The Mexican National Guard (GN). Photo: Google

By MARK LORENZANA

The military has long been on the list of untouchables in Mexico. The Mexican National Guard (GN) might soon be added to that list.

On Friday, Sept. 9, the Mexican Senate approved a legislation transferring control of the GN to the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena), a contentious move that has sparked outrage from human rights groups and opposition lawmakers.

Senators voted in favor of the bill, 71-51, after Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies had earlier approved the legislation. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is expected to sign it into law.

López Obrador, on Aug. 8 of this year, announced in one of his daily morning press conferences his plan to issue a presidential decree to transfer the security functions of the 115,000-member GN to the Mexican Army. He has essentially succeeded in his plan with little obstruction, as his leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) controls the majority in both the Mexican Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

AMLO, who took office in 2018, created the GN in 2019 — under a constitutional reform — to replace the 40,000-member federal police, which he has repeatedly labeled as corrupt. But while the federal police wasn’t perfect and had its share of problems, its officers were at least trained to investigate criminal cases, something that the GN isn’t capable of doing.

According to Alejandro Hope, a security analyst, of the 8,258 people that the GN arrested in 2021, “only 14 of the arrests were a result of intelligence work.”

In an article he wrote for Mexican daily newspaper El Universal, Hope said that even if the GN transfers to the Mexican Army, “it will continue to do what it has done up to now: creating many patrols with questionable deterrent effects, some highway patrolling, some surveillance in public buildings and airports, and very little investigation.”

Another problem, which human rights groups have been harping about, is the potential for abuse. Even as a civilian group — in theory, at least — the GN has already figured in several complaints of abuse of power, owing to López Obrador’s decision to give them more responsibilities, and little to no accountability.

In an interview with El Universal, David Saucedo, a specialist on security issues, said that in 2021, there have been complaints against the GN for alleged participation in extrajudicial executions, but that nothing has been done about them.

“As far as I know, no member of the GN has been punished for these alleged acts, nor have the superior officers who gave the order,” Saucedo said. “It is very common for these types of events to occur in the Armed Forces, but the worst thing is that those responsible for violations are not punished.”

In September 2020, members of the GN opened fire on a vehicle in Delicias, a town in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, injuring a farmer and killing his wife and three teenage children.

In March of this year, two separate incidents involving abuse of power by alleged members of the GN happened on the same night in the municipality of Ecatepec de Morelos, in the State of Mexico (EdoMéx).

A man, who was only identified as Ezekiel, said in an interview with Mexico state TV channel Telediario that he was walking home from work that night when a group of men in a GN patrol vehicle — and wearing what appeared to be GN uniforms — stopped him and forcibly took him inside the vehicle, placing a cloth sack over his head. Ezekiel said the men accused him of trafficking drugs, and took him to another location, where they beat him with a wooden board and threatened to kill him. After taking some of Ezekiel’s possessions, the men drove away.

Several hours later, the same men allegedly assaulted another Ecatepec resident, a woman who was only identified as Virginia. In a video clip of the incident, she is seen being forcibly taken from her residence, grabbed violently by the hair and sexually assaulted.

After the incident, the GN released a statement on Twitter, and said that some of their members were under investigation for “possible unlawful acts in Ecatepec.” The statement said that “any action violating the principles of the National Guard would not be tolerated.”

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