MEXICO CITY (CN) — Amid a storm of controversy, Mexico’s president on Tuesday defended his proposal to move the National Guard to the National Defense Secretariat.
“I’m not going to give up,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said during his press conference on Tuesday morning. “I never backed down. Although the [political] minorities may not like it, if I’m right, if I have a clear conscience, if I know it’s good for the people, we’ll move on.
Critics have accused López Obrador of violating Mexico’s constitution and authoritarian rule after announcing Monday that he plans to issue an executive order to transfer control of the National Guard from the Security and Civil Protection Secretariat to that of National Defence.
“Nope [it is not unconstitutional]said López Obrador. “If there is a violation of the constitution, that is what the judiciary is for.”
For those who oppose the president’s growing militarization of Mexico, the proposed executive order’s divergence from federal precedents is undeniable. The National Guard was created in 2019 through a constitutional reform proposed by López Obrador himself and unequivocally stipulates the nature of the security force.
“Article 21 of the 2019 reform that created the National Guard makes it clear that the National Guard is a civilian police force with civilian command,” said Jorge Javier Romero, professor of politics and culture at the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico.
“It’s just there, by constitutional mandate, and the president, of course, has no ability to change the constitution,” Romero said.
The only way to change the constitution would be through another reform, which would require a two-thirds vote in favor in both houses of Mexico’s Congress and the approval of at least 17 state legislatures.
“It’s not going to happen,” Romero said.
While López Obrador’s Morena party holds majorities in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, it is not the two-thirds necessary, and all opposition parties have expressed their intention to vote against placing the National Guard under military command.
“President López Obrador learned very quickly that it is easier for him to issue a decree that is up to him and his subordinates than to get a legal reform approved,” said Javier Martín Reyes, professor of law at the National Autonomous University. from Mexico.
By issuing an executive order, the president not only avoids a vote in the legislature that would potentially stall the motion, but he also avoids a legal challenge of unconstitutionality that only requires a third of Congress to get in motion.
“It’s basically telling the Constitution to go to hell,” Reyes said. “And this is the great paradox of the thing because the reform that created the National Guard was an initiative of López Obrador. It was propelled by the president, approved by Morena lawmakers, and yet the president is unwilling to comply with his own reforms.
While the executive order would formally place the National Guard under military command, experts say the force has already been operating as a militarized organization for some time.
“In practice, it’s completely militarized,” said Genaro Ahumada, a researcher at the Mexico City-based government watchdog Causa En Común (Common Cause).
“In fact, according to our registry, 80 percent of the National Guard is made up of military soldiers,” Ahumada said.
About 5,000 to 6,000 of the force’s 110,000 troops are civilians paid from the National Guard budget. Others are former federal police officers who transferred after that force disbanded in 2019.
“In reality, the National Guard’s civilian strength is very small, given that the majority are transfers from the armed forces,” Ahumada said.
Ahumada and other critics look to Latin American countries where similar militarization has taken place to warn of the possible consequences of López Obrador’s actions. Although they generally do not fear an outright military coup, they say there are obvious political risks.
“Giving the military so much political and economic power has been fraught with challenges in other countries that have experienced militarization, where the armed forces are now tasked with making many decisions,” Ahumada said.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing this phenomenon in Mexico,” he said, noting the growing role of the military in state police forces and government departments not related to security, such as the administrator social security ISSSTE and the public medical laboratory company Birmex.
“These kinds of actions that are taken without consensus that bypass the legislature and are carried out unilaterally are the kinds of things that we cannot allow,” Ahumada said.
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