OPINION

Elements of the Mexican Armed Forces. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

By KELIN DILLON

As Mexico’s civilian policing body the National Guard prepares to be integrated into the Mexican Secretariat of Defense (Sedena) as decreed by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), experts have expressed concerns about the move’s potential to exacerbate the Armed Forces’ repeated human rights violations – especially considering that the National Guard has, too, been accused of committing human rights violations across its short three-year existence.

While AMLO’s Secretary of the Interior Olga Sánchez Cordero previously defended the creation of the National Guard in 2019 as a necessary separation of civilian police force from soldiers — despite the fact that many elements of the National Guard were in fact directly sourced from the Armed Forces and the Federal Police — to ensure the wellbeing of Mexican citizens, the López Obrador administration has walked back this stance alongside his new National Guard absorption decree.

Despite AMLO’s controversial “hugs, not bullets” policy against violence, Mexico has continually experienced rapid militarization underneath López Obrador’s watch while violence in the country only continues to rise, undeterred by the increased presence of military elements. 

Now, the Armed Forces is in charge of some of Mexico’s most expensive and large-scale industrial projects, including construction of the tourist railway the Tren Maya, building new locations for the Banco del Bienestar, and taking over the nation’s customs duties — a move which has reportedly only worsened the sector’s corruption, rather than quash it as promised.

Absorbing the National Guard into the Armed Forces has brought up concerns about Mexico’s militarization among experts and citizens nationwide, especially considering the Armed Forces documented participation in human rights violations.

Take, for example, the 43 students from Ayotzinapa that went missing in 2014, an incident that’s still unresolved to this day. Members of the Armed Forces were accused of being involved in the students’ disappearance, and some reports state that the Armed Forces was directly responsible for killing the students by orders of Colonel José Rodríguez Pérez — details that were allegedly covered up by the government with the so-called “Historical Truth” to hide its role in the situation. The whereabouts of the students remain unknown to this day.

The Armed Forces was likewise accused of killing 22 citizens in a warehouse in Tlatlaya in 2014, which the Sedena says was the result of a confrontation with organized crime. However, witness testimony and investigations by the National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) revealed that more than a dozen of these deaths — which included that of a minor — were perpetrated by the Armed Forces after civilians had already surrendered, which the military then attempted to cover up and purportedly tortured survivors to discourage them from confessing the truth. 

In yet another case of purported human rights violations by the Armed Forces, 11 soldiers reportedly entered the house of a civilian woman in the state of Guerrero, with some proceeding to sexually assaulting the woman while the others watched without interfering. The woman eventually received an apology from the federal government in 2012 — but only after her case was mocked and went unheard for years.

Now, as López Obrador looks to remind the public that “we must not forget that the supreme commander of the Armed Forces is the president,” the public must also not forget the human rights atrocities committed by the Armed Forces, especially as its ranks expand with the National Guard’s absorption into the Sedena.

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