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Mexico Pres. to Keep Army in Streets   08/14 10:07

   

   MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexico's president has begun exploring plans to sidestep 
congress to hand formal control of the National Guard to the army, a move that 
could extend the military's control over policing in a country with high levels 
of violence.

   That has raised concerns because President Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador won 
approval for creating the force in 2019 by pledging in the constitution that it 
would be under nominal civilian control and that the army would be off the 
streets by 2024.

   Neither the National Guard nor the military have been able to lower the 
insecurity in the country, however. This past week, drug cartels staged 
widespread arson and shooting attacks, terrifying civilians in three main 
northwest cities in a bold challenge to the state.

   Still, Lpez Obrador wants to keep soldiers involved in policing, and remove 
civilian control over the National Guard, whose officers and commanders are 
mostly soldiers, with military training and pay grades.

   But the president no longer has the votes in congress to amend the 
constitution and has suggested he may try to do it as a regulatory change with 
a simple majority in congress or by an executive order and see if the courts 
will uphold that.

   Lpez Obrador warned Friday against politicizing the issue, saying the 
military is needed to fight Mexico's violent drug cartels. But then he 
immediately politicized it himself.

   "A constitutional reform would be ideal, but we have to look for ways, 
because they (the opposition) instead of helping us, are blocking us, there is 
an intent to prevent us from doing anything," Lpez Obrador said.

   The two main opposition parties also had a different positions when they 
were in power. They supported the army in public safety roles during their 
respective administrations beginning in 2006 and 2012.

   When Lpez Obrador was running for president, he called for taking the army 
off the streets. But being in power -- and seeing homicides running at their 
highest sustained levels ever -- apparently changed his mind.

   He has relied heavily on the military not just for crime-fighting. He sees 
the army and navy as heroic, patriotic and less corruptible, and has entrusted 
them with building major infrastructure projects, running airports and trains, 
stopping migrants and overseeing customs at seaports.

   Mexico's army has been deeply involved in policing since the start of the 
2006 drug war. But its presence was always understood as temporary, a stop-gap 
until Mexico could build trustworthy police forces.

   Lpez Obrador appears to have abandoned that plan, instead making the 
military and quasi-military force like the National Guard the main solution. 
"Their mandate has to be prolonged," he said.

   "I think the best thing is for the National Guard to be a branch of the 
Defense Department to give it stability over time and prevent it from being 
corrupted," he said. He also wants the army and the navy to help in public 
safety roles beyond 2024, the current dateline established in a 2020 executive 
order.

   The force has grown to 115,000, but almost 80% of its personnel were drawn 
from the ranks of the military.

   The United Nations and human rights groups have long expressed reservations 
about having the military do police work. and Mexico's Supreme Court has yet to 
decide on several appeals against what critics say are unconstitutional tasks 
given to the National Guard.

   The U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner's office said last week that 
militarizing civil institutions, such as policing, weakens democracy. Soldiers 
aren't trained for that, the military by nature isn't very open to scrutiny, it 
has been implicated in human rights abuses, and the presence of troops hasn't 
resolved the pressing question of how to reform police, prosecutors and courts.

   While Lpez Obrador claims human rights abuses are no longer tolerated, the 
governmental National Human Rights Commission has received more than a thousand 
complaints alleging abuses by the National Guard. The agency has issued five 
recommendations in cases where there was evidence of excessive use of force, 
torture or abuse of migrants.

   "The problem with using the military in civilian roles is that we don't have 
any control of what goes on inside" the forces, said Ana Lorena Delgadillo, 
director of the civic group Foundation For Justice.

   Delgadillo said that placing the National Guard under the Defense 
Department, despite constitutional language defining it as a civilian-commanded 
force, is "authoritarian," will be challenged in court and will not help to 
pacify the country.

   The Mexican Employers' Association, Coparmex, said in a statement that the 
capabilities of state police should instead be strengthened. "It is them and 
the (state prosecutors' offices) that are authorized to interact with the 
civilian population," the group said.

   Perhaps more to the point, the quasi-military National Guard has not been 
able to bring down Mexico's stubbornly high homicide rate.

   Sofa de Robina, a lawyer for the Miguel Agustn Pro Jurez Human Rights 
Center, said the National Guard "has not been able to decrease violence," in 
part because of its military-style strategy of "occupying territory."

   While that strategy -- of building barracks and conducting regular patrols 
-- may be helpful in remote or rural areas, it has proved less useful and even 
drawn opposition in urban areas.

   Police, who are from the towns they serve and live among the inhabitants, 
would be more effective, experts say. Yet widespread corruption, poor pay and 
threats by cartels against police officers have weakened local and state police 
forces.

   Over 15 years of experience with the military in policing roles has shown 
"the falseness of the paradigm that the army was going to solve the problems," 
Delgadillo said.

   De Robina added that Lpez Obrador's latest move means trying to keep the 
military in policing indefinitely, "completely defying the obligation that 
public safety be civil" with no limits on time or strategy.

 
 
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