Latin American police officials fight crime while protecting human rights
By Dialogo March 19, 2014
High-ranking officials and representatives of the police forces of Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Brazil and Colombia met recently in Quito, Ecuador, to exchange ideas on the best ways to fight crime while protecting human rights.
The seminar, “The role of the police and the impact of transversalization of Ecuadorian Human Rights (HR) on Latin American Police Forces” took place March 10-12. About 50 officials attended the seminar, national and regional directors of police forces. It was the fourth time the seminar has been held.
Officials discussed the best ways to train police officers to fight crime while protecting human rights. They also discussed the challenges police forces face throughout the region. Police departments throughout Latin America are fighting local gangs, such as Mara Salvatrucha, which is also known as MS-13. In Colombia, security forces are battling the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), Los Rastrojos, and Los Urabenos. Mexican drug trafficking groups, including the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas, operate in several Latin American regions.
In addition to drug trafficking, these groups engage in other criminal enterprises, such as human trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, and oil theft.
Protecting human rights
The seminar shows that police forces in the region are dedicated to learning the best training methods for protecting human rights while fighting crime, said Héctor Chávez Villao, a security analyst at Guayaquil University.
“The fact that regional police authorities meet in order to coordinate good police practices for law enforcement in their countries is a demonstration of the level of professionalism that these institutions have attained,” Chávez Villao said. “Coordination and cooperation are the best tactics for combatting crime in the region and it is very important to respect the limits of the law while doing so.”
Addressing the participants, Ecuador’s national director of police training, District General Juan Carlos Rueda, called for “a commitment to values at the highest level in order to promote civil rights and liberties in a society where peaceful coexistence is the norm.”
“Our goal is to implement corporate leadership strategies in the protection of public safety and to encourage respect for human rights and the appropriate use of force in the carrying out of operations,” Rueda said.
The seminar was also attended by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the National Education and Police Directorates of Ecuador.
The meeting in Quito took place four months after the annual Police Community of the Americas (Ameripol) summit was held in Costa Rica.
The VI Ameripol Summit took place in November, 2013. Officials who attended that meeting discussed how to improve international cooperation and coordination in the fight against organized crime.
The event was attended by members of the police forces of Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay, among others.
Rodolfo Palomino, the director of Colombia’s National Police, and Costa Rican Public Security Minister Mario Zamora were among the security officials who spoke at that conference.
“We are faced with a transformation in criminal behavior. We are no longer up against the big cartels, the groups have become smaller. The situation is evolving and it poses us some new challenges, the criminals respect neither laws nor borders,” Palomino said.
Regional police authorities combat organized crime through cooperation and training.
For example, Ecuador recently inaugurated a crime laboratory in Quito which will give investigators access to the latest technologies to help them solve crimes.
The new laboratory was officially opened on Jan. 8, 2014. The lab gives police the ability to quickly check fingerprint, obtain DNA results, and carry out toxicological tests on homicide victims to determine whether they consumed drugs before they were killed.
The new laboratory also boasts automated systems for rapid identification of voices, a firearms examination system which allows investigators to match bullets to specific weapons, and state-of-the-art cameras which allow police to take high-quality photos of crime scenes.
“With this new laboratory, investigations will evolve from traditional focus to scientific and technical methods where evidence can be processed and the respective chains of custody of evidence can be maintained”, said José Vizueta, a professor of criminal law at the Catholic University of Santiago de Guayaquil.
Ecuadorean security forces have made important strides fighiting crime in recent years. For example, the rate of killings nationwide decreased by 27 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to figures from the National Police of Ecuador. There were 2,683 killings in Ecuador in 2008, and 1,884 killings in 2012. That was the lowest number of killings in the Andean country since 2000.
Peruvian police combat illegal mining and child exploitation
In February, 2014, in an effort to halt illegal gold trafficking from Peru to other countries, local authorities sent special teams of police and internal revenue agents to Lima, Arequipa, Cusco, Juliaca and Madre de Dios airports.
Towards the end of January, 2014, members of the Peruvian National Police aided by two helicopters and 18 internal revenue agents expelled more than a thousand workers from an illegal mining operation in the Tambopata area. The security forces destroyed heavy equipment being used for exploration by the illegal miners. Law enforcement agents remain in the area to prevent the miners return.
Authorities have identified the Cártel de Sinaloa, Los Urabeños and Los Rastrojos as the principal organized crime groups operating illegal mines. These groups have also been accused of recruiting children for mining work and, in many cases, prostitution.
Colombian police capture Los Urabeños arms dealer
Other security forces have registered important victories against organized crime in recent months.
For example, in January 2014, Colombina National Police (PNC) agents captured Gustavo Velasquez Rodríguez,, who is known as “The Lord of War” and “Strong Hand.” The of Lord War is suspected of being the principal arms dealer for Los Urabenos, authorities said.
PNC agents captured The Lord of War on January 18, 2014, in Medellín. Authorities have charged him with murder, organized crime activity, and firearms offenses.
In addition to selling firearms to Los Urabenos, The Lord of War is suspected of having provided illegal weapons to Víctor Ramón Navarro, a drug trafficker linked to the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), according to a PNC statement. Navarro is also known as “Megateo”.