By RICARDO CASTILLO
The first complete draft for a viable law that allows for military participation in civilian policing activities was unanimously approved by the Mexican Senate last week. That step, however, is only the first move for the bill.
Originally, the lower house Chamber of Deputies had sent a draft that had been sent to them by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and Security Secretary Alonso Durazo that hit on hard rock as opposition senators disagreed regarding what was then called the “National Guard” having a military command. These senators demanded civil authorities to have the mandate over the military, and they finally got their wish. What has been referred to for months as the National Guard may still be renamed the “Civil Guard” to keep with similar federal police forces currently existing in France and Spain.
After much litigation and calls for approval, National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party majority whip Senator Ricardo Monreal put his previous 12 years of experience as senator to pull all the strings together and unite the Senate in what is being touted as a major coup in his political career. (Just betwixt us, Senator Monreal wants to be the next president of Mexico, so the draft is a big plus on his CV.)
Now, after all the haggling and arm-twisting at the Senate, the heavily revamped original draft should hit the Chamber of Deputies again this week to start the third process before it is voted on again on it, thus crafting the bill of what is still tentatively known as the National Guard Law.
Upon coming to a consensus, the House of Deputies will return the bill to its original source, President AMLO, for revision and approval. Then, the Chamber of Deputies will have to wait for a new draft that will be designed to meet the needs of the executive branch of government. Many deputies prefer the president to have his say before they get the draft back to approve it.
Once it is approved by both houses of Congress, the bill will have to go to 13 state Chambers of Deputies to be discussed and approved before it goes back to the president, who will then sign the bill into law.
One reason why the Chamber of Deputies is leaving it up to AMLO to draft the original blueprint is that integrating the guard corps will take several years and represents a new experience of federal government since the now-22-year-old Federal Police concept is considered to have failed to fulfill the security needs of the federal government. Also, in 2007, former President Felipe Calderón opted for placing the Army and Navy out on the streets to combat the proliferation of organized criminal organizations, which in the end – as AMLO put it – “made Mexico a cemetery.” Some 40,000 executions took place as gangs engaged in a still-going war for territorial control. It is hoped that the mixed mandate of military trained personnel and civilian command might do the job of stopping the heinous carnage.
The Mexican Chamber of Deputies is also considered by the Senate to be the source of origin of the bill because it was the first chamber to fully approve it. The original bill the Chamber of Deputies sent to the Senate did not get full unanimity.
Still, it is expected that there will again be more debate, particularly regarding curtailing how much power the military should wield while in interdiction procedures. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has been hollering “foul” all along because they want the military “where they belong” in their barracks and engaged strictly in military – not police – missions. President AMLO, however, sees no way out to the violent quagmire the nation is undergoing without military participation because the simple fact is that criminal gangs outgun all police departments in the nation. At the Chamber of Deputies ,there is still a lot of disagreement as to the nature of the bill voted on by the Senate and revised by the president.
During the process at the Senate, the Morena party had to pull back on many issues and concede to opposing parties to gain their vote, which they finally did. Now, it remains to be seen how the National or Civil Guard will work as federal police in tandem with state judicial police departments, as well as with municipal ones.
In the Chamber of Deputies there are also still a lot of loose ends in terms of hierarchy structure and discipline statutes for how policemen and policewomen (it will be a mixed force) will have to behave considering that most of the personnel will stem from the Army and the Navy and are trained military who have to be “civilized” in terms of thinking civilian, and not military.
Be that as it may, the bill the Senate is returning to the Deputies is now the product of an agreement among all political parties, leaving everyone with a feeling of fairness.
As for the timeline for the process, expectations are that the national or civil guard bill will be ready by the end of April as President AMLO wants the process fast-tracked because there is a sense of urgency to start the formation of the new police which, hopefully, will help to clean up the nation from drug traffickers, kidnappers and the assortment of bandit gangs beleaguering society at large.