary Daniel Ortega. Ortega said that Polanco displayed “solidarity with children and the youth” and although he swore he had never visited Polanco’s establishments, which he described as “places of leisure,” he admitted that Polanco had visited him. “He possibly participated in certain activities here in the Secretariat,” Ortega said, “perhaps on my birthday when we sometimes have a get-together. I was friends with him and his family. He was hard-working, and a man of great solidarity. He cooperated with the FSLN wherever possible.”

Like thousands of other Managua residents, Polanco migrated to the capital from Nicaragua’s countryside. He left his hometown of Teustepe in Boaco at an early age in search of fame and fortune. Cárcamo recalls meeting him in Jalapa in the eighties when he was selling mattresses. He moved to Managua to set up a mattress repair business in which his wife did the mending work. He also sold car lubricants and provided vehicle maintenance in a modest palm-leaf hut. He liked to talk about how he had got where he was and claimed to have started his businesses by borrowing some money to buy a bottle of liquor that he sold on to someone who purchased lubricants from him. In 1993 he decided to put out some chairs and tables and offer beer, rum and food prepared by his wife. Within a year the business was so good they needed waiters and two years later he’d put up a two-story joint where women of all ages stripped to exotic music, although many claim that the “exotic dancers” also double as sex workers.

“I heard it was a policeman, Lieutenant Chavarría, who gave him the idea of setting up a strip joint,” says Polanco’s cousin Nemesia González, who was his business administrator for 12 years. The lieutenant was working at the time in the District 6 Police Station, which covers the area where Aquí Polanco was located. Nemesia says Chavarría also taught the practically illiterate Polanco to sign his own name.

Jerónimo Polanco was shot to death by four .38 caliber rounds on March 28. His half-burned body was found 24 hours later on the Puente Seco bridge on the old highway to León. His widow identified him the following day.

Commisioner Bendaña:
“I have nothing to do with it”

Why has the National Police force been so compromised by a crime involving such a character? Because the principals, Byron Centeno and Lenín Calderón, are directly linked to Managua police chief Commissioner Carlos Bendaña. The former is his 21-year-old personal driver and apparently murdered Polanco with his boss’ revolver and the latter is the son of William Calderón, a murky character linked both professionally and personally to Bendaña. And not least because the victim had close ties not only with the FSLN leadership but also with high-ranking police officers. Some say Polanco was one of many “friends” who “helped” police chiefs out monetarily in return for special protection for himself and his clubs.

The crime was at least partially resolved because Bendaña turned in his own driver. According to Bendaña, Commissioner Francisco Díaz, his buddy, asked him to attend Victoria Ríos when she came to report her husband’s disappearance. As Bendaña tells it, “I told Polanco’s wife that I hadn’t been with him or called him. She gave me the telephone number from which he had made his last call and it turned out to be my driver’s number.” Bendaña says that as soon as he verified that he called his superiors to tell them, and turned in his driver. He said the gun was given to him in El Cazador, an arms shop belonging to former Sandinista leader Carlos Zamora, although he’d never registered it and kept it in the glove compartment of the vehicle driven by Centeno. “You have my total assurance that I have nothing to do with this,” declared Bendaña. “I’ve always tried to do my police work as well as possible and Mr. Polanco has sullied it a little.”

According to Bendaña, Centeno’s “credentials” were what convinced him to hire the young man as his personal driver. Centeno was a frustrated army officer who got into the Police Academy thanks to personal contacts with the head of the institution, but he never completed his studies because of his violent character and stubborn indiscipline, among other reasons. He was also a good friend of Lenín Calderón, whose father William didn’t hesitate to recommend him to Bendaña. If that wasn’t enough, Centeno is also related to a police commissioner nobody wants to identify.

Friends, loans, connections...

Bendaña denies being Polanco’s friend. “Not a friend, more of an acquaintance. He was here once donating zinc for a housing project for police officers,” he recalls. But he did admit that they had once gone for lunch together, among other social meetings.

Polanco’s lawyer and representative Danilo Guido backed this up. He says Polanco and Bendaña had met less than a year ago under circumstances that speak volumes. Polanco asked Bendaña to reconsider a decision by Deputy Commissioner Roxana Rocha, head of Managua’s District 2 Police Station and sister of Bendaña’s predecessor as Managua police chief, to suspend the operating license for Polanco’s El Muelle bar. In exchange, Bendaña allegedly asked Polanco to “help” him repair a number of patrol cars, but Guido doesn’t believe this had any bearing on the bar’s reopening because when they went to the police station the case had already been decided in their favor.

Whether she was aware of it or not, Deputy Commissioner Rocha had received money borrowed from Polanco on at least three occasions. Commissioner Aminta Granera, the National Police Inspector General, says that Rocha had already paid back two of the loans before the bar was closed and she went to pay off the third as soon as she realized who had actually lent the money.

The father of Rocha’s secretary had a woman friend, also a police officer, who knew Polanco. Based on the declarations of Rocha and this officer, Granera said the two women thus went together to pay the third loan, but Polanca told them it was a gift to them both, so they split it between them. Granera claims that when Rocha closed El Muelle, “Polanco exclaimed, ‘This is incredible! How can Commissioner Rocha do this to me when I’ve been so good to her?’ When Roxana realized that the person who’d loaned her the money was Polanco, she lost her temper and told the other officer, ‘Go give him back the money right away’.... So rather than denigrating Commissioner Rocha, she should be used as an example for other police officers because any time she borrowed money she paid it back when she received her paycheck. And when she realized it was Polanco, she gave the money back.”

Favors, “help,” extortion...

There’s a long history of “favors” between the police and Polanco. One investigative report published in the weekly bulletin Confidencial explained that Polanco was involved in traffic accidents, fights in his bars, sexual exploitation of under-age girls and staying open after hours in his strip joints, “but the Police never investigated him, even though the evidence was often obvious.”

The report added that “Polanco had close relations with a wide range of police officers, from patrolmen, special brigades members and district officers on up to deputy commissioners and commissioners, in exchange for favors and preferential treatment in activities linked to his strip joints and his personal life. The links between police officers and the strip joint owner were surprising in some cases. For example, Major Commissioner Carlos Palacios, head of National Police Intelligence, organized an event in the Aquí Polanco strip joint last year for the heads of Central American Police Intelligence.”

Polanco had his own way of resolving problems linked to administrating his bars, which is why on another occasion he looked up Commissioner Bendaña, who introduced him to William Calderón. According to Calderón, “I met Polanco by chance. He had a problem and Commissioner Bendaña was just taking over as police chief in the department of Managua. I remember very well that he was with his lawyer and we talked through him. There was a housing improvement campaign for the poorest police officers and he was asked—I think it was the commissioner who asked him—if he could help. The commissioner asked me if I wanted to follow up on it and I gladly accepted. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

Apparently, Calderón found a way to milk that meeting for his own benefit. According to Polanco’s business administrator, Calderón visited Aquí Polanco once or twice a week over the last year, consumed a lot of liquor and food, then left without paying, saying he was a police commissioner. That led to Calderón’s detention for a few days on suspicion of extortion, but he was released due to “insufficient evidence.”

Centeno and Calderón:
A profile of the killers

Calderón’s son Lenín is apparently a chip off the old block. On November 5, 2004, the newsdaily El Nuevo Diario published a photo in which he appeared as one of several thugs armed with AK rifles who had been hired to evict the occupants of a lot on Guasacate Beach in Tola. A month later, he visited relatives of the correspondent who reported the news and left the following message: “Tell him to watch his back because of what he’s published and the photo he took of me. He doesn’t know who he’s getting mixed up with.”

Other sources confirm Lenín’s “professional” nature. A former girlfriend, who chooses to remain anonymous, says that she split up with him after realizing the nature of his “work.” “People would look for William,” she said, “but he always sent Lenín and other boys who came to the house to do the work.” Among the boys, she identified Centeno, the other person linked to Polanco’s murder.

Lenín’s political and social links had also diversified thanks in part to his friendship with Bendaña. For example, El Nuevo Diario reported that he got a job in the National Port Authority with a 30,000 córdoba salary, although nobody seems to know exactly what he was being paid to do. He was expressly recommended by Commissioner Bendaña, who at the time was head of the Economic Investigations Department, which deals with “white collar” crime.

As for Bendaña’s driver Centeno, an incident that took place in early February demonstrates his violent nature of as well as the trust and protection he enjoyed from Managua’s police chief. According to Miguel Mendoza, a veteran sports reporter for Radio La Primerísima, Centeno, whom Mendoza had never seen before, damaged his vehicle during an argument in the parking lot of a casino that shows live boxing fights on giant television screens.

Centeno got so angry that he took out a pistol and threatened Mendoza and his family. Others intervened and managed to calm Centeno down, but Mendoza immediately went to the police to press charges. The officers promised to investigate, but the following day, the officer in charge told him that the number plate he’d given didn’t correspond to the vehicle description, an obvious attempt to cover up the incident. The case would have ended there had one of the witnesses not contacted Mendoza and revealed the identity of his aggressor. Mendoza took his complaint directly to Bendaña, who paid for the repairs and promised to reprimand his driver. But Bendaña stopped short of firing Centeno, although his behavior definitely merited it.

The Commissioner himself has used underhanded procedures to resolve family problems. In early April, two officers from Managua’s District 4 Police Station charged that they had been pressured and persecuted for ruling against a nephew of Bendaña’s who was involved in a traffic accident. Deputy officers Luis Felipe Mendoza and Roberto Cruz claim Commissioner Bendaña accused them of corruption in a case that had already been dismissed by the Internal Affairs Department.

All these details are important because they illustrate the perversion of relations between police authorities and the social environment and demonstrate that Commissioner Bendaña’s situation is embarrassing at best. It’s difficult to believe that he wasn’t aware of the “jobs” Lenín was doing and the possible involvement Lenín’s friend Centeno had in them. But his personal situation aside—because his future in the Police has been highly compromised—the real concern has to be over the National Police as an institution. Is this just an isolated case or the sign of a generalized malaise, an institutional trend?

Commissioner Cordero: “We’ll investigate
other officers who were friends with Polanco”

First Commissioner Edwin Cordero, the general director of the National Police, gave Bendaña his full support. Although he said it was absurd that Bendaña had a private driver and not a police one, he added that there was no regulation prohibiting it. “He hasn’t been involved,” said Cordero. “To the contrary, I think his attitude was very positive in this case, because it was through him that his driver’s cell phone number was identified. Unless the investigations show otherwise, we continue to trust in Bendaña and he will therefore remain at his post.” According to Cordero, the Police are still investigating the motive behind the murder, as they are not sure if robbery was the only reason.

“We can’t talk about purity in this organization because values have been deteriorating, but we’re not corrupt and we’re fighting against it,” explained Cordero at a press conference in which for the first time in a long while he was composed and his declarations were carefully made. “We won’t deny that there are bribes and corruption in the Police, but we’re not going to keep allowing this kind of situation. Strong mechanisms have to be established to stop this. We have to investigate not only Commissioner Bendaña, but also other officers who have been mentioned as friends of Polanco. We have to see how far such friendships passed the limit,” he insisted. He also confirmed that the Police receive no-strings-attached contributions from businesses, “and there are people who think that because they gave us 10 gallons of gas we have to act like their own police force. But those who believe that are wrong.”

Commissioner Granera: “Each country
has the police force it deserves”

Commissioner Aminta Granera, one of the strongest candidates to succeed Cordero in September, believes that the facts are being distorted to tar the whole force with the same brush. With some candor, she asked “How many Christians are there in the world, and tell me how many of them live according to the Gospel? Maybe it was different when there were only ten. So we can have 100,000 ethical regulations and 100,000 police doctrines and the problem remains. The laws and the Constitution are continually being violated. That’s an ongoing and eternal struggle. I believe that countries and societies have the police force they deserve. This fight has to be waged by society and by you the media. Really, be constructively critical.”

For Granera, “The most difficult thing is prevention, because corruption through gifts is a double-edged problem: the police officers who accept them are just as guilty as the people who give them. So it’ll be very hard, perhaps even impossible, to stop internal corruption without putting an end to external corruption. This is ongoing, systematic work that requires us to work on perfecting the internal control and prevention mechanisms and strengthening a series of values among our comrades. And we also have to know how to keep our feet on the ground. We’re not angels in here. There are some 8,000 comrades with the same vices and weaknesses as you find outside. But there also many merits and enormous sacrifices. The problem is how to strengthen the positive while purifying and cleansing the negative. It’s a very tough job.”

Political influence, abuse and bribes

Although Commissioner Cordero insists that people who think the National Police is at the service of those who make donations are wrong, it’s hard to draw the line. And often the influences are of a political or public relations nature, not just material or financial donations. For example, there is the case three years ago of a well-known businessman, who was a major stockholder in a bank and a newspaper, who killed someone in a traffic accident and wasn’t even detained as required by law, let alone charged.

More recently, 26-year-old Carlos Roiz and 28-year-old Ernesto Cantillano were killed last December in a gruesome car accident when two vehicles that were racing each other at high speed plowed into their vehicle. Commissioner Bendaña himself admitted that half an hour after the accident he asked Commissioner Javier Obando, who heads Managua’s District 5, to take personal charge of the case, which is an unusual request. Two people well known to the Police happened to be at the scene of the accident: Francisco López, the treasurer and head of the FSLN’s business bloc, and Juan José Úbeda, the party’s chief election monitor.

The driver of one of the two vehicles responsible—a pick-up belonging to the FSLN Secretariat—fled the crash scene. Four hours after the accident, López personally turned a driver who worked for the FSLN’s Channel 4 news program over to the Police, but other eyewitnesses insisted that the real driver was Rafael Ortega Murillo, son of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. Both the false driver presented by López and the other one, who stayed at the scene, were convicted to three years in prison for negligent homicide, but were allowed to serve their sentences in their own homes.

There are also police abuse cases that have not been duly punished. A recent case involved 15-year-old Melvin Elmer Vega from Matagalpa. On the night of February 22, he had the misfortune of crossing paths with two riot cops who were looking for the murderers of a university student. They beat him up then threw him into their pick-up truck, brutally flinging him against its rails. When Melvin proved unable to get down from the pick-up unaided, they forced him down with rifle-butt blows, damaging a kidney enough that he had to have it removed.

Melvin’s mother said that local police chief Major Commissioner Carlos Espinoza did help with the costs of the medical examinations and the operation, but now that her son needs continuing treatment to survive, he told her there is no more money available to help. Espinoza later told the media that the institution has no responsibility towards the youth because the abuse was an individual act committed by those involved. The two officers, members of the Rapid Intervention Groups, are still under investigation.

“A face that makes citizens feel safe”

Although such incidents are increasing, the National Police also has evident virtues and is still the most efficient and least corrupt force in Central America. The Guatemalan, Salvadoran and Honduran police currently compete for first place in corruption in the region.

Another virtue of Nicaragua’s police force is that most of its middle and superior commands have reached beyond an exclusively police-oriented formation to adopt civic values. This explains, for example, the creation and development of Social Crime Prevention Committees, which involve community leaders; their work has been critical to dramatically reducing crime rates in different parts of the country.

According to a report in the official National Police magazine, “The committee members’ work was a determining factor in the police-community combo in which sector heads are immediately informed of criminal activities or illegally armed people in the sector. They are currently working on a number of issues, such as tackling juvenile delinquency by visiting the homes of relatives of young people who are at risk because of involvement in youth gangs to get them concerned about and involved in the problems facing young people.” So while youth gangs are the main public order problem in Guatemala and El Salvador, they are still a marginal one in Nicaragua, except Managua, where a worrying increase has been registered over the last 12 months.

These committees, the first of their kind in Central America, started up about three years ago with the creation of sector heads. According to the Police magazine, “They provide the citizenry a face that offers a sense of security, placing a leader in relation with the population, creating trust so that people take an interest in and concern themselves with expressing their area’s security problems.” Later, with financing from the United Nations, the Police-Community Policy was established in 2002 under the guiding principle that “no police force in the world can work on its own, without the support of the citizenry, no matter how large its budget.” By December 2005, 1,500 Committees with a total of 11,000 members had organized throughout the country.

Major Commissioner Ramón Avellán, who has just left his post as Public Security chief to head the Transit Department, believes that “the police do work that’s not strictly police work because there isn’t anybody else to do it and it needs to be done. For example, the work we do with young people. Together with the municipal governments, the police have organized a number of sports events. This isn’t police work, but we do it to provide a healthy recreation arena for young people. However, in the future we should unload these responsibilities onto other bodies, and the Committees can play an important role in this regard.”

The essential international aid

International collaboration with the National Police has been essential in obtaining such results. For many years organizations like Germany’s GTZ, Sweden’s SIDA and Spain’s AECI have financed programs with different focuses, ranging from strengthening leadership and fostering a gender approach within the institution to constructing suitable buildings in several of the country’s municipalities.

New police installations were recently inaugurated in the municipalities of El Coral and Villa Sandino in the department of Chontales. Swedish cooperation covered the US$223,500 cost, which included surveying and construction work as well as the provision of radio communications equipment, a pick-up truck and motorcycle to help with police work. A few months ago, the Helping Hand foundation from Kansas in the United States delivered $20,000 worth of medicines and equipment to the Police Hospital, and one of First Lady Lila Bolaños’ charity initiatives was to provide breast cancer exams for 120 police women.

According to a GTZ report, German cooperation has helped increase the number of women police officers in the force. Between 1998 and 2005 their numbers rose from 14% to 23.7% in management posts, from 54% to 58% in the administrative sector and from 59.5% to 64.9% in service posts.

An inadequate budget and an outstretched hand

The National Police needs international financial collaboration because it doesn’t have an adequate budget. The government has refused to increase it despite growing social demands for increased public security and order.

This year, the National Police was unable to increase its officers’ monthly salaries to an average of $250 or improve the food they’re given or increase the number of officers, much less acquire more pistols to avoid the use of combat rifles. To cover all this, the institution had asked for a budget of some US$65 million, but only a bit over $41 million was approved. The Police gets 71% of its total budget from the Government Ministry.

Despite everything, it did manage to get a $1.6 million budget line to give its members a 12% salary hike, although even with it a basic police officer’s salary averages only $150. The Police also obtained authorization for the Social Security and Human Development Institute (ISSDHU) to finance the construction of police stations in Ocotal, Ciudad Sandino, Tipitapa and Bluefields.

In addition, according to the 2006 Budget Law, the Police will receive additional funds, including 50% of the money it collects in fines and 75% of the amount it receives for transit-related fees and services, auctioning off confiscated goods, payment for police services, permits and licenses and other income “resulting from National Police activities.” In practice, that adds up to over $3.9 million, but exactly what it will be spent on has not been made public.

Given the lack of resources, local police chiefs have to ask the mayor’s office or shop owners to provide money or in-kind resources to guarantee fuel and food for the officers who will guarantee order during the saint’s day celebrations in their municipality.

If this is what the institution has to do to fulfill its obligations, things are even worse when it comes to the working conditions of police agents and officers. While salaries have improved in recent years, with an officer now earning a lot more than a teacher, the same can’t be said of social benefits such as housing, scholarships, recreation and psychological attention. Despite the leadership’s refusal to admit it, the precarious situation of police officers makes them easy prey for the politically or economically powerful.

“Committees of friends of the police”

One example of “private cooperation” with the Police is the famous “committees of friends,” which consist almost exclusively of businesspeople or hacienda owners from a given municipality or sector of the country. Representatives from such committees in 18 municipalities, meeting for the second time in Boaco, reaffirmed their support for the work of the National Police in “defending the strengthening of Police-community relations.”

It’s hard to miss the hint of cynicism in the declarations made by conservative businessman Walter Zavala, the president of these committees, about their presumably healthy intentions. “We don’t know anything about bribes or gifts,” he said in response to the Polanco affair, “because we’re interested in helping the Police and making sure this help gets to the officers. I’m amazed by everything that’s been said.” He also mentioned that their work is “public, transparent and legitimate,” because the money they collect through raffles and other activities is given to the Police in a professional way with the respective receipts. “What we do is help the Police, but we’re particularly interested in our help reaching those officers with the least opportunities,” he explained. Zavala then added his analysis of the circumstances surrounding the Polanco murder: “They generate distrust among the population regarding the country’s public safety. Nicaragua has been free of crime and we’re surprised by this murder, because the truth is that this kind of thing shouldn’t happen here.”

A typical example of the donations made by these groups was one given by the Association of Friends of the Police from Managua’s District 3, whose president is Arturo Yanguas, a Chamber of Commerce director and owner of a vehicle distribution company. At the end of last year, it “gave” the Police three computers and two motorcycles valued at $6,000. That’s a lot of raffle tickets in a country as poor as Nicaragua.

Will a shake-up be enough?

What with budgetary limitations, deficient salaries, a corrupt police environment, central government neglect and the limitations of the institution’s own making, the National Police has been lashed by more than a few “hurricanes,” but it still managed to land on its feet. How long can it keep this up?

Following the Polanco case, First Commissioner Cordero ordered Commissioner Granera to visit all of the country’s police stations and meet with all their officers, including those in the most isolated municipalities. “We’re talking about the problem and looking at how to give ourselves a shake-up, how to keep improving, how to apply our doctrine and regulations better,” said Granera. “But we have to give each case of corruption or bad behavior the weight it really deserves, because it’s not fair to talk about the National Police as a whole just because of one, two or three cases. I think the media have an enormous responsibility in educating and strengthening the institution, which is vital for the country’s good governance.” But will a “shake-up” be enough? Following the Polanco crime it would appear not. The case must be completely resolved to clean up the institution’s image, but even that would be too little.

Review the Police Academy and top officers

One of the many necessary measures is an in-depth review of how the Police Academy functions, as this institution has deteriorated greatly due to budgetary strangulation and a lack of adequate teaching staff.

First off, the physical, technical, academic and professional formation of new recruits and veterans has to be optimized. Above all, the recruitment selection criteria must be substantially improved, as there have been many complaints about officers who graduated after 2000, regarding their treatment of the citizenry, the procedures used to capture suspected criminals and their tendency to happily accept or even shamelessly ask for bribes in hard cash or in kind.

The corruption cases are still isolated, and it can’t yet be said that the National Police as a whole is contaminated. But it’s essential to take measures with the deputy commissioners, commissioners and even major commissioners, and not only medium- and low-level officers. It has been known for some time now that top officers have been involved in certain activities that at best can be described as dodgy and in others that can only be classed as criminal, such as trafficking in drugs, hard woods and people.

The Polanco case: More than meets the eye?

The Polanco case couldn’t have come at a worse moment for the Police, unless, that is, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Could Bendaña have possibly been the victim of a “night of the long knives” orchestrated by officers aspiring to head up the police force?

President Enrique Bolaños’ agenda before leaving office includes appointing a new National Police leadership. This involves not only picking a new director, who will take over in September, but also deciding the fate of at least nine other top-level officers, including Commissioner Bendaña, previously considered a strong candidate for the team of four deputy directors who will accompany the new director.

According to law, the new director will be chosen from among the four current deputy directors, with the other three automatically passing into retirement. The new director will then select the four most trusted top-ranking officers to take charge of the vacated deputy director posts. But there’s one exception this time: Commissioner Horacio Rocha still has nine years to serve before retiring because he stepped up to the plate when Cordero and a handful of his internal allies forced Commissioner Francisco Bautista’s early retirement. Bautista appeared to be Cordero’s natural successor after the Supreme Court annulled his earlier dismissal by President Bolaños and ordered his reinstatement, but Cordero didn’t respect that order.

Aminta Granera or Ana Julia Guido
to head up the national police?

The Police leadership is divided into two groups, supporting either Commissioner Aminta Granera or Commissioner Ana Julia Guido. Both have solid records and both have distinguished themselves for courage, capacity and the gift for command. But the preferred choice among the longest-serving officers is Guido, for whom they feel strong political and institutional loyalty and whom they consider one of theirs, one of the old guard.

Granera’s adversaries criticize her social background, coming as she does from an aristocratic León family, although this “defect” didn’t seem to matter when she was involved in the fight against Somoza, excelled as a Sandinista guerrilla fighter and headed different police departments ever since. They also complain of her supposed tendency to act on her own, although all recognize her efficiency in every task she has undertaken. Commissioner Guido, meanwhile, is criticized for not knowing how to handle political and public relations, because she tends to treat everyone as though they were in the military.

These criticisms apart, either would be an excellent police chief. And of course they would both be much better than Edwin Cordero, whose indecision, mediocre professional behavior and tendency to suck up to the powerful no matter who gets sacrificed in the process have all contributed to neglect of the institution’s integral problems during his administration. The best thing that could happen to the National Police would be for President Bolaños to appoint the new leadership as soon as possible, so the incoming police chief can immediately take the drastic decisions needed. The crisis is still reversible if the necessary measures are taken now.

William Grigsby Vado is a Nicaraguan journalist

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