BOGOTA, Colombia (Associated Press) — Colombia’s retiring police director Gen. Oscar Naranjo says he has been asked to work as a security consultant for Mexican presidential front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto.
Naranjo told The Associated Press that he had been approached by the Pena Nieto campaign to work in an advisory role, which would be expected to continue if Pena Nieto wins.
The appointment, expected to be officially announced at a news conference Thursday night, provides a boost for Pena Nieto, whose campaign has been fending off allegations that leading figures in his Institutional Revolutionary Party took millions of dollars in bribes from the ruthless Zetas drug cartel.
Pena Nieto’s pledge to de-emphasize narcotics seizures and arrests of cartel leaders in favor of a focus on reducing violence against ordinary Mexicans has also prompted some concern in the U.S. that he would relent in the war on drugs.
Naranjo has long worked closely with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, however, and has been working closely with senior Mexican law enforcement and judicial officials in recent years.
Pena Nieto’s lead has narrowed in recent weeks in the face of the corruption scandals and a student movement campaigning to prevent a return to power by his party, which ruled with near-total control of Mexico for seven decades until the country’s peaceful democratization in the 2000 presidential vote.
Naranjo is widely respected in the region for playing a central role in dismantling Colombia’s major drug trafficking organizations during a 36-year police career, in close coordination with U.S. drug and intelligence agents. That includes taking down Pablo Escobar and the Medellin and Cali cartels.
He is also the architect of Colombia’s police intelligence directorate, the most sophisticated such fusion center in Latin America.
The 55-year-old Naranjo, who retired Tuesday, told the AP he plans to divide his time between Mexico and Washington, D.C., beginning next month.
He said that he had accepted a part-time job as an external consultant on security policy in the Americas for the Inter-American Development Bank and that Monterrey Technology University had offered him a position teaching at its Mexico City campus.
Naranjo has been working as a consultant in the region, including for the current administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whom Pena Nieto and his advisers have strongly accused of mismanaging the drug war.
Naranjo has been praised by U.S. officials for his management of Colombia’s drug war, which Washington holds up as a model for other Latin American countries’ fights against traffickers.
He was intelligence chief of the “Bloque de Busqueda,” a special police task force that eventually tracked down and killed Escobar in December 1993.
As Colombia’s police director from 2007, Naranjo succeeded in capturing, killing or forcing the surrender of every major Colombian drug trafficker but one.
His detectives also gathered key intelligence that led to the killings of two of the three senior leftist rebel leaders slain in Colombia since 2008.
Analysts say Colombia’s police have achieved far less on other fronts under Naranjo, however.
Kidnapping and murder are down dramatically, but criminal bands continue to thrive in the provinces, running drugs, extorting, “taxing” illegal gold mining. Colombia also remains the world’s most deadly nation for trade union organizers.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak reported this story from Bogota, Colombia, and Michael Weissenstein reported in Mexico City.