By RICARDO CASTILLO
For a prelude to a presidency, surely that of Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has got too many dissonant chords. First it was his decision to control oil crude production that caused a market shakeup and further peso devaluation. Then came the cancelation of the ongoing construction of the new airport that sent markets skidding and pumped the cost of one dollar to over 20 pesos. And the cherry on the cake was AMLO’s presentation of his National Plan for Peace and Security, on Thursday, Nov. 15. Mind you, dissonant chords don’t fall on deaf ears and here in Mexico it is showing, big time.
But let us be fair to AMLO about his announcements. Both crude oil production control and the airport annulment were campaign promises. The security bill was not.
For the last 12 years, AMLO has been bashing the administrations of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) for using the regular military branches (Army, Navy and Air Force) to fight the rampant and terrifying criminal organizations that have sprouted up, mostly in northern Mexico.
Using the armed forces, AMLO said over and over, is the wrong path. In fact, last week, just hours before he made public his National Plan for Peace and Security, the Supreme Court shot down the Interior Security Law passed by Congress in 2017 as “blatantly unconstitutional.” What the now defunct law did was to legalize the performance of trained military personnel as civil police, awarding national policing control to the military.
AMLO’s “new” bill does exactly the same thing, with the simple variant that he now calls for the creation of a National Guard, converting military personnel into a civilian police.
The new National Guard will initially be made up of 35,000 professional military policemen, 8,000 Navy police and integrate the existing Federal Police all under the command of Secretary of Defense-to-be Luis Crescencio Sandoval. This corps will operate in what are considered the most criminally criminality areas in the nation. This is to continue until the armed forces train 50,000 new cops, expecting to have an approximate number of 150,000 National Guard members by 2021. The plan drafted by Interior Secretary-to-be Alfonso Durazo and General Sandoval divides the nation into 266 different coordination areas.
The fact is that nobody in Mexico is particularly impressed with the National Plan for Peace and Security. If anything, Mexicans recall that past presidents have tried to tackle the growing criminality problem very much in the same fashion. President Ernesto Zedillo (2004-2000) converted what used to be the Federal Highway Patrol into the Federal Police, awarding agents more coverage ground than just roads and airports. It was expected that an expanded Federal Police would do the job of controlling the bad hombres, but the force became insufficient.
In 2007, former President Calderón included the use of the Army and the Navy to help back up the Federal Police. His plan was to behead all criminal organizations. This soldiers and police managed to do that, but the remedy turned out to be worse than the ailment. What happened is that once the gang leaders were either killed or imprisoned, the remaining criminals proliferated into smaller band,s which fought against each other for territorial control, bringing about a chain of elimination that now amounts to nearly 40,000 “eliminations.” Worse yet, since their key business, which is passing drugs to the United States, went into crisis due to the fact that there weren’t enough drugs for all of them to sell, they diversified their criminal activity to kidnapping and charging protection to small business.
In fact, former presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto made his election campaign about creating a gendarmerie out of the armed forces. He kept his word, but it turned out that catching kingpins was counterproductive, and, for the most part, the Gendarmerie and the armed forces focused on eliminating the Zetas Cartel, which was made up of members of the military who had eloped into criminal activities.
Incidentally, in the current trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, Peña Nieto has been mentioned – among other higher official,s including a general – as getting monthly kickback payments for protection from El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel.
But getting back to AMLO’s National Guard. What will it do? This is what the new plan says:
“Eradicate corruption and reactivate law enforcement.
Guarantee employment for participants, health and wellbeing.
Award full respect for and promotion of human rights.
Regenerate ethics for society.
Reformulate the combat against drugs.
Lead the construction of social peace.
Restore and dignify prisons.
Represent public security and national peace.”
A majority of critics who don’t approve of the continuity of the use of military forces in the fight against organized criminal gangs claim that soldiers are trained for war and not for policing, which they consider a preventive activity. These critics, of course, criticize the president-elect, who will gain full command of all armed forces in Mexico on Dec. 1, mostly because he’s following in the footsteps of his predecessors, who he criticized so much.
Those in favor of continuing with the use of military to clamp down on criminal gangs also recall that in the cases of Presidents Calderón and Peña Nieto, the use of military to fight the high-powered weaponry used by gangs was not due to their enforcement, but to the tactical orders they received, which includes, but of course, the well-intentioned but ill-conceived U.S.-backed $1.4 billion worth pf Merida Initiative funding, which led Mexican governments to the quagmire they are currently involved.
Given the beastly nature of criminal gangs, any solution offered by anyone is questionable. So is AMLO’s, with the difference that among his promises is that he will meet every day at 6 a.m. with the top heads of the new National Guard and check out their police blotter.
We’ll see how that works. Other plans have failed before, but the real problem is that since AMLO decided to place his wager on the military, let’s hope that his results don’t mirror those of now and the past, which sent both Presidents Calderón and Peña Nieto into the boiling cauldrons of history’s hell.