Mexico’s Congress has voted to bring federal police forces under direct military control, in a move that critics say dramatically escalates the army’s role in civilian affairs and functions.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador spearheaded the bill to put the National Guard under the control of the country’s army-led defence ministry – a volte-face on his earlier pledge to take the army out of policing and return many soldiers to barracks.
The bill cleared the Senate on September 9. But opponents say that putting the National Guard under direct military rule is another example of the creeping militarisation of the country. Army and navy teams have in recent years been deployed in increasing numbers to handle tasks that would usually be the responsibility of civilian-led bodies – from building airports and train networks to stopping migrants and handling customs checks at seaports.
While the National Guard is currently under nominal civilian control, about 80 percent of its 118,000-strong force come from military ranks. Lopez Obrador insists that putting the National Guard under formal military leadership will ultimately help Mexico tackle gang violence that has continued unabated.
But human rights groups opposed to the fast-tracked bill say the military is not trained in the sensitivities of community policing – and point out that the governmental National Human Rights Commission is examining more than a thousand complaints of abuse by National Guard officers. They are urging root-and-branch reforms of police forces, prosecutors and courts instead.
In this episode of The Stream, we’ll look at what the bill heralded by Lopez Obrador would mean for communities across Mexico if it becomes law, and ask what the increasing visibility of the military in public life means for the country.