Interior and Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin says Cuban and Nicaraguan security advisers are already in-country to assist the creation of Venezuela’s new National Police. The National Police will be up and running before the end of 2008, he adds.
President Hugo Chavez used his Special Powers to issue a Decree-Law dated 9 April 2008, published in Extraordinary Official Gazette No. 5,880, creating the National Police. We’ll come back to that Decree-Law in a future post.
The Cuban and Nicaraguan advisers in Caracas include Ramon Rodriguez Curvello, second in command of Cuba’s National Police, and the Commander General of Nicaragua’s National Police.
“Change will be difficult,” Rodriguez Chacin said on 12 May. But Venezuela’s new National Police will provide the Venezuelan people with “real security” which responds to the needs of the “humanist society all Venezuelans are building.”
The national police in Cuba function as part of the Castro regime’s totalitarian state, which relies on repressive methods to maintain control, says the US State Department’s web site. These methods, including intense physical and electronic surveillance of Cubans, are also extended to foreign travelers.
Foreigners visiting Cuba are frequently subjected to surreptitious scrutiny by the Cuban security forces, including the police. Overall direction comes from the General Directorate for State Security (DGSE), an arm of the Interior Ministry.
Any interactions between foreign visitors and average Cubans, regardless how well intentioned, can subject the Cubans to harassment, detention and other forms of repressive actions by state security elements.
The police in Cuba are used in a “community” role to monitor the daily activities of Cubans in the neighborhoods where they live. Uniformed and plainclothes police are also employed to disrupt protests by political dissidents.
The Cuban government recently has been trying to project a softer image of its internal security apparatus during the power transition from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul. But the Cuban police have a very long reputation for violence against political dissidents.
For example, last December Cuban police stormed into a Catholic Church in the eastern city of Santiago, pepper-sprayed and beat several dissidents in the parish hall used for celebrating masses and hauled seven off to jail.
The Cuban national police have absolutely no experience in providing civilian law enforcement services in a democratic society.
They also have no experience whatsoever operating in extremely violent countries like Venezuela where someone is killed every 60 minutes, and where an armed robbery or carjacking happens every 10 minutes.
But Cuban police advisers are not being imported to Venezuela for law enforcement purposes.
Their role here is to train elements of Venezuela’s new National Police in areas like barrio-level surveillance, and intelligence and counter-intelligence activities targeting political dissidents who oppose the Chavez regime. This likely includes traditional political opposition groups and new dissidents inside the fractured Bolivarian coalition.
The Nicaraguan police advisers may be helpful to some aspects of creating an effective, professional and democratic national police in Venezuela.
Nicaragua’s National Police was created by decree in 1980, and originally was called the Sandinista Police. Under the extinct Somoza dictatorship, law enforcement had been the combined responsibility of the National Guard, Office of National security and the Military Intelligence Service.
Law enforcement under Somoza placed the highest priority on political repression of leftist political dissidents, union officials and anyone who opposed Somoza. The new Sandinista Police initially placed the highest priority on repressing rightwing dissidents and anyone who opposed the Marxist Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega.
However, from that ignoble start Nicaragua’s National Police evolved into a reasonably professional law enforcement institution ( by Central American standards). Nicaragua’s police force also has the advantage of operating within a democratic framework for the past nearly 20 years, during which it has benefited from US law enforcement training assistance.
In some respects, Nicaragua’s national police experience may be helpful in Venezuela. For example, women comprise over 26% of the Nicaraguan national police, preventive community law enforcement is prioritized, and domestic policing (i.e. controlling family violence) is assigned a high level of importance.
But the Nicaraguan National Police (NPP) is habitually undermanned, under-trained and under- equipped to effectively respond to crimes in progress.
However, the NNP is the only law enforcement agency in Nicaragua today. It is responsible for public safety and security, criminal investigations of all types, customs and immigration enforcement and traffic control.
And it is rife with petty corruption. Persons involved in traffic-related incidents are often pressured for bribes. But such corruption is par for the course everywhere in Latin America.
It’s unclear what role the Nicaraguan police advisers will play in establishing Venezuela’s National Police.
Rodriguez Chacin made some remarks about “community” law enforcement, an area in which the Nicaraguan police have acquired a lot of operational experience in the past two decades.
But “humanist” is not a word normally associated with Rodriguez Chacin.
Venezuela’s current Interior and Justice Minister is one of the most lethal and merciless hard men of Chavez’s inner circle.
Rodriguez Chacin comes from a military background. He is a retired Marine officer, and is one of Venezuela’s most experienced veterans of low-intensity counterinsurgency operations against irregular forces.
During the late 1980s he co-founded a joint counter-insurgency task force called the Jose Antonio Paez Specific Command (CEJAP), which deployed in Apure against FARC, ELN and other armed irregular groups responsible for kidnapping numerous cattle ranchers along the border with Colombia.
The CEJAP included some of the toughest legal killers in Venezuela who were recruited from the political police (Disip), military intelligence (DIM), the Technical Judicial Police (PTJ), and the armed forces (mainly army personnel) .
But CEJAP quickly spun out of control and started murdering innocent civilians simply on the suspicion they might be associated with guerrillas.
In 1988 a CEJAP team ambushed and slaughtered 14 peasant fishermen at el Amparo in Apure, and in 1989 the group was dissolved.
However, while CEJAP existed, Rodriguez Chacin became one of the group’s most effective and feared interrogators.
“He is an expert with a knife and completely ruthless,” says a former CEJAP colleague who adds, “All of us were terrified of Rodriguez Chacin, including even Henry Lopez Sisco.”
Rodriguez Chacin was one of several CEJAP members who were charged with crimes relating to the massacre at El Amparo, though he did not participate physically in the operation and was not even involved at the command/control level.
Several of his former CEJAP associates say Rodriguez Chacin was treated unfairly, used as a scapegoat, and he developed as a result a deep hatred for the traditional ruling political establishment personified by Accion Democratica and Copei.
He participated in the second failed coup launched on 27 November 1992 against former President Carlos Andres Perez, and spent two years in prison on charges of treason and rebellion.
Rodriguez Chacin disappeared following his release from jail, but sporadic reports from Colombian intelligence officials between1995 to 1997 suggested he was establishing direct links with senior FARC leaders including Raul Reyes and Ivan Marquez.
In 1999 he reappeared publicly as a personal liaison between Chavez and Colombian irregular groups. In that capacity he reportedly played a key role in securing the release of several kidnapped Venezuelans.
He also traveled frequently into Colombia’s Caguan region between 1999 and the end of 2001, observing the ultimately failed peace negotiations between the FARC and the government of former President Andres Pastrana.
Chavez named Rodriguez Chacin Interior and Justice Minister at the start of 2002. In this capacity, Rodriguez Chacin was involved in helping to plan Operation Knockout.
He worked closely with then-Vice President Diosdado Cabello through a situation room at the Interior and Justice Ministry which operated around the clock, and ran electronic surveillance and human infiltration operations directed at the political opposition.
The intelligence generated by Rodriguez Chacin’s situation room was shared with Diosdado Cabello’ team, which was responsible for coordinating the deployments of the armed elements of Bolivarian Circles against opposition demonstrators during the first three months of 2002.
Rodriguez Chacin disappeared from sight again after the political violence of April 11-14, 2002. Reports from intelligence sources in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru indicate that he traveled frequently in those countries, but most particularly in the oil-rich northern provinces of Ecuador where the FARC has been active since the late 1980s.
Most recently, many of the documents extracted from laptops and other memory devices that belonged to dead FARC chieftain Raul Reyes confirm that Rodriguez Chacin was President Chavez’s personal emissary to the FARC.
The captured FARC documents also indicate that Rodriguez Chacin may be very vulnerable to charges of treason, helping to finance and arm the FARC, and associating with a known narco-terrorist organization.
And this is the guy who plans to stamp a “humanist” face on Venezuela’s new National Police.