The left, and policing in Latin America?

This piece on Open Democracy is worth the long-ish read. The left has gotten its feet well under the government table in several South American countries, bouyed in various ways, like the rise in oil prices in Venezuela and widespread disillusion with the IMF in Argentina. But argues Ivan Briscoe, if it is to hold off the retributive forces calling for a major clampdown, the left must find it’s own measured way of dealing with the high levels of crime that threaten to subsume its emergent consensus.For instance:

Caracas, now reported to be one of the world’s leading cities for murder, saw its homicide rate more than double from 1990 to 1994; it has continued to rise ever since. Huge stretches of cities – up to 25% of the urban space of Bogotá or Buenos Aires, according to a recent estimate by Dirk Kruijt – are lawless domains, gang–run, rife with the drug trade and subsistence living.

He brings the challenge down to:

…even though the need for police reform is clear, visceral reactions to criminal outrage are still commonplace. Bipolar variation between condemnation of police brutality and contempt for felons is the vogue, made more complex by the presence of officers in the very gangs that kidnap and murder. Reforming governments, aware of intense sensitivities to crime, know they must respond: Chávez’s ministers were quick to promise action after the Faddoul Diab murders, and appear to have met their pledges.

The language of these governments has been tough; a visible police presence on the streets has been a hallmark of leftwing rule. But the battle against the inherited vices of security forces has also spawned political meddling and authoritarian diktat. Rather than wait for slow changes in police methodology, the favoured tactic has been mass sackings – boosting the ranks of kidnap gangs, and thus security crises, without making any great difference to policing style. And while crime festers, it is certainly not difficult to find chavista officials who would like to see the military deployed across the shantytowns.

Even so, these rulers also recognise that the mentality of a crime–poisoned society directly menaces their greater political project. The right and its devotion for the police may be in retreat, but reformers face the arduous task of charting their way through atomised societies and rotten security forces without losing their souls.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty