Bringing into his inner circle the former chief of the Colombian National Police — and a foreigner close to the Americans — is an unusual move. It may indicate that Peña Nieto does not plan to stray too far from the crime-fighting alliance established between Mexico and the United States under President Felipe Calderon.
While Naranjo was in charge of Colombia’s fight against cartels, Washington poured billions of dollars in equipment and training into the country to help create paramilitary police that targeted both rebel forces and criminal mafias.
“What Colombia and Mexico have in common is that the narcos use terrorism, but there are two distinct realities, and the lessons of Colombia are not the only lessons,” said Naranjo in an interview with The Washington Post.
Asked what he would specifically recommend against the cartels, Naranjo said: “I would attack their finances more aggressively. I would do it with more force, speed and efficiency.”
Naranjo said he would not direct Mexican forces in day-to-day operations.
Drawing comparisons to U.S. prohibition-era crime buster Eliot Ness, Naranjo has been at the center of Colombia’s war against drug cartels for more than a generation. In 1993, he played a key role in the operation that led to the killing of Medellin cartel boss Escobar, Colombia’s most wanted man. Naranjo later spearheaded the operation that also dismantled the powerful Cali cartel.
Under Naranjo, the Colombian National Police grew to 170,000 members and is, in many ways, more like a paramilitary force. It has personnel in cities who perform like beat police anywhere. But the force also deploys commando units to stage helicopter raids with heavy weapons and wage jungle warfare against leftist insurgent groups.
Peña Nieto continues to hold a substantial lead in most polls two weeks before the election. He is the standard-bearer of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, that ruled Mexico for more than 70 years and was hounded by charges of coercion and corruption until it lost the president’s office in 2000.
Peña Nieto has spoken only in broad terms about his security strategy, saying he would marshall resources to fight crimes that hurts ordinary Mexicans — murder, extortion, kidnapping and robbery.
In several interviews, he suggested that arresting cartel leaders and seizing drug caches would be secondary.