AMLO’s National Guard Turns One

Francisco Robles/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

07/09/20 (written by jhale) – For many Mexicans weary of crooked politicians and dangerous city streets, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (or AMLO, as he is colloquially known) offered a glimmer of hope. An outspoken opponent of government corruption, the populist diplomat sought to overhaul the federal policing system and replace it with the National Guard (Guardia Nacional). This dramatic change represented the beginning of a broad shift in the systems and structure of Mexican law enforcement under the current administration. The National Guard, unlike the Federal Police, was intended to be effective at stopping crime and resistant to corruption. In the year since deployments began on June 30, 2019, pundits have sought to determine whether the organization has fulfilled AMLO’s initial promise to address the problems plaguing Mexican society.

Implementation and initial reactions

With the catchy slogan “abrazos, no balazos” (hugs, not gunshots), AMLO sought to institute a system of policing that represented citizens, not government interests (Belmont). In AMLO’s view, the police were incompetent and corrupt, while the military was heavy-handed and violent. The National Guard was designed to bridge the gap between the two. A constitutional referendum to create and implement the National Guard passed both houses of Congress with little resistance (Semple and Villegas). The plan does not immediately recuse the military of its public security duties, but rather designates a five-year transition period for the Guard’s implementation. At present, the National Guard has swelled to a force of over 100,000 troops drawn from the ranks of the military and the defunct Federal Police force (Espino).

Under pressure from the United States and the Mexican public, AMLO has deployed the National Guard to the country’s southern border. U.S. president Donald Trump has threatened to stamp tariffs on Mexican exports unless Mexico acts to mitigate the perceived threat of Central American migrants and drugs flowing northward. Mexican citizens have also expressed apathy towards migrants, with 51% supporting the use of the National Guard to enforce border crossings, according to a 2019 survey (Clement and Sieff). However, some have accused the Mexican head of state of giving in to Donald Trump’s demands and using migrants as a scapegoat for deeper societal problems. Others have claimed that the Guard’s deployment to the border distracts from its failure to address issues such as rising crime rates or drug trafficking.

Critics warn of the militarization of law enforcement

Another criticism leveled against the National Guard is that it lacks the community-serving ethos of a competent police force. Critics note that, in practice, a police force should protect a community and establish close relationships with its members. Some believe the presence of the heavily armed National Guard can be intimidating, fostering a climate of fear rather than safety (“Guardia Nacional, Cada Vez Más Militar”). However, AMLO has defended a militarized approach, encouraging collaboration between the military and the National Guard on national security projects. The Mexican president has vouched for the military’s professionalism, expressing a desire to avoid the mistakes that led to the dismantling of the Federal Police (Villa y Caña and Morales). In its first year, the National Guard has struggled with an identity crisis as it seeks to define its role in law enforcement.

AMLO’s recent rhetoric has been met with strong pushback from Congress. In May, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD) presented an official complaint regarding the militarization of public safety. The complaint was submitted to Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) and asserts that civil security should be carried out by civilian groups, not the military. The PRD contends that if Mexico continues to normalize the use of heavily-armed security forces to enforce the law, human rights violations will go unchecked. Furthermore, pundits point out that the constitutional provision that created the National Guard last year did so to create a force that would eventually replace the military in enforcing domestic security. In this understanding, some argue that advocating for continued collaboration between civilian and military forces violates the spirit of the new law (García and Jiménez).

An uncertain road ahead

Moreover, rising crime rates have caused skeptics to question the National Guard’s effectiveness. Violence in the first five months of 2020 was greater than in the same period last year, before the Guard was deployed throughout the country (Espino). Supporters of the National Guard, such as Francisco Rivas Rodríguez, have made the case that surges in crime are a result of a shortage of funding. Rivas Rodríguez, the director of the thinktank National Citizen Observatory (Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano, ONC) claims that legislative gridlock has kept the National Guard from receiving the necessary resources to achieve its goals (Espino). This is a viewpoint touted by the president, a stringent defender of the program.

There is a pressing need to find solutions for the problems facing Mexican society. Drug trafficking, immigration, and violent crime remain key issues at the forefront of national discourse. AMLO’s National Guard promised hope. The bill that created the force passed Congress with an overwhelming majority, including a unanimous vote in the Senate (Semple and Villegas). However, an evaluation of the National Guard’s first year in action has highlighted an increase in military-minded law enforcement bolstered by the president’s rhetoric. While this approach may provide relief for some Mexicans weary of a corrupt police force, rising crime rates indicate that the country has not become safer since the Guard’s inception. The coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic downturn have tasked the National Guard with providing security to a nation on edge. It remains to be seen if it is up for the task.

Sources

Belmont, José Antonio. “Con ‘Abrazos, No Balazos’, AMLO Promete Reducir Violencia.” MILENIO, Grupo Milenio, 5 Dec. 2018, www.milenio.com/politica/abrazos-balazos-amlo-promete-reducir-violencia.

Clement, Scott, and Kevin Sieff. “Unauthorized Immigrants Face Public Backlash in Mexico, Survey Finds.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 17 July 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/unauthorized-immigrants-face-public-backlash-in-mexico-survey-finds/2019/07/16/f7fc5d12-a75e-11e9-a3a6-ab670962db05_story.html.

Espino, Manuel. “Inseguridad. Con GN Violencia Se Mantiene.” El Universal, 29 June 2020, 04:44, www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/inseguridad-con-gn-violencia-se-mantiene.

García, Carina, and Horacio Jiménez. “PRD Presenta Queja Ante CDRH Por Militarizar La Seguridad Pública.” El Universal, 14 May 2020, 17:14, www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/politica/prd-presenta-queja-cndh-por-militarizar-seguridad-publica.

“Guardia Nacional, Cada Vez Más Militar: Especialistas.” El Siglo, El Siglo De Torreón, 29 June 2020, www.elsiglodetorreon.com.mx/noticia/1716700.guardia-nacional-cada-vez-mas-militar-especialistas.html.

Semple, Kirk, and Paulina Villegas. “Mexico Approves 60,000-Strong National Guard. Critics Call It More of the Same.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/02/28/world/americas/mexico-amlo-national-guard.html?auth=login email&login=email&module=inline.

Villa y Caña, Pedro, and Alberto Morales. “Defiende AMLO a Ejército En Guardia Nacional.” El Universal, 15 May 2020, 02:21, www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/politica/defiende-amlo-ejercito-en-guardia-nacional.

AMLO deploys National Guard amidst controversy

07/24/19 (written by kheinle) — The first contingent of Mexico’s National Guard (Guardia Nacional) was officially deployed to the streets in late June. Created from the ranks of the Mexican military and police, the National Guard will serve as a means to combat the country’s ongoing challenges with organized crime and violence. The deployment came seven months after President Andrés López Manuel Obrador took office in December 2018 and three months after Mexico’s Congress approved the force in March 2019. The National Guard is projected to grow to be 140,000 members.

Deployment of the National Guard

AMLO rides in ceremony for National Guard inauguration

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the inauguration of the National Guard. Photo: Cuartoscuro.

Six thousand National Guard agents were initially sent to Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. They are there to assist with the increasing flow of migrants crossing into Mexico from Central America. As The Associated Press noted, the deployment came “as Mexico [put] into effect a deal on irregular immigration reached with Washington to head off stiff tariffs that President Donald Trump threatened to slap on all imports from Mexico.”

President López Obrador’s decision to strengthen the country’s southern border in response to the escalating tension with the United States led to a drop in his approval rating. In May, President López Obrador had a 66.0% approval rating, which fell to 60.8% after his agreement made with President Trump on June 7, according to polling firm Mitkofsky. Overall, President López Obrador has fared poorly with approval ratings specific to public security. In a recent survey, only 26% of respondents approved of the government’s handling of public security, while 55% viewed it poorly. Even the president commented that he “had so far failed to improve security,” writes Reuters. Still, President López Obrador has received above average approval ratings during his time in office.

The heated rhetoric between the United States and Mexico regarding tariffs and immigration has since quieted for the time being. Yet the debate over Mexico’s National Guard has not. Critics continue to express concern over the agency’s formation, its effect on the Police, and its respect of human rights.

Criticism of the National Guard

National Guard on patrol

Members of the military display National Guard insignia during patrol in El Manguito, Mexico. Photo: Oliver de Ros, Associated Press.

As Justice in Mexico wrote in December 2018, criticism of the force emanates at the local, national, and international levels. Congresswoman Lucia Rojas, for example, argued that the National Guard would only deepen the military-focused strategy already in Mexico. “…[I]t’s become clear in the last 12 years,” she said, “that there’s absolutely no evidence that having the army on the streets helps to reduce the violence.”

Similarly, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore acknowledged that, at least pertaining to the flow of migrants to Mexico’s southern border, the National Guard is not the cure. “Unless the root causes of these migration flows are addressed, the situation is unlikely to change,” said Fore. That parallels ongoing criticism of the government’s willingness to involve the military in domestic affairs, a practice that is regularly discouraged. The blurring of the line between roles and responsibilities among the military, police, and now the National Guard will be worth monitoring.

Police Protests

Mexico’s Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) has been in the center of the debate over the National Guard, as the former will be fully integrated into the latter over the next 18 months. The Police have been very critical of the National Guard’s formation and the effect it will have on the police agents themselves. Their concerns include officers’ pay and benefits if they transfer, job stability and security, and the effect of deployment on their families back home, reports The New York Times. One Federal Police officer, Engelbert Ruiz, commented that “What is really happening is that they are simply changing our uniforms [with] no explanations, clarity, no rights or guarantees.”

Federal Police gather in protest

Members of Mexico’s Federal Police (Policia Federal, PF). Photo: Cuartoscuro.

Tensions erupted in early July when Federal Police in Mexico City took to the streets. Protests included press conferences, blockades on one of the main highways in Mexico City, and several hundred officers barricading themselves in the police command center. They also signed a petition “in favor of legality and justice” that laid out the Federal Police’s demands for just pay and treatment as they integrate into the National Guard. In addition, more than 4,000 agents signed on to an amparo, or court injunction, demanding the protections of their rights throughout this process.

President López Obrador has been critical of the police force’s discipline and entanglement with corruption. He pointed to the protests as a sign that they lack discipline. “We have always said that this police force has been going bad, and what happened yesterday,” he said, referencing the protests, “is evidence of that.” Still, the López Obrador administration, including Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection Alfonso Durazo Montaño, continue to stress that police officers “joining the National Guard will be able to retain their rank, bonuses and benefits.” Durazo has been working with the police to address and satisfy their demands, on which he reported progress and agreements as of July 9, according to El Economista.

Human Rights Violations

Military involvement in domestic affairs raises concern, particularly with regards to the potential increase in human rights violations perpetrated by members of the military against civilians. As it was, just days after the National Guard took to the streets in Mexico, three agents were arrested for allegedly kidnapping a 14-year-old in the State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex). They are thought to be a part of a larger kidnapping gang that authorities in Edomex and Guerrero were tracking.

The likelihood of such incidences occurring pushed Congress to establish human rights protocols and protections as they debated the force’s approval earlier this year. This included constitutional changes that “would mean that national guard members receive human rights training, are tried by civil courts and will not be able to move detainees to military institutions,” writes Reuters. If agents want to join the National Guard, they must now participate in a seven week training. This is a step in the right direction to curtail human rights violations. However, the Mexican Government ought to continue prioritizing human rights protections amidst the National Guard’s rollout.

Sources:

Daly, Catherine et al. “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. July 2012.

“Mexican president-elect’s party presents national guard plan.” Reuters. November 20, 2018.

“Critics voice concerns over Mexico’s proposed National Guard.” Justice in Mexico. December 24, 2018.

Verza, María. “Mexico says National Guard deployment is complete.” The Associated Press. June 21, 2019.

García, Jacobo. “López Obrador pone en marcha la polémica Guardia Nacional para frenar la violencia del crimen organizado.” El País. July 1, 2019.

“One year from election, Mexicans give government poor marks on key issues: poll.” Reuters. July 1, 2019.

“Mexican police protest against joining new national guard.” Reuters. July 3, 2019.

Villegas, Paulina and Elisabeth Malkin. “Mexico’s Federal Police Rebel Against New Security Plan.” The New York Times. July 4, 2019.

“Cae banda de secuestradores que pertenecían a la Guardia Nacional.” Forbes. July 16, 2019.

Badillo, Diego. “Guardia Nacional desata conflicto dentro de la Policía Federal.” El Economista. July 20, 2019.