The 3,550 new National Guard (Guardia Nacional or GN) members stationed in the state of Jalisco will not be spending their time hunting migrants but chasing and capturing criminals, Governor Enrique Alfaro stressed this week.
The first detachment of National Guard elements arrived on cue in the state on July 1: 1,455 in the Guadalajara metropolitan area and 410 in Puerto Vallarta. The remainder filtered in throughout this week to be stationed across eight regional bases, including Joctotepec.
At the inauguration of the GN in Guadalajara Monday, General Eustorgio Villalba Cortés, who will command the National Guard in Jalisco, Nayarit, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas and Colima, said the “initial priority function” of the new security force will be to form a “social relationship with the population .… that contributes to the generation and preservation of public order.”
Over the coming weeks, Villalba said senior National Guard officers will meet with community members to learn of the local security problems in different parts of the state.
Villalba promised close coordination between the GN and state and municipal authorities to delineate responsibilities. Alfaro said plenty of work has already been done in this area. He also noted that with the arrival of the National Guard, the state police will take on a more prominent role outside Guadalajara. Alfaro said the GN will work closely with the Policía Metropolitana, a new city-wide force that is expected to be launched shortly in the metro area.
The governor has been more circumspect than national leaders about the impact the GN will have. “Combatting insecurity will be a long, complex and hard fight,” he said Monday. “It is not going to be easy but we are prepared for the challenge.”
The National Guard is one of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s key initiatives aimed at reducing criminality and violence in Mexico. Comprised of members of the federal police and the policing units of the Mexican Army and Navy, it is expected to grow to around 150,000 members by 2021.
When conceived last year, the force was designed as a unit to combat organized crime and not become involved in migration issues. The Mexican government’s decision to deploy the National Guard at its southern border in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on all exports has altered that policy line, at least in the short term.
At this week’s inauguration in Guadalajara, Governor Alfaro said that detaining migrants will not be a priority for the GN in Jalisco. While several large migrant caravans have passed through the state over the past 12 months, the nationwide operation to reduce the flow of migrants and asylum seekers that began in May has slowed the influx into Jalisco.
Critics of the National Guard argue that it is little more than a quasi-military force, and that any new strategy to combat organized crime groups and drug cartels won’t differ greatly from that of the two previous presidential administrations. Ever since President Felipe Calderon charged the armed forces with battling the cartels more than a decade ago, an unchecked wave of violence has resulted in skyrocketing homicide rates.
Lopez Obrador and his close collaborators see the future in a far more optimistic light. Federal Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo Montaño this week said the creation of the National Guard was the “beginning of the end” of the violence in the country and that the “dark days of insecurity would soon be in the past.”
Durazo said that when the violence is eventually brought under control, the nation would “forever be in the debt” of the the National Guard.
The creation of the National Guard even prompted Lopez Obrador to consider disbanding the nation’s Army. In an interview this week, the president said: “If it were up to me, I would get rid of the army and turn it into the National Guard, declare that Mexico is a pacifist country that does not need a military and that the defense of the nation, if necessary, would be done by all.”
There are 22 nations currently without a standing army, including Costa Rica, Haiti and Iceland. Mexico would be – by far – the largest country in the world not to have an army should Lopez Obrador’s wish come true.