President Andrés Manuel López Obrador
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president published a decree Monday authorizing the armed forces to participate in civilian law enforcement for four more years, to March 2024.
Mexican soldiers and marines have been implicated in serious rights abuses, and activists have pressed Mexico to train and equip enough civilian police to take over from the military, who were sent out to fight drug violence in 2006.
A legal reform passed in 2019 created a quasi-military National Guard, but allows the president to use the armed forces in “extraordinary” circumstances, as long as they are subordinate to and supervised by civilian authorities.
But the decree published by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador does little to justify the “extraordinary” circumstances, and says nothing about outside supervision of soldiers.
“The participation of the armed forces in public safety should be under extraordinary conditions, and should be regulated, reviewed, subordinated and complementary” to civilian authorities, according to the decree.
“This decree doesn’t make any attempt to justify what is ‘extraordinary,’” said Mexico security analyst Alejandro Hope, noting it could create a perverse incentive for the army to stop sending soldiers to join the National Guard. The army has supplied and trained the vast majority of the approximately 100,000 guard members; as long as the Guard is considered under-strength, the army will most likely be allowed to continue operating as it has done for years.
The decree also states “the duties which the armed forces carry out in the context of this decree, will be under the supervision and control of the internal affairs office of the corresponding department.”
Hope noted “it says they should be supervised, reviewed and subordinated, but by who? By themselves. The Defense Department regulates itself.”
“It evades the requirement that they be regulated, reviewed, subordinated and complementary. It not only violates the intention of the legislators (who approved the 2019 reform), it violates international jurisprudence.”
However, he noted that “on the ground, this decree doesn’t change much. The armed forces already detain people, set up phone taps, they set up checkpoints and detain migrants.”
Alfredo Lecona, a member of the civic group “Security Without War,” wrote that “for those who ‘already knew’ that the armed forces would be performing police roles until 2024 under the National Guard reform, that is not an argument or justification for AMLO (López Obrador) to grant them a blank check of opacity.”
Former president Felipe Calderón sent the army into the streets in 2006 to fight drug cartels, but since then the violence has only grown. Mexico saw 3,078 homicides in March, up 0.5% from the 2,948 in March 2019. Killings have leveled off, experts say, but at very high levels.