Mexico’s Senate votes to hand over the National Guard to the military

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s Senate on Friday morning passed a bill transferring control of the country’s newly created National Guard to the military.

When the National Guard was created as part of a constitutional reform in 2019, it was placed under civilian control. But most of his training and recruitment took place within the army.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the guard must now be under military command, to prevent corruption. The lower house of Congress has already approved the measure and López Obrador is expected to sign it.

Opposition parties said late Thursday they would file legal challenges, saying the measure violated the constitutional guarantee of civilian oversight.

“Public security is not achieved by violating the rule of law, by violating the Constitution,” said Senator Claudia Anaya Mota of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, who vowed the opposition would quickly file a legal challenge.

For years, Mexican politicians have widely agreed that the country must improve its often corrupt, underpaid and poorly trained civilian police force, and stop relying on military forces to combat drug gang violence. Even López Obrador had, earlier in his career, called on soldiers to return to barracks. He later said he had changed his mind.

In 2019, the president disbanded the former civilian Federal Police and promised that the National Guard – which, unlike the United States, is entirely federal and never commanded by state governors – would remain under the control of the Civil Department of the Civil War. public security.

But that created a bureaucratic headache for the armed forces, which provided most National Guard officers from the ranks of the army and marines; these officers retained their places in the army and were considered on loan to the new force.

López Obrador no longer has enough votes in the Senate to change the constitution again – that would require a two-thirds majority – and so his party simply changed secondary laws governing custody by a vote of 71 to 51.

Amnesty International said Friday’s vote “would lead to more human rights violations”.

“We have already seen the disastrous results of the militarization of public security forces in Mexico over the past 16 years,” Edith Olivares Ferreto, director of Amnesty International Mexico, wrote in a statement, referring to violations of rights and to the increase in violence.

Of more than 110,000 members of the National Guard, more than 80% are drawn from the army and the navy. The National Guard functions only because of the military leaders who organized it and the army’s vast logistical capabilities.

Nada Al-Nashif, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, wrote that “the reforms effectively leave Mexico without a civilian police force at the federal level and further consolidate the already important role of the armed forces in security. in Mexico”.

López Obrador responded angrily to criticism of the move on Friday, saying he was “surprised by the attitude of some conservative lawmakers, their level of hypocrisy and cretinism.”

He brushed aside criticism from outside groups, saying that “human rights and international organizations that have been silent as accomplices throughout the period of massacres and torture, and the protection of organized crime, never said anything and now they are so worried about the militarization in Mexico. .”

The president has given the military more responsibilities than any Mexican leader in recent memory, tasking them with not only fighting drug cartels but also fuel theft. He had them build a new airport for the capital and a tourist train on the Yucatan Peninsula. They build bank branches in rural areas and have played a key role in the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The army has been on the streets in a vital security role for years, long before López Obrador took office. He has been accused of human rights abuses and the United Nations has long called for his removal from the police force.

However, neither the National Guard nor the army succeeded in reducing insecurity in the country.

Critics say the National Guard lacks the investigative and intelligence capabilities of a police force. They are a visible presence on patrols and respond to violence, but do little to prevent it.

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