Mexico’s president has ordered the armed forces to tackle security on the streets for another four years, extending a policy he had previously criticised as his government struggles to curb violence in the country.
In a notice published in the Official Gazette on Monday, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered the armed forces participate “in an extraordinary, regulated and complementary manner with the National Guard” in public security tasks.
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The National Guard is a military police force created in 2019 amid criticism of serious rights abuses by Mexican soldiers and marines, with activists pressing authorities to train and equip enough civilian police to take over from the military.
Monday’s notice said the armed forces will operate under the command of the National Guard and that the order will last until March 2024.
The decision means soldiers will be on Mexican streets until almost the end of the presidency of Lopez Obrador, a political veteran who came to power in December 2018. He had often criticised former President Felipe Calderon for deploying soldiers and sailors, beginning in 2006, for public security and to fight drug violence.
Juan Ibarrola, a security specialist, said Monday’s notice was a sign Lopez Obrador’s “security strategy is not working”.
“That is why he has had to order with this decree for the armed forces to support public security,” Ibarrola told the Milenio newspaper.
Lopez Obrador, also known as AMLO, won office vowing to adopt a more conciliatory security strategy focused on the root causes of crime, in particular by reducing poverty and corruption. But the violence has continued during his first year and a half in charge, with a record 34,582 people murdered in 2019.
Some 3,000 homicides were recorded in March this year, the second-biggest number of monthly murders ever and the highest since Lopez Obrador assumed power.
There are about 100,000 guard members, the vast majority of whom were supplied and trained by the army. The force is scheduled to expand to an estimated 120,000 members by 2021, and to 150,000 by 2023.
The president is also still allowed to use the armed forces in “extraordinary” circumstances, as long as they are subordinate to and supervised by civilian authorities.
However, Alejandro Hope, a Mexican security analyst, said Monday’s decree did little to justify the “extraordinary” circumstances and did not provide for the outside supervision of soldiers.
“It says they should be supervised, reviewed and subordinated, but by who? By themselves. The Defense Department regulates itself,” he told The Associated Press news agency.
“It evades the requirement that they be regulated, reviewed, subordinated and complementary. It not only violates the intention of the legislators, it violates international jurisprudence.”
However, Hope said “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 to grant them a blank check of opacity.”