Much like every European or North American leader claims to have a magic salve to fix the deficit, every Latin American leader promises to fight corruption. Some have no intention of doing so, some do but are swept up into the system they tried to destroy but some surprise you.
When left-wing Ollanta Humala was swept into power at the beginning of June he, like every other democratically elected President before him, promised to fight poverty and social exclusion by tackling the lingering corruption and cronyism endemic in the Peruvian political and justice systems.
A former army officer who staged a short-lived rebellion against President Alberto Fujimori (who is currently in prison for embezzlement and bribery as well as being the father of Humala’s rival in the election, Keiko Fujimori), many were worried that in power he would follow the interventionist policies of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, especially after his previous election campaign in 2006 where he campaigned for a ‘socialist revolution’. The stock exchange in Lima, the capital, fell 10 per cent on the result.
Humala’s record seemed that he would become a leftist firebrand but previous experience more often than not would indicate that he would go the way of his predecessors and begin to prop up the existing system he campaigned against.
His move to force 30 of the country’s 45 police generals into early retirement last week seems to show he’s going to keep up his interventionist, radical ways. He wants to tackle what he sees as corruption in the police force which helps Peru’s illegal drugs trade to flourish. Peru is one of the world’s largest cocaine producers. One of the chiefs removed was General Raul Becerra who was head of Peru’s anti drugs division, Dirandro.
Raul Salazar, the force’s new director said in a speech at his inauguration ceremony on Monday
‘We must banish any act of corruption that stains the name of the police,from the smallest to the most important. It does not matter if you steal one sol, or more.’
However, is this move to make Peru safer, fairer and less corrupt a geunine act of benevolance or does Ullanta have ulterior polictial motives?
Former interior minister Fernando Rospigliosi certainly seems to think so, he claims ‘This isn’t an anti-corruption drive. It’s a pretext to politically control the police.’
‘Some of those who have been sacked are not being investigated for corruption while some of those who remain are,’ the security expert added ‘This move is aimed at creating personal loyalty among the newly appointed police generals which will be harmful to the institution as a whole.’
Regardless of Humala’s true motivation, there has been major investment in Peru’s police force with 5,600 recruits being taken on this year to bring the overall force to about 104,000.
Peru is the world’s largest cocaine producer behind Colombia but its seizure rate lags behind. Whilst Colombian authorities confiscates around 200 tonnes of cocaine a year since 2008, Peru only managed 40 tonnes in 2010.
Despite having a lower level of violent crime than countries like El Salvador or Brazil, according to the 2010 Latin American Public Opinion report, Peru has highest perception of insecurtity than any other country in Latin America. This is partly because of the perception that the police are corrupt and ineffectual.
Therefore, whatever the motivations behind Humala’s shake up of the police force maybe this will a be good thing regardless for Peru as a whole. To be able to restore faith in government and make the police a bit more reliable may do Peruvian good in the long run and this measure may be a more pragmatic solution to solving the drugs problem by recruiting younger, more innovative leaders who aren’t tainted by drug money.
As always, power and money corrupt and with ubiquitous presence of drugs across the continent these new police generals may fall into the same traps as there predecessors and Humala may still become just like every other statesman that is desperate to hang onto power.