Nicaraguan and Ecuadorean police cooperate to fight organized crime
By Dialogo March 26, 2014
Police forces in Nicaragua and Ecuador – which have achieved important successes in improving public safety -- recently agreed to cooperate to fight organized crime and street gangs.
Nicaragua and Ecuador have two of the lowest rates of homicide in Latin America, thanks in large part to the efforts of their respective security forces. Now, police officials from both countries will share their strategy, tactics, and training methods.
On March 6, 2014, Aminta Elena Granera Sacasa, Nicaragua’s Director General of the National Police, went to Quito to meet with Ecuadorean security officials, including Interior Minister José Serrano, and to sign the security cooperation agreement.
Nicaraguan security forces have registered important success in fighting organized crime groups which operate in that country. The Sinaloa Cartel, for example, uses drug trafficking routes in Nicaragua. Los Zetas and the Nortel del Valle Cartel, a Colombian drug trafficking group, also reportedly transport drugs through Nicaragua.
Nicaraguan security forces have been successful in battling these organized crime groups and local gangs, Serrano said as he signed the cooperation agreement.
The Nicaraguan National Police are succeeding because they do not just react to crime, but seek to prevent it, Granera said. “Our model of policing is preventive, proactive and community oriented, even though we are the smallest police force in the region, we have seen the best results in the region and the world.”
Talks leading to the agreement began in August 2013, when Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino and Serrano traveled to Nicaragua to discuss security issues with Nicaraguan authorities.
Police successes in Nicaragua and Ecuador
Public safety has improved in Nicaragua and Ecuador in recent years, thanks in large part to the work of security officials, authorities said.
For example, Nicaragua closed 2013 with a homicide rate of 9 killings per 100,000 inhabitants, the lowest homicide rate in Central America and one of the lowest in Latin America, according to a report released in January 2014 by Francisco Diaz, deputy director of the National Police of Nicaragua. The country has 6 million residents.
The homicide rate in Ecuador fell by 27 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Ecuador recorded 2,638 killings in 2010. In 2012, the homicide rate in Nicaragua was 11 per 100,000 inhabitants.
In 2012, Ecuador recorded 1,884 killings. It was the lowest number of homicides in Ecuador since 2000. About 15 million people live in Ecuador.
Exchange of information
The agreement between Nicaraguan and Ecuadorean authorities covers the exchange of information and programs related to internal and public security, as well as training methods for security personnel. The security forces of the two countries will also exchange analysts and computer technicians who will attend conferences and seminars to improve their skills, authorities said.
“The importance of this agreement is that it takes place between countries with certain cultural and demographic similarities that face similar challenges such as international organized crime linked to local gangs,” said Héctor Chávez Villao, a security analyst at the University of Guayaquil.
“When the authorities of countries begin to share professional experiences, the chances of success are greater if the challenges they face are similar,” Chávez Villao said.
Working with the community
Nicaraguan police agents work closely with the communities they serve, developing trust, Granera Sacasas said. Such trust is crucial because the police rely on community members for information.
“The success of our police is explained by its deeply rooted link to the community,” Granera said. “We integrate three types of prevention work in the field: the mere police officer on patrol, checkpoints and intelligence, and sharing prevention work information with other government agencies.”
“Nicaragua has become a retaining wall to prevent gangs and weapons coming from the north going south from passing through our territory,” Granera explained.
Drug cartels seek alliances with Nicaraguan gangs
Building close ties with the community is crucial for Nicaraguan security forces in their battle with transnational criminal organizations, such as the Sinaloa Cartel, said Roberto Petray, director of the Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Association. Large organized crime groups often form alliances with local gangs, and police need solid information to develop their strategies and tactics.
The collaboration between Nicaraguan gangs and transnational criminal organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas is especially evident in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), Petray said.
“Nicaraguan gangs are beginning to work as assassins and getting involved in human trafficking. These activities must be controlled by the National Police because they are beginning to take place in the country,” Petray said.
In February 2012, Mexican security forces captured Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the longtime kingpin of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Arms trafficking and violence
While the overall homicide rate in Nicaragua is relatively low, the rate of killing is higher in the RAAN, because of organized crime activity, said Mónica Zalaquett, director of the Violence Prevention Center (CEPREV). For example, in 2011, the homicide rate in the RAAN was 18 killings for every 100,000 people.
“Central America is being hit by organized crime, and Nicaragua is no exception. In recent years, there has not only been a considerable increase in drug trafficking, but also an increase in arms trafficking,” Zalaquett said.
Mexican drug cartel activity
Because of the vigilance of Nicaraguan security forces, Mexican drug cartel operatives in recent years have turned to unusual methods to operate in the country.
For example, in August 2012, Nicaraguan security forces arrested 18 Mexican nationals who entered the country posing as journalists for Televisa, the Mexican news organization. The 18 were pretending they were on their way to Managua to cover a high-profile criminal trial of a man charged with money laundering and drug trafficking.
Nicaraguan security officials also seized $9.2 million (USD) in cash. The group of fake journalists was led by a woman identified as Raquel Alatorre Correa. She claimed to be a news anchor for Televisa. One of the suspects allegedly has ties to Los Charros, a Mexican gang which smuggles drugs and other illegal items from Costa Rica into Nicaragua and Mexico. Los Charros has links to the Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Michoacana, another Mexican transnational criminal organization.
In December 2013 a Nicaraguan court found the 18 people guilty of money laundering and drug trafficking.
The fake journalists were repatriated to Mexico to serve their prison sentences, authorities said.
My country has the most solid strategy in Latin America in matters of security, it is a proactive community model.