Militarized Mexico is Starting to Look Like Venezuela

The excessive military empowerment will be key to strengthen and feed itself on the increasingly evident authoritarianism of López Obrador

The Armed Forces are now López Obrador’s political clientele (Photo: Flickr).

Spanish – On Friday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador signed an agreement that “extraordinarily” hands over the country’s public security tasks to the Armed Forces.

It is the militarization of the State, de facto and de jure: while the López Obrador government has assigned public services to the army, such as the construction of the new airport in Santa Lucía and the provision of health services by COVID-19, it is now also militarizing public security, allegedly in accordance with the constitution.

Let’s keep in mind that Mexico is one of the few countries in the region that does not have a civilian Minister of the Armed Forces and that the government has not established mechanisms to guarantee total civilian control over the military (in fact, the main and almost only oversight role of the Mexican Congress over the military is to approve its budget), and it is not even possible to submit them to the civilian justice apparatus.

López Obrador’s agreement is a repetition of the failed strategies of former presidents Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, which did not reduce violence (quite the contrary) and led to serious and repeated human rights violations. For example, since 2007, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has received 10,000 complaints of human rights violations committed by members of the army. Additionally, between 2007 and June 2017, the CNDH issued 148 recommendations to the Mexican Armed Forces for serious human rights violations, including documented cases of torture, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and illegal use of force, among others.

This situation will now be repeated. In fact, it will be even worse because it took López Obrador a year and a half, a quarter of his administration, to realize the failure of his strategy of fighting organized crime cartels with “hugs and kisses” and creating a National Guard that has had no results apart from the embarrassing videos showing the corruption of its members, or how the latter are beaten up by solvent neighbors.

The presidential agreement simulates compliance with the constitution but does not indicate how to comply with the obligations of control, regulation, and subordination of the army in these new tasks. The constitution has established these obligations. So we will have the army in the streets, arresting civilians and fighting crime cartels, but without any control, regulation, or civilian command: the ideal scenario for the systematic and unpunished violation of individual rights.

Now, given the unstoppable climate of violence in the country (with mind-boggling figures such as a murder every 15 minutes on average), was this the best decision? There was probably no other option. But let’s also recognize that neither this government nor the previous ones cared about building a new and better solution. Even during the campaign, López Obrador himself and important members of his party, now prominent members of his government, Congress, or the government’s communications programs, criticized the militarization strategies of the previous governments, marched against them, and even challenged them in court. López Obrador also promised to return the military to their barracks in six months. Instead, in these 17 months of his administration, he did not present any new ideas or plans. It was all deceit and mere political opportunism to attack the adversaries.

This shows that López Obrador and his people really didn’t mind the direction of the country or the decisions made by Calderón or Peña Nieto and their entourages. All they wanted was to take their places and enjoy their privileges.

Ultimately, the president’s political betrayal of his voters establishes a greater centralization of public security tasks in the army, a new and not very auspicious civil-military arrangement in the country, and an unprecedented conception of the national security network, where the military will be the main axis of a renewed vision of power and control, without counterweights, similar to so many countries that fell into the so-called 21st-century socialism.

The excessive military empowerment will be key to strengthen and feed itself on the increasingly evident authoritarianism of López Obrador. Thus, a greater concentration of power in the hands of López Obrador, now with the Armed Forces as his political clientele, could easily serve to impose a dictatorial regime in Mexico in the medium term if the president wanted to. And for many Mexicans, that’s precisely what López Obrador wants, and that’s where he’s heading, without any respite or rest.

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