Mexico's new leftist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador was sworn in on December 1st amid pledges to transform the country on behalf of the poor, but one of his proposals have startled his supporters and the broader civil society: the creation of a national guard made up of divisions of the armed forces, which would be in charge of public security.
AMLO, as he's known in Mexico, won the July's presidential elections by a landslide on a pacifist platform — he's promised demilitarization of urban spaces and ending the armed conflict. He has also secured a comfortable majority in the legislative. With this amount of power, he is well placed to roll out broad institutional reforms.
He hopes that the national guard will help fix Mexico's long-lasting public security problems — a “war” against organized crime initiated by ex-president Felipe Calderón has claimed 250,000 lives over the course of twelve years.
The announcement was made on November 15 and wasn't well received by human rights organizations. The Mexican army has been accused many times of serious human rights violations such as with the Tlatlaya case, when military personnel reportedly gave orders to execute 22 civilians in the municipality of Tlatlaya, Mexico state, in June 2004.
The director of Amnesty International in Mexico, Tania Reneaum, says that AMLO should amend the proposal so that it focuses on strengthening and professionalizing civilian police forces instead. She said: “The new government should break with the military paradigm and establish a new model”.
Human Rights Watch has issued a statement calling the creation of a national guard a “worrying strategy” and a “wrong and potentially dangerous policy” to solve the security crisis in Mexico.
For many people, attributing police responsibilities to the armed forces amounts to a broken promise by the newly-inaugurated president.
What are Mexicans saying?
Analyst Diego Petersen claims the president has apparently bent due to pressure from the armed forces, which has long exerted influence in the country's politics. He writes on SinEmbargoMX:
La militarización de la seguridad se venía fraguando desde mediados del sexenio de Peña. Si el Ejercito tiene ya listos varios miles de efectivos para formar la Guardia Nacional es porque son años de trabajo en este cuerpo de policía. Las fuerzas armadas terminaron imponiendo su visión y sus condiciones.
The militarisation of security has been creeping in since the time of [former president Enrique] Peña [Nieto]. If the army has thousands of personnel to spare for the National Guard, it is only because they have spent years working to make it possible. The armed forces, in the end, are imposing their vision and their conditions.
The escalation of the military's involvement in public security is largely an effect of the ‘Interior Security Law,’ passed by the previous administration and recently declared unconstitutional by the Judiciary. The law aimed to legitimize the use of armed forces in public security, which is similar to what the AMLO is proposing now.
On Twitter, user Lucía Riojas, a legislator from the opposition and an activist in defense of sexual diversity, for example, noted the cases of abuse by those institutions which will make up part of the national guard:
No hay evidencia de que más militares en las calles haciendo tareas de seguridad pública se traduzca en menos violencia. Todxs recordamos #Ayotzinapa, #Tlatlaya, #Palmarito, #Ostula, el asesinato de Jorge y Javier en el Tec.
— lucía (@LuRiojas) 15 de noviembre de 2018
There is no evidence suggesting that a larger military presence on the streets doing a public security role will translate into less violence. We all remember #Ayotzinapa, #Tlatlaya, #Palmarito, #Ostula, the murder of Jorge and Javier [two university students killed by armed forces who took them for criminals during a clash with gunmen in 2010].
Political commentator Rodrigo Ezarrás claimed that the creation of police forces is something that other Mexican presidents have been doing for years:
Zedillo tuvo la PFP, Fox creó a la AFI, Calderón creó la PF de la PFP de Zedillo, Peña quería su Gendarmería a la francesa, y ahora AMLO tendrá su Guardia Nacional.
¿Qué es evidente?
No tenemos proyecto policial claro. Puras ocurrencias en más de 18 años.
— Rodrigo_E (@rodaxiando) 16 de noviembre de 2018
Zedillo had the PFP [Federal Preventive Police], Fox created the AFI [the Federal Ministerial Police], Calderón created the PF [Federal Police] out of Zedillo's PFP, Peña wanted a French-style Gendarmerie, and now AMLO will have his National Guard. What's evident here? We don't have any clear police project. It's been 18 years of hasty decisions.
A Twitter user under the name of “Madame Déficit” pointed out that this reform was not part of the president-elect's campaign platform:
Militarizar al país no es lo que el santo patrono @lopezobrador_ le ofreció a sus devotos. Desplegar ejército y marina para funciones de policía es un ERROR.
¿Lo van a dejar salirse con la suya?
— Madame Déficit (@Alessia_mx) 19 de noviembre de 2018
Militarizing the country's police force was not among the things patron saint @lopezobrador_ offered his worshippers. Moving army and navy personnel into police roles is a mistake. Are you going to let him get away with it?
Another Twitter user, Alejandro Madrazo Lajous, also proclaimed on Twitter that the militarization of the country should be avoided:
Hoy más que nunca es importante dejar en claro que los juegos de palabras no nos engañan.
Ya lo intentaron los promotores de la #LeyGolpista y quedaron exhibidos
— Alejandro Madrazo Lajous (@BuenMadrazo) 19 de noviembre de 2018
It is important, now more than ever, to make it clear that this war of words will get us nowhere. The promoters of the #LeyGolpista [a law for interior security declared unconstitutional in November 2018] already tried and they were exposed. For a #SecurityWithoutWar NO to the National Guard. Sign [the petition] for peace. #SeguridadSinGuerra [The image reads the same message]
Filmmaker Epigmenio Ibarra, who is a supporter of López Obrador, said that the announced security plan does not necessarily mean militarization of the country:
Hablan de militarización cuando, de hecho, la propuesta de @lopezobrador_ va en sentido contrario. Retira a fuerzas de combate,las sustituye con la policia militar y crea la Guardia Nacional con jóvenes reclutas que habrán de transformar a fondo a las fuerzas armadas.
— epigmenio ibarra (@epigmenioibarra) 15 de noviembre de 2018
They talk about militarization when, in fact, the proposal by @lopezobrador_ is actually going in the opposite direction. It retires the armed forces, replaces them with a military police and creates a National Guard with young recruits who will deeply transform the armed forces.
Another López supporter, Ixchel Cisneros, shared her personal thoughts in a column for the HuffPost, in which she reminds readers of the people who have personally suffered from the consequences of militarization:
Yo voté por Andrés Manuel y por varios representantes de Morena y lo hice principalmente por su postura en contra de la militarización del país […] Presentaron su estrategia de seguridad, la cual incluía crear una Guardia Nacional formada por un grupo de fuerzas armadas de “élite” y fuerzas civiles que estará coordinada por la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional. Es decir, el orden civil subordinado al militar. Es decir, continuar y reforzar la estrategia fallida de Felipe Calderón y Enrique Peña Nieto. Estrategia fallida que nos tiene con casi 250 mil personas asesinadas y más de 37 mis desaparecidas.
I voted for Andrés Manuel [López Obrador] and various representatives of Morena, and I did it mainly for his stance against the militarization of the country […] They presented their national security strategy, which included the creation of a National Guard made up of a group of ‘elite’ armed forces and civil forces that would be led by the secretary of National Defense. That means that the civil order will be directed by the military. It is continuing and strengthening the failed strategy of Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto. A failed strategy that has left us with nearly 250,000 people killed and more than 37,000 forced disappearances.
Expectations of the Lopez Obrador administrations are high as, for many people, he represents the leftist populist side of Latin American politics that presumably had waned in recent years. It remains to be seen what the next steps will be, or to what extent these strategies will address the political needs of the Mexican people.