Mexico’s Congress approves the use of the military in policing

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s Congress has approved a constitutional reform that will allow the armed forces to continue performing national law enforcement duties until 2028.

Sending soldiers into the streets to fight crime has long been seen as a stopgap measure to combat drug gang violence, and lawmakers had previously said civilian police should take on these duties by 2024.

But President Andrés Manuel López Obrador supports relying on the military indefinitely because he believes the armed forces are more honest. The president has given the military more responsibilities than any Mexican leader in recent times.

The reform, backed by López Obrador, passed the lower house late Wednesday and has yet to be approved by a majority of Mexico’s 32 lawmakers.

Most experts agree that Mexico needs better paid, trained, and equipped plainclothes police officers. The Army and Marines were called in in 2006 to assist local police forces in fighting the country’s well-armed drug cartels. Mexico’s state and city police are often corrupt, poorly trained, and unprofessional.

But López Obrador has relied almost exclusively on the military for law enforcement. He got rid of the civilian federal police and created the National Guard, which he now wants to hand over entirely to the Department of Defense.

López Obrador has relied on the armed forces for everything from building infrastructure projects to operating airports and trains.

The reform to extend the military mandate also promises to restore some funding to improve state and local police forces, which López Obrador cut shortly after taking office in December 2018.

However, the new measure – which has already been approved by the Senate – does not specify how much money will be allocated to improve civilian policing, except that it must be no less than the annual increase in funding for the military and National Guard.

In fact, under a bill passed in the House of Commons this week, much of that funding would come from the government confiscating domestic bank accounts if they’ve been untouched for six years or more.

But on Thursday, López Obrador said he opposes giving even that money to the police, saying “It should be for disabled people, the elderly and health care.”

Critics say the military is not trained for policing and rarely investigates. The armed forces have been accused of human rights violations when carrying out law enforcement functions.

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