Two years into López Obrador’s term, Mexico’s armed forces have assumed a broader role in the country’s affairs than at any point since the end of military-led government in the 1940s.
MEXICO CITY (The Washington Post) – When faced with the highest levels of violence, Andrés Manuel López Obrador – a longtime critic of the U.S.-backed drug war who had promised to return the soldiers to their barracks – responded in the same way as his predecessors: he called in the military.
After two years in office, Mexico’s armed forces have taken on a larger role in the country’s affairs than at any time since the end of military-led governments in the 1940s, The Washington Post reports in a wide-ranging feature signed by Mary Beth Sheridan.
The paper notes that “the government has deployed a record number of troops to address the deteriorating security situation,” so that “the armed forces are patrolling cities, raiding drug labs and protecting strategic installations. But that is not all. The military increases the force the president uses for tasks previously handled by civilian agencies, from administering ports to remodeling hospitals and building airports”.
Currently The Mexican Armed Forces are at the center of one of the biggest crises in U.S.-Mexico relations in recent years. Stung by the U.S. arrest of Mexico’s former defense minister for allegedly aiding a drug cartel, the Mexican Congress on Tuesday passed a bill that is likely to hamstring cooperation on narcotics trafficking and other criminal matters. López Obrador proposed the legislation.
The Mexican left has been suspicious of the military since the 1960s, when it was called out to suppress demonstrations. Even after López Obrador won the presidency in 2018, he was ambivalent about one of the country’s most venerated institutions: “If it were up to me,” he said, “I’d get rid of the army.”
But he had long viewed the military as less corrupt than the police. After López Obrador’s election, the senior Mexican official said, “we saw the reality: that the police in Mexico are infiltrated” by organized crime.
López Obrador built his national security plans around the armed forces and the new national guard, which would provide a security presence across the country.
Unlike the U.S. National Guard, Mexico’s force was to have “a civilian character,” according to the constitutional amendment that authorized it. The reality has fallen short of the aspiration. Today, at least 70 percent of guard members are military police transferred from the army and navy. The armed forces have supplied the commanders and the training. The guard is part of the civilian-led Public Security Ministry, but in October, the Defense Ministry was given day-to-day operational control.
Currently Mexico said AMLO’s government will “review” its cooperation with the United States. Mexican officials say the government could take any number of retaliatory steps: limiting the ability of the DEA to work in Mexico, spurning anti-drug aid, reducing operations with the marines.
Mexican military and AMLO’s politicians have celebrated Cienfuegos’s return as a victory for their foreign policy. But the new legislation on “foreign agents” in Mexico has put a strain on relations with the United States. It would require Mexican officials to gain prior approval from a high-level security panel for any meeting with employees of the DEA, FBI and other U.S. law enforcement agencies, and to produce written reports on what information was shared. An official from the Foreign Ministry would be required to attend. U.S. agents are unlikely to agree to share intelligence information under such conditions, since it could be distributed broadly and leaked to criminal groups.
The Cienfuegos case will also be a crucial test of the Mexican justice system. The United States has turned over hundreds of pages of evidence, which Mexican authorities could try to corroborate. But will they take on the powerful military?
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