Retired Police Commissioner Adolfo Marenco, former head of investigation and intelligence for Nicaragua’s police, has been arrested and taken to Managua’s El Chipote jail, according to two sources. Besides holding a top police position, Marenco was formerly a trusted member of Vice President Rosario Murillo and security advisor Nelson Lau’s tight inner circle.
Marenco is the first high-level police figure to fall from grace. His arrest came nearly 50 days after his forced departure from the police command structure was announced. According to a report from the Nicaraguan news outlet 100% Noticias – which also confirmed Marenco’s detention – he was arrested in the Las Colinas neighborhood of Managua on Friday, January 13, while at the home of his current partner.
Marenco had been under house arrest since he reportedly fell into disgrace when a faction of the regime’s high echelons denounced him for corruption and engaging in unauthorized private business transactions.
In police circles, two explanations of the regime’s decision to jail Marenco are circulating. One, that the action was taken to silence him, because he’s accused of wanting to flee the country. According to this version, Ortega’s inner circle was striking “a kind of preemptive blow.”
The other explanation is that Marenco refused to continue working for the Ortega-Murillo team, thus irritating the presidential couple still further. Daniel Ortega signed the order to forcibly retire Adolfo Marenco as Assistant Police Director in charge of intelligence on November 25, 2022, after the surprising appointment of General Commissioner Zhukov Serrano to assume the position. Serrano, a high official who graduated in Russia, was praised by the dictator last year amid his attacks on the Catholic Church.
At that time, former Assistant Director Adolfo Marenco refused to accept a transfer to the Institute for Security and Human Development, the entity that administers the pensions of police officials and those in other institutions including Nicaragua’s Interior Ministry. His transfer implied accepting an administrative responsibility very different from the work of conspiracy he carried out in his former dual position as director of investigation and police intelligence, as well as the FSLN political secretary within the police.
Daniel Ortega originally approved Marenco’s promotion to General Police Commissioner on September 13, 2011, when the Police was still under the direction of First Commissioner Aminta Granera. Juan Ramon Gradiz, Granera’s right-hand man, was also promoted at that ceremony, along with Ramon Avellan Medal who is now an assistant director and generally considered responsible for the 2018 deadly “Operation Clean-up”, that violently quashed the massive protests. Two other figures promoted alongside Marenco were Javier Antonio Davila Rueda, then a functionary of the Police Academy, and Glenda Zavala, head of forensic science.
Adolfo Marenco rose within the police structures due to his recognized experience in State Security, and before that in “Region V” – today the departments of Boaco and Chontales. He also took advantage of his close relationship with regime insider Nestor Moncada Lau and with veteran police chiefs former Inspector General Juan Baez and former Managua police chief Roger Ramirez, who exercised great power in his time, and later served in the Interior Ministry.
“I don’t believe that his imprisonment will have a great impact, because it’s not a command post that has brought him any followers among grassroots Sandinistas, for example. He and many others have been promoted out of political favoritism, and his rise was short-lived,” commented a source that has followed the career of the now-imprisoned commander within the police institution.
He remained in that post for seven years, until the unexpected change ordered by Ortega.
From baseball’s “nice guy” to the head of repression
Before beginning to operate from the shadows, identifying opposition leaders and figures the regime classed as enemies, Adolfo Marenco served as president of the Nicaraguan Baseball Federation from 2009 to 2012. He justified his resignation from that responsibility as work-related, and was replaced by well-known Nicaraguan baseball player Nemesio Porras.
Marenco was remembered there as a man who appeared pleasant and affable, and who would only speak to the media about baseball. This impression contradicts the profile given by those who had contact with his area later.
In 2018, when thousands of citizens took to the streets in peaceful protests demanding the resignation of Daniel Ortega, Marenco was part of the chain of command led by the presidential couple, followed by National Security Advisor Nestor Moncada Lau, and First Commissioner Francisco Diaz, related to the Ortega-Murillo family through their children’s marriage. Under the direction of this command, Marenco helped direct the brutal police repression of the citizen protests, by providing the intelligence information.
According to the reports from the OAS Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), charged with investigating the human rights violations committed in Nicaragua between April 18 and May 30, 2018, those who participated in the high police commands merit investigation, along with General Commissioner Justo Pastor Urbina, then Director of Special Operations; the departmental police chiefs; and those charged with “supervising” the police officers, first among them, the General Inspector.
“The available information indicates that the Nicaraguan State has been responsible for conduct that according to international law should be considered crimes against humanity,” states the GIEI report.
At that time, now-retired Adolfo Marenco was a “sinister arm in El Carmen [presidential residence and offices]” according to a profile published in March 2020 on the Confidencial website.
“The Assistant Police Director appears jovial, understanding, and pleasant. Without his uniform, he could pass unnoticed at a bus stop or in a mall, and almost certainly no one would recognize him. Being the center of attention isn’t his priority, nor does he wish to be a prominent figure in the police command structure, at least not in the public eye,” the profile describes.
His exit is now taking place amid a restructuring of the counter-intelligence structure around Ortega, in an effort to identify potential “internal enemies.” Changes include the rise of figures such as formerly retired General Commissioner Horacio Rocha, at one time head of the Personal Security Division, who has now been named an advisor on a “Ministerial level.”
Sources indicate that Rocha’s selection is part of the regime’s search for officials of unwavering loyalty. There’s a reigning distrust in the Ortega-Murillo high circles, following last year’s desertion of high functionaries who could prove valuable sources of information outside the country, given that they know how the system functions on the inside.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times.