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LatAm in Focus: Explaining Mexico's National Guard

AMLO inaugurates Mexico's National Guard.

AMLO inaugurates the National Guard. (lopezobrador.org)

July 17, 2019

“Instead of having a victim-centered approach…in reality what we’re seeing is further militarization of public safety in Mexico.” —@farfan_cc of @USMEXUCSD talks with @CarinZissis about AMLO's National Guard in this #LatAmFocus episode.
"If the fear is about me going out on the street at night…the National Guard is not really equipped to solve that." —@farfan_cc of @USMEXUCSD talks with @CarinZissis about Mexico's new force in this #LatAmFocus podcast episode.

Over the course of 12 years and two presidencies, Mexico’s drug war rolled on, claiming more more than 200,000 lives. While on the campaign trail, current President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, said that he would send the military back to the barracks. But before he took office on December 1, he announced plans for a National Guard, a force under civilian leadership that will eventually be made up of 150,000 personnel. Its creation involved a constitutional amendment, and AMLO inaugurated a force of more than 50,000 in June that incorporated members of the Army, Navy, and Federal Police.

But not everything has gone smoothly. Days after AMLO’s inauguration of the force, members of the Federal Police protested the process of getting integrated into the National Guard. Others question whether the body’s creation represents a deepening militarization.

“In the implementation, we’re not really seeing a civilian force. We’re really seeing personnel from the armed forces under a new brand,” says Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies. She’s currently working on a book project called Beyond Cartels and Kingpins: The Business of Drug Trafficking Organizations. “The National Guard in itself is not necessarily that unique of an idea from this administration,” Farfán-Méndez told Mexico City-based Carin Zissis of AS/COA Online, adding that presidents since Vicente Fox nearly two decades ago “have all somehow designed their own security strategy and all of them tried to design an elite force.”

Instead of having a victim-centered approach…in reality what we’re seeing is further militarization of public safety in Mexico.”

She also points out that studies by Mexico’s statistics institute show how people experience violence differs across the country. “The fears that are expressed in these victimization surveys are not about the big drug traffickers. They’re not about El Chapo or El Mayo. They’re about the ability to get on public transportation without getting robbed,” she says. “So if the fear is about me going out on the street at night or having my children be able to go out at night, the National Guard is not really equipped to solve that concern that the population has.”

Moreover, one of the first operations undertaken by the new force didn’t focus on battling organized crime. Instead, it involved sending 6,000 National Guard members to Mexico’s southern border to police Central American migration as part of an accord to dissuade the White House from hitting Mexico with tariffs. Farfán-Méndez calls the move an “unexpected element within the security policy of [the AMLO] administration.”

She also says the United States and Mexico should focus on keeping the lines of communication open to achieve common security goals, and that means maintaining some of what was built through past accords. “Rethinking the Merida Initiative is a welcome thing. Getting rid of it? Not so much,” she says.



Luisa Leme produced this episode. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at musicoftheamericas.org.