By KELIN DILLON
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) inaugrated new military barracks for the National Guard (GN) in Moctezuma, Sonora, on Wednesday, Dec. 17, further cementing his hold over Mexico’s military operations.
It also cements his ever-growing military control over the country.
López Obrador christened the newly constructed barracks accompanied by Sonora Governor Claudia Artemiza Pavlovich Arellano, who thanked AMLO for his efforts in broadening the military presence in her state.
“Moctezuma is essential for the communication in the mountainous regions of Sonora, and I celebrate that we are inaugurating the national guard barracks here,” said AMLO during his Wednesday morning press conference there.
“Progress is being made in the basic infrastructure for housing the National Guard.”
Moctezuma is a strategic choice for a military stronghold due to its elevation of 677 meters in the mountain ranges of Sonora, giving the new barracks a wide view of the surrounding area.
There are eight barracks planned in total for the Sonora region. Three have already been built in Cajeme, Bavispe and now, Moctezuma. Hermosillo, Carboca and Nogales are in the final stages of building, and construction will begin on barracks in Navojoa and San Luis Río Colorado in 2021.
AMLO insisted that all military personnel trained in these facilities would not only learn weapon handling and defense, but also how to protect and defend human rights.
“There is a gradual and moderate use of force,” he said.
“Not to annihilate, not to massacre, not to torture, but to respect human rights, We don’t want war.”
In a previous press conference on Tuesday, Dec. 1, AMLO said the eventual plans are for the GN to “wield 266 regional coordination offices, with a total of 160,000 officers, police and upper commands” by next year.
López Obrador has come under fire for his creation and expansion of the GN in Mexico.
In his campaign for the presidency, AMLO promised to demilitarize public security. Instead, he recshaped the minilary and expanded the powers of the Mexican armed forces in an unprecedented manner.
The Mexican National Guard, created during AMLO’s first year in office, was given the go-ahead to “permanently available itself to carry out public security tasks,” the Mexican president decreed in May of 2020.
The decree also gives full authorization for armed forces to make arrests, investigate crime scenes and seize assets without any form of public regulation or limitations set on their power.
The National Guard’s powers have also been expanded by López Obrador into the health and education sectors, as it’s charged with distributing vaccines to the population, an important task admist the coronavirus pandemic. The GN has also been put in charge of building and operating military high schools, now of which there are 22 in the country so far.
The GN has also been granted powers to oversee surveillance of airports and highways, regulating maritime transportation, and directing programs that outreach to Mexico’s rural population.
As the military’s scope of power continues to expand under AMLO, so does his own.
Apparently minimal consequences for military members found violating rules likely increases support within the brass for López Obrador’s national control.
When members of the GN are caught breaking the law, they are sent to military prisons, rather than civilian ones, essentially clearing them from receiving a full investigation into their actions and preventing blowback up the chain of command.
This also stands in stark contrast to AMLO’s promise of the National Guard to defend human rights, since they are likely not to be held accountable for their own violation of them.
AMLO also controversially oversaw the extradition of General Salvador Cienfuegos, the former head of Mexico’s Secretariat of Defense (Sedena), from the United States to Mexico. Cienfuegos was charged with money laundering and drug trafficking prior to his extradition, and is now facing minimal consequences for his actions as he walks around Mexico an essentially free man.
Cienfuegos’s extradition to Mexico also prevented damage to the optics of the Mexican military, which would be inevitable during a trial on U.S. territory given all of the documented evidence against him.
This once again reinforces the probability that military personnel will be handed a get-out-of-jail-free card for any serious crimes they commit.
AMLO’s expansion of the military has potentially dangerous consequences for the future of Mexico as the military’s influence seeps into more and more aspects of Mexicans’ daily lives.
The coronavirus pandemic has provided the perfect excuse to further heighten the National Guard’s powers under the guise of assisting civilians through the crisis, but when the pandemic is over, will it stop?
Based on AMLO’s ambitious of plans for future military construction across the country, the National Guard’s future grip on Mexico will be more powerful than ever, and, consequently, so will his own.
…Dec. 18, 2020