López Obrador deepens the powers of the armed forces after the creation of the National Guard with the distribution of real state and logistics businesses amongst others, and now the military will carry out Mexico’s police work until 2024
MEXICO (El País) – AMLO has sealed in law what had been a de facto reality for more than a decade. Fourteen years after the controversial departure of the Army from the barracks to patrol the streets with the justification of the rise in drug trafficking, the handing over of public security to the military already has legal armor, a recurring request from the military leadership. It has been the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the great critic of the militarization of police work during his long years in the opposition, which has consolidated the new role of the Army until March 2024, practically until the end of the presidential mandate.
The influence of the Armed Forces in Mexican civilian life has been increasing since MORENA came to power, with an increasingly clear policy of reaching out to the military. The real estate business, logistics, or management concessions have multiplied during the last two years.
The agreement signed this Monday is part of a larger plan, advanced with the creation last spring of the National Guard, the controversial body born specifically to control violence in the country. The star measure of the López Obrador in the area of security required an express reform of the Constitution, which established that “while the National Guard develops its structure, capabilities and territorial implementation, the President of the Republic will be able to use the permanent Armed Force in public security tasks.
The moment chosen to make this prerogative effective has been surprising. More than a year has passed since the establishment of the National Guard, with its troops widely deployed throughout the country, carrying out from migratory controls at the southern border to police work in the hottest neighborhoods of the capital. The agreement comes during the health crisis with the Army, also in command of hospitals and health resources to address the pandemic.
This situation is highlighted by Raúl Benítez Manaut, a security expert and researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), as one of the possible reasons. “There is looting, assaults on police officers in hospitals. The Secretary of Public Security, Alfonso Durazo, is needing the help of the military, and, likely, they will not listen to him. This agreement is support from López Obrador to his management capacity”. According to the analyst’s interpretation, this would be a struggle within the state security apparatus.
The institutional design for the National Guard was surrounded by controversy from the outset. During the negotiation of the constitutional reform with the opposition, López Obrador agreed to reduce the weight of the military in the new corporation, which is organically attached to the Secretariat of Public Security and not to the National Defense. With a military spirit – formed by ex-military and ex-police – the National Guard has a two-headed command: one civilian and one military. Its tasks must be regulated by law, supervised by Congress, and subordinated to the unique power of the Secretariat of Public Security.
Those balances and counterweights are what would have been blown up by this Monday’s decree, according to Alejandro Madrazo, a CIDE academic and expert in security policy. “It is a demand for the Army, which is tired of using the National Guard’s disguise. It no longer accepts civilian orders or congressional oversight. What López Obrador has just implemented is the same strategy that Felipe Calderón founded and extended from Peña Nieto, to centralize public security work in the Army. The new law does not establish any supervision mechanism, does not force subordination to civilian command, but little coordination does not delimit its functions and is not sufficiently regulated”.
López Obrador’s new movement is another turn of the screw in his change of discourse since his arrival in power. One of his campaign slogans in 2018, continuing his criticism of militarization during his time in opposition, was “hugs and not bullets. The new mantra now is, “The Army is good because the Army is “people”.
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