By RICARDO CASTILLO
The birthing pangs of Mexico’s new National Guard (GN) are being heard loud and clear across the country. But they do not come from within the newly created police deployed on the streets as of Sunday, June 30. The are from the nation’s Federal Police agents, who fear the changes that the GN represent.
With the National Guard now in position, the dismantling of the Federal Police has begun, with officers being offered positions incorporated into the GN or relocations to a alternative jobs within the government.
Also, many of the protesters claim they have been treated unfairly because they now have to pass a fitness test to qualify as members of the GN, something many of them do not even dare take since they are, for the most part, overweight bureaucrats.
In their protests, the federal cops mimicked the bad example set earlier this year by Mexico’s protesting teachers from the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), blockading main avenues. In so doing, they achieved their goal: They got press attention galore as they wreaked havoc in the already-difficult Mexico City traffic.
From his podium at the National Palace, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) called on the Federal Police to trust the administration that their jobs are not in peril, but to no avail. The agents kept up their road blocking tactic Thursday, July 4, with the slight difference from their role model CNTE teachers being that they left one lane open. Traffic moved slowly, but it moved.
AMLO also said that the Federal Police protest movement is being manipulated by a “black hand,” and that the protest movement leaders are not even federal cops.
Later in the day, the civilian and visible head of the National Guard and Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection Alfonso Durazo identified a former federal cop, Ignacio Benavente Torres – who spent time in the slammer for kidnapping – as the invisible organizer of the movement.
Also, Durazo said that former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, an avowed and constant critic of whatever AMLO says or does, had been asked by the Federal Police union to represent them. Calderón denied the allegation, but the request would not come as any surprise.
Mexico’s Federal Police are under the aegis of the Interior Secretariat (SeGob). The force was created in 1997 by then -President Ernesto Zedillo and constituted a law enforcement a remodeling based on the formerly age-old Federal Highway Police. Some of the oldest employees at the Federal Police have made a 20-year-old career within the force.
In the Mexican written press, all the prophets of doom grabbed the opportunity afforded them by the feds’ protests with the adages “I warned you” and “I told you so,” having said that things would definitely go awry with the National Guard.
Secretary Durazo delivered a message directly aimed at the protesting police in accordance with the law and their labor rights.
Durazo went on to explain that part of the unease felt by the Federal Police was a reflection of the fact that the 70,000-member-strong National Guard is composed almost entirely of former soldiers or marines, with military training, which, of course, the Federal Police have not had. He called on the Federal Police to try to adjust to a new situation, if they want to belong to the National Guard. Otherwise, he said, they would be relocated to other jobs within the government.
Several times during separate press conferences, both AMLO and Durazo reiterated their respect for the feds’ right to protest and willingness to negotiate individually or with the union regarding their future. “Nobody has been either dismissed or fired,” Durazo said.
Still, the scent of politicking can be smelled in the voices of both the president and Durazo, who warned that behind the movement there are those who want to provoke the police into repression or worse, which, they reiterated, will not be allowed to happen.
In the meantime, the National Guard keeps being deployed to high-crime areas, with its brass making a statement that the Federal Police Department will be slowly but surely dismantled.