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.

Supreme Court determines Law on Internal Security unconstitutional

Supreme Court building

Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation. Source: Wikipedia.

12/30/18 (written by kheinle) — Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN) made a significant decision in November regarding the proposed Law on Internal Security (Ley de Seguridad Interior). The law was meant to address Mexico’s notoriously high levels of crime and violence. It sought to expand safety on the domestic front, minimize threats towards internal security, and increase the role of the military in domestic affairs. The latter includes the military’s capacity to gather intelligence and evidence in proposed crimes.

On November 15, 2018, however, the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, arguing that it went against both the Mexican Constitution and international treaties to which Mexico is a signatory. The Court also said that Mexico’s Congress, which had approved the law, should not legislate on matters of internal security. When the draft law was published in December 2017, Congress was controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), the party of then-President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). On December 1, 2018, the new government took over under now-President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA) took office.

Critics of the Law on Internal Security

Despite its Congressional support, the law received pushback from civilian institutions and human rights activists. The Washington Office on Latin America shared its concern in a communication just weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision. WOLA noted the control it would have given the military in overseeing civilian authorities in domestic affairs, as well as its expanded role in investigations. “Paired with the absence of effective controls and accountability mechanisms to oversee those actions, this will limit the power of authorities within the civilian justice system, resulting in impunity,” WOLA stated. The law also drew ire from the public. A Change.org petition was submitted a month after the draft law was initially published with over 467,000 signatures urging the Mexican government to reject the law. WOLA summarized that the five main reasons for the public’s rebuke included:

  1. “Lack of accountability mechanisms and civilian oversight;
  2. Expanding the military’s jurisdiction over civilians;
  3. Insufficient regulation of the military’s use of force;
  4. Lack of transparency in how the Internal Security Law will be implemented; [and]
  5. The Internal Security Law disincentives police reform.”

The high court’s decision is one that Esmeralda Arosema de Troitiño, the spokesperson for Mexico’s Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, CIDH), argued set a precedent for President López Obrador’s incoming government. The Court’s decision “constitutes an indispensable judicial precedent as the base for the new government to present a concrete plan to gradually draw down military in public security matters…,” she said.

The developments with the Law on Internal Security paralleled President López Obrador’s ongoing push for a National Guard, which has also raised concerns about human rights and public safety.

Sources:

Cámara de Deputados del H. Congreso de la Unión. “Ley de Seguridad Interior.” Diario Oficial de la Federación. December 21, 2017. PDF.

Suarez-Enriquez, Ximena and Maureen Meyer. “Multiple Sectors Push Back Against the Implementation of Mexico’s New Internal Security Law.” WOLA. January 25, 2018.

Joint Statement. “International Observatory on Mexico: The Decision of Mexico’s Supreme Court on the Internal Security Law Will Set a Fundamental Precedent on Militarization in the Country and in the Region.” Washington Office on Latin America. November 2, 2018. 

Ferri, Pablo. “La justicia mexicana tumba la ley del gobierno saliente que perpetúa el papel policial del Ejército.” El País. November 16, 2018.

Roldán, Mariluz. “CIDH celebra invalidación de Ley de Seguridad Interior.” El Universal. November 26, 2018.

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

Critics voice concerns over Mexico’s proposed National Guard

infographic, structure / outline of National Guard

Representative Mario Delgado posted this infographic about the National Guard following the sub-committee’s approval. Source: Mario Delgado, Twitter.

12/24/18 (written by kheinle) — The plan to create a National Guard (Guardia Nacional) in Mexico advanced through the first round of congressional approval. On December 20, 2018, the Chamber of Deputies’ (la Cámara de Diputados) Committee on Constitutional Affairs (la Comisión de Puntos Constitucionales) approved the bill 18 votes in favor to 6 against. If full Congress approves, the National Guard would be a 50,000-person armed force created from the ranks of the Mexican military and police. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) proposed the force to address the seriously high levels of crime and violence in Mexico.

The bill would require amending 13 articles of the Mexican Constitution, some of which seek to mitigate concerns of human rights and civilian oversight. As Reuters reported, the constitutional changes “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.” Initially, the National Guard was also going to be overseen by the Secretary of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA). The bill approved in the Chamber of Deputies’ sub-committee, however, moved much of this control to the Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudana, SSPC). As the Latin America News Dispatch summarized, “While the unit would still be trained militarily, as was originally proposed, jurisdiction would pass to civilian authorities after five years, according to Representative Mario Delgado.” It continued, “The Senate will also be given the power to dissolve the new guard.”

Critics Speak Up

Despite these changes, critics have widely condemned the proposal. Causa en Común, a collective of more than 500 civil society organizations and businesses, among others, delivered a petition to Congress in November 2018 urging their elected officials to reject AMLO’s proposition. For her part, the director of the organization México Evalúa, Edna Jaime, criticized the National Guard in a November 2018 article titled, “No es más de lo mismo, es algo peor” (“It’s not more of the same; it’s worse”). Mexico’s crime and violence, she wrote, is associated with the dysfunctional State, the void of effective governing mechanisms, and a weak institution. The solution “is improving the capacity of the State” and focusing resources at the local levels, Jaime argued. “World peace is sustainable in local-level processes that operate with good mechanisms of global governance.”

DF Mayor speaking at event

Mexico City Mayor Sheinbaum turned down the idea of the National Guard in Mexico City. Source: Vanguardia.

Elected officials also voiced their concern. Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum publicly announced that the National Guard would not be needed in the capital. The police are capable of delivering, she said, adding that the federal and local police forces would work closely together. Congresswoman Lucia Rojas also argued that the National Guard would only deepen the military-focused strategy already in Mexico. “And it’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.” The military’s presence in Mexico’s domestic affairs has also led to an increase in the number of human rights violations perpetrated by members of the military against civilians, an issue that Justice in Mexico explored in a 2012 special report.

At the international level, organizations like the United Nations (UN), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern, too. Jan Jarab of the UN’s Office on Human Rights in Mexico sent a letter to Congress following the Chamber of Deputies’ sub-committee vote. Approval of the bill, he wrote, “would establish at the constitutional level this paradigm of military involvement in security issues, the same one that has contributed to the deterioration of human rights in Mexico.” Jarab continued, “[It] would threaten the possibility of having a capable civil body in the future that could exercise public security in strict accordance with international human rights standards.”

AMLO is not the first Mexican president to pursue the idea of a National Guard. His predecessor, President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), initially called for a 40,000-person force that was eventually scaled down to 5,000. AMLO’s current bill will soon be presented to the full Chamber of Deputies for consideration.

Sources:

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

June S. Beittel, “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations,” Congressional Research Service, July 3, 2018.

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

Roldán, Maríhiz. “Más de 500 organizaciones manifestan su rechazo a la Guardia Nacional.” El Universal. November 20, 2018.

Angel, Arturo. “Los cambios clave en la propuesta de Guardia Nacional que fue aprobado en comisiones.” Animal Político. December 20, 2018.

Jiménez, Horacio and Alejandra Canchola. “Guardia Nacional arrancaría con mando militar y Senado la podría disolver: Delgado.” El Universal. December 20, 2018.

“Asylum seekers will be sent back to wait in Mexico.” Latin America News Dispatch. December 21, 2018.

“Diputados de México aprueban en comisiones la nueva Guardia Nacional.” RT. December 21, 2018.

Magallán, Antonio. “Sheimbaum se revela contra la Guardia Nacional de AMLO; asegura bastará con la Policía Federal y municipal.” Vanguardia. December 21, 2018.

Sánchez, Citlal Giles. “Preocupa a represenante de la ONU en México creación de la Guardia Nacional.” La Jornada Guerrero. December 22, 2018.