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.

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  • aquifer

    The problem lies in the revolutionary model, a kind of political pyramid selling scheme, which the left imagines for itself as the vehicle for its ascendancy. This sets aside an old order, and its apparently threadbare moralities, in favour of an economic super-rationalism imposed from the top by a leadership clique.

    Left ideology unfortunately does not have much to say about murder and theft, beyond accepting their wrongness as a given and ascribing blame to the capitalist other.

    This all fails to understand the value of social capital, the moral and behavioural habits established in a society through religious, familial, and cultural life over a longer period. Also, in the revolutionary model human rights and freedoms are assumed to be best guaranteed by arbitrary rule by the left elite, so separate provision tends to be neglected.

    So for example was the sacking of hundreds of policemen an addition to social capital or an act of political vindictiveness? What was the impact on the expectations of young people considering a life of crime, the families of the policemen, the loss of police intelligence on criminals, and on levels of crime?

    The left may not chose to build effective police forces while their ideology teaches them they may need the help of all the economically marginal, including criminals, when they face them across the barricades.

    In a moderm capitalist economy, many complex transactions need to be carried out efficiently without criminal leakage if a national economy is to compete. i.e. Low crime will grow an economy and reduce the numbers of the economically marginal, as well as improving their quality of life.

    When the left’s model of ascendancy is via the disaffected and economically marginal, the old left may need crime to compete politically.