Nicaragua Plagued by a Growing Chain of Police Corruption

A “kickbacks” industry endorsed by the police chiefs

By Maynor Salazar  (Confidencial­)

Diogenes Medina Martínez – known as “El Yogi” in the El Modelo prison.

HAVANA TIMES – Roberto Orozco, specialist in security and drug trafficking, assured that cases like that of former police officer Diogenes Medina Martínez – known as “El Yogi” – who became a lawbreaker in full view of the police chiefs.  Such cases reveal the existence of a “chain of corruption” in the heart of the institution, damaging the professional image of the Nicaraguan Police.

“We’re not talking about something on the level of the Plaza del Sol police headquarters in Managua, such incident are happening in all the departments in the country.  It’s out in the open; people know that the police officers ask for kickbacks,” Orozco declared, adding that this system of corruption is known to the police chiefs of each delegation.

On Monday, Confidencial published a broad profile of “El Yogi” in which police and family contacts of the former police officer revealed that Medina was backed by the institution heads while participating in an extortion network that demanded payoff from night clubs and even from drug sales.  Medina was dismissed from the Police in 2004.  Years later, he led a band of delinquents.  He died in a clash with police when they frustrated an attempted armed robbery of a businessman from the San Luis neighborhood in the capital city.

A source from the police told Confidencial that the chain of corruption involves three fundamental pillars of the institution: the unit chiefs, and the heads of both public safety and drug enforcement. The first is charged with identifying the officers who will collect from the regular and illegal businesses. “The head of public safety then passes the list of the shopping centers, night clubs and that of the drug outlets,” the source confided.

Orozco feels that such occurrences are very common, dating back to the times of Somoza’s National Guard. “According to the police norms, the night clubs shouldn’t be open after 12 am, but in fact they’re allowed to go until dawn or not depending on the quantity of money they offer.  This was formerly known as the ‘Colonel’s tax’,” he recalled.

Another source within the police told Confidencial that the collection of kickbacks presumably extends to the Transit Police.  “The chief has his group, and they know that they’re going out on the street to stop vehicles with the objective of getting money.  At the end of the afternoon they take what they got and divide it, with the chief getting the largest share,” he assured.

The selection mechanism for these officers, according to information given by police sources, begins when they’re in the academy, just as it did with “El Yogi.” “They study their attitudes and aptitudes, they set their eye on those who are loyal, but who can be broken down,” Orozco underlined, echoing the police sources.

Security experts warn of the deterioration of the Police and the increased violence, crime and impunity that could become the norm in the country.

The other problem that facilitates the existence of corruption, in Orozco’s opinion, is the shield that the institution offers to officers who commit illegal acts.  Sometimes it’s even more convenient for them to be dismissed from the security forces, since in this way they have greater freedom to act.

“There’s an administrative measure that prevents them from being processed under the law.  They just discharge them, and they continue serving as the arms of corruption. For the authorities it’s better to penalize them than to admit that a problem exists and take them to justice. They prefer to wash their dirty laundry from inside,” stated Orozco.

He catalogued the Police corruption as “worrisome”, since the message that it sends to the citizenry is that the violence is going to increase, since the insecurity is emanating from that very institution.

Demanding prevention and purging of the ranks

“There’s still time to save the Police.  A system of cyclical purges should be implemented, and the ability of the Internal Affairs and General Inspector to process offenders through the courts should be strengthened.  The Police shouldn’t skimp on their image; it’s more important that the institution be clean, that corruption be reduced to a minimum.  Society should demand that the police leadership purge their corrupt elements. There need to be mechanisms for public denunciation – a kind of social audit,” Orozco emphasized.

Monica Zalaquett, director of Ceprey, the Violence Prevention Center, is more direct.  She feels that the Nicaraguan government shouldn’t accept the consolation that “it’s not as bad here as in the other countries of the region,” since holding on to that idea is of no use when the situation is worsening and the police methods are less than optimal.

We have to elaborate a strategy for violence prevention, as the central link that runs through all the stages of development, including police activity that is preventive and not repressive.  The work at a community level should be strengthened. Repression isn’t going to be effective; hardline policies generate violence among the area residents instead of diminishing it.  There should be more prevention here and better coordinated efforts,” Zelaquett concluded.