MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president has begun exploring plans to bypass Congress to hand over formal control of the National Guard to the military, a move that could expand the military’s control over police in a country. where levels of violence are high.
This has raised concerns as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador won approval for the force’s creation in 2019 by promising in the constitution that it would be under nominal civilian control and the army would be removed from the streets here. 2024.
However, neither the National Guard nor the army succeeded in reducing insecurity in the country. Last week, drug cartels staged widespread arson and shootings, terrifying civilians in three main northwestern towns in a bold challenge to the state. On Saturday, authorities sent 300 members of the army’s special forces and 50 members of the National Guard to the border town of Tijuana.
Yet López Obrador wants to keep soldiers involved in policing and remove civilian control over the National Guard, whose officers and commanders are mostly soldiers, with military training and pay grades.
But the president no longer has the votes in congress to change the constitution and has suggested he could try to do so as a regulatory change with a simple majority in congress or by executive order and see if the courts will uphold it.
López Obrador warned on Friday against politicizing the issue, saying the military is needed to fight Mexico’s violent drug cartels. But then he immediately politicized it himself.
“A constitutional reform would be ideal, but we have to look for ways, because they (the opposition) instead of helping us, are blocking us, they intend to prevent us from doing anything,” said López Obrador .
The two main opposition parties also had different positions when in power. They supported the military in public safety roles during their respective administrations beginning in 2006 and 2012.
When López Obrador was running for president, he called for the army to be taken off the streets. But being in power — and seeing homicides hit an all-time high — has seemingly changed his mind.
He relied heavily on the military, not just to fight crime. He considers the army and navy to be heroic, patriotic and less corruptible, and entrusted them with the construction of major infrastructure projects, the management of airports and trains, the stopping of migrants and the supervision of customs at ports. maritime.
The Mexican military has been deeply involved in policing since the start of the war on drugs in 2006. But its presence has always been seen as temporary, a palliative until Mexico can put in place trustworthy police forces.
López Obrador appears to have abandoned this plan, instead making military and quasi-military force like the National Guard the primary solution. “Their terms must be extended,” he said.
“I think the best thing is for the National Guard to be a branch of the Department of Defense to give it stability over time and prevent it from being corrupted,” he said. He also wants the Army and Navy to contribute to public safety beyond 2024, the current deadline established in a 2020 executive order.
The force has grown to 115,000, but almost 80% of its personnel are drawn from the ranks of the army.
The United Nations and human rights groups have long expressed reservations about the military doing police work. and Mexico’s Supreme Court has yet to rule on several appeals against what critics say are unconstitutional tasks given to the National Guard.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said last week that the militarization of civilian institutions, such as the police, weakens democracy. Soldiers are not trained for this, the military by nature is not very open to scrutiny, it has been involved in human rights abuses and the presence of troops has not resolved the issue urgent need to know how to reform the police, prosecutors and courts.
While López Obrador says human rights abuses are no longer tolerated, the government’s National Human Rights Commission has received more than a thousand complaints alleging abuses by the National Guard. The agency issued five recommendations in cases where there was evidence of excessive use of force, torture or abuse of migrants.
“The problem with using the military in civilian roles is that we have no control over what happens inside,” said Ana Lorena Delgadillo, director of civic group Foundation For Justice.
Delgadillo said placing the National Guard under the Department of Defense, despite constitutional language defining it as a civilian-commanded force, is “overbearing,” will be challenged in court, and will not help pacify the country.
The Association of Mexican Employers, Coparmex, said in a statement that the capacity of the state police should instead be strengthened. “It is they and the (prosecution offices) who are allowed to interact with the civilian population,” the group said.
Perhaps more specifically, the quasi-military National Guard has been unable to bring down Mexico’s stubbornly high homicide rate.
Sofía de Robina, a lawyer with the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Center for Human Rights, said the National Guard “has not been able to reduce the violence”, in part because of its military-like strategy of “occupy a territory”.
Although this strategy – building barracks and carrying out regular patrols – could be useful in remote or rural areas, it proved less useful and even drew opposition in urban areas.
The police, who hail from the towns they serve and live among the locals, would be more effective, experts say. Yet widespread corruption, low pay, and cartel threats against police officers have weakened local and state police forces.
More than 15 years of experience with the military in policing roles has shown “the fallacy of the paradigm that the military was going to solve problems,” Delgadillo said.
De Robina added that López Obrador’s latest move means trying to keep the army in policing indefinitely, “completely defying the requirement that public security be civilian” with no time limit or strategy.