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Guardia Nacional: sausage making at its best

22 February 2019

The most controversial of the new government’s proposals has been the creation of a “National Guard”.  Previous administrations have danced around the constitutional ban on using the military for internal security here though “temporary” legislation, while AMLO, relying on mention of an undefined “national guard” in the Constitution had pushed for legalizing the military’s role in domestic policing though the creation of a National Guard.

Given the name, it’s easy to think of the National Guard in the United States… which is the Army for all practical purposes, although the individual units are under the control of their various state governors.  While US National Guard unites are deployed as police units when there is civil unrest (and somewhere in Mexico there are always unrestful civilians), the model here is more something of a paramilitary police, like the Spanish Civil Guard, or the Italian Carabinieri:  cops with more weapons, and a military command and control structure.

But while AMLO and his party control both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, they do not have the absolute majority they would need to force through Constitutional changes needed to get around the ban on using the military for police work (something previous administrations did through “temporary” legislation, claiming all those soldiers and marines running around the countryside were just “advisors” and assisting police… or… basically… by just ignoring the Supreme Court) and the various opposition parties did have decent arguments against the plan.

The main opposition came from those who questioned military control, something even military officers were reluctant to sign on to.  Mexico, after all, was the first Latin American nation to de-militarize its political system (the only military man to serve as president since 1946 was Ruiz Cortones, who’d been a quartermaster during the Revolution, but that had been over 30 years prior to his election), and after the reputation of the military as the guardians of the Revolution took a massive hit in 1968, when they were obviously the agents of repression, the generals and admirals have been sometimes over-zealous in avoiding any hint that they were making policy decisions when it came to internal issues.  During the “drug war” Peña Nieto’s Secretary of Defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos openly admitted that the Army was ill-prepared to handle internal security, and that it opened the Army to corruption and abuse.  And, when it comes to abuse, the military has its own justice system.  which would complicate any prosecutions for human rights abuses, or other criminal behavior, by the National Guard;  would the guards be tried by civilian or military courts, and how would a civilian victim bring charges?

Peña Nieto had dissolved the Secretariat of Public Security, turning over policing the police to a National Security Council, which was de facto dominated by the Secretary of Defense.  AMLO has restored the department, under a slightly different name and mission… Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection… charged not only with overseeing police, but intelligence operations and the penal system as well.  In other words, crime and punishment.  To lessen opposition to a national guard dominated by the military, AMLO proposed making the guard’s command a troika:  the Secretaries of Defense (always a general), Navy (always an admiral) and of Security and Civilian Protection.  However, the bill passed yesterday puts the guard solely under the civilian secretary.  It doesn’t hurt any that the sitting secretary, Alfonso Durazo, is a civil engineer with a doctorate in public policy, and previously served in more pacific cabinet position, as Secretary of Social Development.  It didn’t hurt with winning over the PRI senators that Durazo had been the all but canonized by his party Luis Donaldo Colosio’s private secretary during the assassinated PRI reformer’s presidential campaign.

While putting the Guard squarely under civilian control won over a good part of the opposition, there was also the legitimate concern that the Guard would just be another restructuring of the national police… something tried several times before, only to find the same corrupt and badly managed coppers just had new uniforms and a new name.  The military, for all its faults, enjoys a relatively good public image as less corruptible, more disciplined, and … frankly… in better physical and mental condition to perform the dirty work of protecting the people.

To not lose the advantages of a military organization (and those in the senate who favor a more military approach to law enforcement), the National Guard bill calls for the Army and Navy to organize the Guard:  setting the standards for discipline, organizational hierarchy, rules and regulations, fitness standards, and the like.   To keep those senators who admitted there was a role for soldiers and marines in pursuing certain types of criminals (narcotics dealers, timber and oil theft cartels) but are reluctant to turn policing over to the military, the bill gives only a five year lease on life to the uniformed services having a role in the National Guard.

There are a few issues to be resolved… the lines between the existing Federal Police and the National Guard for one.  In the past, when major new policies were implemented, the details were often left for later… or never… leaving the administrators free to make up their own rules, and carve out their own fiefdoms as the went along.  Yesterday’s bill avoids much of this, setting firm deadlines for passage of secondary bills to deal with the things usually left behind, like funding levels, operational parameters, etc.

Passing legislation is like making sausage:  no one want to know the details, 19th century German Chancellor Hindenburg supposedly said.  But, of… when you get a controversial proposal through a legislature with NO opposition… it’s a piece of cake,

2 Comments leave one →
  1. roberb7 permalink
    22 February 2019 9:22 am

    Two things for sure:
    The Federal government needs to get a handle on law enforcement.
    EPN’s Gendarmerie didn’t work.

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