By Javier Buenrostro – Sep 29, 2022
There is currently a debate in Mexico about whether the National Guard should be directed under a structure that depends on the civil command of the Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection (SSPC)—as currently is the case—or should go to the Ministry of Defense National (SEDENA) and subsume a military structure from head to toe.
The controversy is complex because there are various arguments, some real and others merely rhetorical, that make it difficult to capture a black or white scenario. For a country that has been carrying an average of 30,000 people murdered each year for more than fifteen years, there are no simple solutions, much less immediate ones.
To begin, within the contemporary history of Mexico, projects concerning public security were intermingled with those of internal security and national security. The first, public security, consists of protecting citizens from common law crimes, such as homicide, kidnapping and extortion. Internal security refers to possible threats against the Mexican state that arise within its territory, and national security is in charge of defending the country abroad before other states.
During the conservative governments of Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), public security was mixed with national security without rhyme or reason in order to serve the interests of the United States. In 2005, Fox signed the Alliance for the Security and Prosperity of North America (ASPAN), which addresses issues of security and militarization, energy, telecommunications, and customs integration. For his part, Calderón signed the Mérida Initiative in 2008, which focused on security and drug trafficking issues, similar in many aspects to Plan Colombia.
In other words, security for the conservatives was not just a national issue but rather part of a broader strategy linked to a strategic territorial space for the United States and transnational corporations. Those presidents accepted that Mexico was the United States’ backyard and acted to please the interests of their neighbor to the north.
For its part, in 2017, Peña Nieto’s government enacted an Internal Security Law, which opened the door to legally carry out espionage activities towards any individual without there being any accountability to justify the actions undertaken. This Internal Security Law was similar to the Patriot Act (2001) applied in the United States after 9/11 or the declaration of the État d’urgence (2015-2017) in France after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
The same day that the deputies approved the Internal Security Law, almost unnoticed, the Senate decreed a new Biodiversity Law, which allowed mining and hydrocarbon exploitation in protected natural areas. Regularly, those who have most opposed this type of exploitation are the Indigenous communities, considering that the rights of their territory are violated.
In cases like this, public security tried to mix with the interior and become an extension of control, not only against political opponents but also against entire groups of citizens, who do not accept the megaprojects of transnationals and extractivist economies.
The initiative made by the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies, but supported by the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, proposes extending, until 2028, the period in which the President of the Republic will be able to dispose of the Armed Forces in public security tasks in a regulated, supervised, subordinated and complimentary manner.
With this background, it is clear that the current proposal for the military to carry out public security functions is not similar to the policies of the recent past, which were mixed with those of national and internal security.
Despite this, I am personally against the Army and the Navy carrying out civil protection and police tasks for which their members are not trained. The Armed Forces are usually trained for war situations where the defense of human rights, including the right to life, is not a priority. The result is usually a very high fatality rate in the activities that both groups carry out in the fight against drug trafficking.
To this end, let us add that the Armed Forces, like the Catholic Church, are not monolithic institutions but have many factions and currents operating inside them. In the Church, the Franciscans coexist with the Jesuits; or Opus Dei with Liberation Theology. Something similar happens in the Army where there are those who are people and serve the people of Mexico in rescue work in natural disasters, as there are those who are linked to drug trafficking.
Making these distinctions is not easy for the ordinary citizen, least of all because the information related to the Armed Forces is rarely public as it is managed in a cryptic manner for national security reasons, or at least that is what is argued.
On the other hand, the simplest and most common alternative so that the Army and Navy no longer participate in public security is to strengthen the municipal police. And it is not that this idea is wrong, but perhaps it is simply impossible to land this option in a period of less than ten years. The municipal police is the weakest link in the chain of public security, as it is often associated with drug traffickers to control territory at the municipal and regional levels.
In addition to collusion with organized crime, the municipal police often commit many abuses against citizens. An example of this is the recent case of the young Abigail Hay, who was found dead in a cell in the municipality of Salina Cruz in Oaxaca. As documented by her mother, the murder inside the prison occurred at the hands of female members of the municipal police. And there are so many cases like this, unfortunately.
In these contrasts, the Army and the Navy have around 80% citizen approval, while the municipal police does not even reach 50% and is one of the institutions that is perceived as having the most corruption. Thus, the perception of the urban middle class and the recommendations of security specialists, who never leave their comfortable academic cubicles, is that the military should withdraw from public security tasks. However, people who live in areas of violence controlled by organized crime vastly prefer this option to the municipal police.
The initiative that came from the Chamber of Deputies will still be discussed and modified in the Senate. And although there is no obvious or simple answer in the short term, where the presence of the Army and Navy in public security seems to be inevitable, I agree with the journalist Jorge Zepeda Patterson, who points out that the left and militarization is an impossible marriage, and that although a president as strong and popular as López Obrador can keep the military at bay, it will be a daunting task for anyone who succeeds him if they continue to be granted more in the law.
It is simply not desirable and must have clear time limits and responsibilities. Now we must choose between drawbacks.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
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