Despite some fierce international criticism, Mexican lawmakers recently approved the creation of a 60,000-member national guard that will lead the nation’s fight against organized crime and drug trafficking, thus relieving the armed forces of such duties.
The new force will initially be comprised of members of the military and federal police officers. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has promised to start a recruitment drive to add 50,000 civilians to the force, which could grow to around 150,000 in future years.
Although legislators backed the plan, there are concerns the new force will simply substitute one evil for another and in effect institutionalize military participation in law enforcement.
During his campaign Lopez Obrador promised to draw a line under the human rights violations that the Mexican military has consistently been accused of in the fight against crime. The military would be sent back to their barracks and their law-enforcement duties curtailed, he said on multiple occasions.
Supporters of the plan say Lopez Obrador’s u-turn to a gradual withdrawal of troops from the streets is a realistic reading of Mexico’s tense security situation. He and his collaborators insist that the military component in the new force will be temporary, but it is crucial in the short term to maintain order in volatile areas of the country where traditional policing is unable to maintain an acceptable level of security.
However, a National Guard that incorporates military elements — under the initial control of the Ministry of Defense (Sedena) — into a so-called civilian force is not the answer, rights organizations say.
“By doubling down on the failed approach (of former presidents), he is making a colossal mistake that could undercut any serious hope of ending the atrocities,” noted José Miguel Vivanco, the American director for Human Rights Watch.
“A fundamental problem with the militarization of public security is that the armed forces are not trained to interact with the civilian population,” said the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA). “While the National Guard will be trained on human rights, police functions and use of force, concerns remain about the militarized style of the proposed force and its training.”
Although legislators demanded that the new force be under a civilian chain of command, this is likely to be in name only, at least in the beginning. According to most analysts, the training and day-to-day operations will, in practice, be under military control.
Many fear that the National Guard, even under Sedena’s “temporary” five-year leadership, would grant additional power and discretion to the armed forces.