Mexico’s top court has limited the army’s participation in public security tasks, blocking a contentious move by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to put a civilian force under military control.
The National Guard plan, approved by the governing party-controlled Congress last September, alarmed Lopez Obrador’s opponents and human rights campaigners who said it handed too much power to the armed forces.
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By eight votes to three, the Supreme Court annulled on Tuesday the legislative reform granting the defence ministry operational and administrative control of the National Guard, concluding it was unconstitutional.
Before coming to power in 2018, Lopez Obrador had promised to send the military back to the barracks.
But under his presidency, the armed forces have kept their role in tackling drug cartel-related violence and even gained more responsibility, including control of ports and customs and major infrastructure projects.
Lopez Obrador created the National Guard in 2019 with a civilian command to replace federal police accused of corruption and human rights violations.
He has since argued the military is less likely to be infiltrated by organised crime than other branches of the security forces.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights last year described the National Guard reform as a “setback to public security grounded in human rights”.
Nada al-Nashif, then acting UN high commissioner for human rights, said at the time the changes “effectively leave Mexico without a federal civilian police force, further cementing the already prominent role of the armed forces in public security in Mexico”.
The military’s increased role had led to more allegations of human rights violations by law enforcement and the armed forces, and no sustainable reduction in crime, she said.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in a spiral of bloodshed since the government of then-President Felipe Calderon controversially deployed the army to fight drug cartels in 2006.