A bill that would formalize the role of the military in Mexico’s public security system looks set to pass the lower house of Congress today amid criticism that it will lead to soldiers remaining on the streets indefinitely and have a negative impact on basic human rights.
The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) used its majority in the Chamber of Deputies yesterday to reject an alternative security proposal known as “Mando Mixto Policial,” or Mixed Police Command, in favor of pushing ahead with the Internal Security Law (LSI).
The bill will first face a vote in the Chamber of Deputies before being passed to the Senate, with supporters hopeful that it will become law by the middle of next month. If approved, critics say, it would normalize the participation of the armed forces in public security operations.
Over the past year, National Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos has pushed for a law that would better guide the deployment of troops in their battle against organized crime. The military has led the fight against cartels for over a decade since former president Felipe Calderón launched a war on drugs shortly after taking office in December 2006.
Supporters of the law — which include the PRI, the Green Party (PVEM) as well as some members of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) — argue that the legislation will provide an enhanced legal framework for the military to operate within.
During the opening of new military police barracks in Coahuila yesterday, President Enrique Peña Nieto said the law had “stopped being just a valuable proposal and become an urgent necessity.” The current arrangement under which the military is deployed requires the explicit backing and guidance of the law, he argued.
“The conduct of the Army and Navy in support of local security is based on their loyalty, discipline and attachment to military values and principles. However, that’s not enough. An adequate legal framework that regulates the actions of soldiers, pilots and marines in public security tasks is needed,” he said.
“I trust that Congress will respond to this important initiative with the urgency that is required today, providing greater certainty to the armed forces and Mexican society,” he said.
However, the bill has attracted staunch opposition from a range of critics who contend that the law would lead to a long-term militarization of the country and act as a disincentive for state and municipal leaders to strengthen the nation’s police forces.
Ten international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, released a joint statement yesterday, expressing their concerns.
“For decades, our organizations have documented the human rights costs of deploying soldiers into Mexican streets as a strategy to combat organized crime,” the statement said.
It added that they had also “documented the obstacles the civilian justice system faces in investigating and sanctioning abuses committed by criminal organizations and Mexican security forces” and that “approving the LSI or formalizing the militarization of public security in Mexico would set a fundamentally negative precedent in Latin America.”
“Given this situation, we urge the Mexican Congress to reject this law that raises serious and legitimate concerns, and to uphold its commitment to human rights,” it said.
The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) also spoke out against the law, releasing a statement today saying that it would sideline the need to strengthen civilian security forces and undertake effective, coordinated actions involving all levels of government.
The deputy director of human rights organization Center Prodh argued that the proposal “is being done hurriedly to please the armed forces.”
“It appears to us that Congress and the political parties are subordinating to the armed forces,” Santiago Aguirre said.
Critics also argue that the proposed legislation gives authorities — including the president — too much discretion to determine who is a threat to security and consequently could be used against political opponents. Some also argue that it lacks controls or accountability measures.
Rights such as due process and the presumption of innocence could be suspended in areas of the country where the military has been deployed, Aguirre argued.
PRI Senator Cristina Díaz, who heads a committee that will review the law, hit back at critics, asserting that “there is no intention of militarizing the country” and stating that the measures contained in the legislation are “temporary.”
However, the coordinator of the Citizens’ Movement (MC) party remains skeptical, labeling the law “regressive” and saying that MC deputies would vote against it.
“The PRI has an unjustified and irresponsible urgency to approve the Internal Security Law . . . now they expect to resolve the security problem with a law that only prolongs the state of exception and a strategy that has proven to be damaging for the country,” Clemente Castañeda said.
Homicide levels have soared in 2017, with numbers for the crime last month the highest ever recorded, further emphasizing the need for a new approach to security.
Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said last week that the security system is based on a “model that comes from last century” and argued that the LSI is designed “to protect citizens” rather than “militarize the country.”