The navy has taken over responsibility for security at the Mexico City International Airport (AICM), assuming the work previously carried out by the National Guard.
The takeover is the start of a new trend: President López Obrador announced Friday that the military will assume responsibility for security at all airports across Mexico.
The Navy Ministry (SEMAR) announced in a statement Tuesday that 1,500 marines would collaborate with tax, customs and immigration authorities to carry out “surveillance, inspection, support and control” operations in the airport to counteract the illegal trafficking of weapons, drugs, cash, illicit merchandise and people as well as theft of luggage and other belongings.
It said that López Obrador ordered the navy to cooperate with other authorities to guarantee security at the airport, Mexico’s busiest.
SEMAR also said that the National Immigration Institute and the Federal Civil Aviation Agency had trained 69 marines to act as airport commanders and immigration officials.
The navy is now responsible for security in all areas of the AICM, including both terminals and outside areas. SEMAR said that 23 vehicles and 16 dogs would support the marines’ security work.
“We have to cover the whole airport, … we can’t leave any space without personnel. We even have to check the bathrooms,” a navy captain told his subordinates in Terminal 1 earlier this week, according to Reforma.
One woman who works as an airport security guard for a private security company told the newspaper that the marines were watching over them.
“They stand behind you, they’re scary; sometimes they come with a trained dog, … they watch our inspection process and sometimes suggest that we check a bag or suitcase; they’re very arrogant,” she said.
“They don’t talk much. They arrived, placed themselves over there at the doors and just watch us. It’s uncomfortable,” a customs agent said.
A navy commander told Reforma that the navy was deployed to the AICM because airport employees as well as Mexico City and federal officials are under investigation for smuggling drugs, weapons and cash through the airport.
Reforma reported that failures in security operations at the airport while it was under the control of the National Guard were also a factor in the decision to put the navy in charge. For instance, two men were shot outside Terminal 2 last October.
Asked about the deployment at his regular news conference on Friday, López Obrador told reporters that security will be the responsibility of either the navy or the army at all airports in Mexico.
The navy will be deployed to some airports and the army will be dispatched to others “to guarantee there’s no corruption in customs and that passengers are treated well,” he said.
The National Guard was slated to oversee the security work of 1,610 military police at the Felipe Ángeles International Airport, which will open north of Mexico City next month, but the president’s remarks appear to place that plan in doubt.
The deployment of the military to the nation’s airports will add to López Obrador’s already heavy reliance on the armed forces.
Even though he pledged to remove soldiers and marines from the streets, López Obrador has perpetuated the militarization of public security, assigning the construction of major infrastructure projects, including the new Mexico City airport, to the army and putting the military in charge of the nation’s ports and customs offices.
In addition, the military has played a role in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, nurtured saplings for the government’s tree-planting employment program and delivered textbooks, among other nontraditional tasks.
López Obrador has defended his reliance on the armed forces, casting the military as an honest institution and an essential ally in the fight against corruption.