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Judge blocks transfer of Mexico’s National Guard to army

Legal scholars said that the ruling’s arguments are sound, but Mexico’s anti-militarization movement still has a ways to go to getting the move declared unconstitutional.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — A federal judge Monday dealt a blow to what many in Mexico have decried as the increasing militarization of the country.

District court judge Karla María Macías Lovera blocked a controversial bill approved in the Senate in September that aimed to transfer the National Guard to the Secretariat of National Defense, bringing it under military command. 

In addition to halting the move of all operative and administrative control of the National Guard to the armed forces, the definitive suspension of the bill also mandates that any resources already transferred must be returned to the civil authority of the Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection.

The stay does not halt the use of the National Guard in matters of public safety, but only orders that it remain under civil command, “as established by the Constitution,” the judge wrote in her 56-page decision (in Spanish). 

Similar to habeas corpus in U.S. law, the writ of amparo that resulted in the suspension was brought by a coalition of civil society groups and citizens led by Uniendo Caminos México (Joining Paths). Judge Macías had granted a provisional suspension of the bill on Oct. 12. She made the suspension indefinite during a hearing on Friday, but the decision was not announced until Monday.

A total of 72 writs of amparo against the bill were filed in 18 states in the country. 

Created in 2019 as a civil security force, the National Guard has become a hot-button issue in the increasingly polarized political climate in Mexico. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was both praised and criticized for his decision to move it to the armed forces in August. The Senate’s approval of a bill in early October to extend the use of the armed forces in matters of public security was equally controversial. 

Lawyers for Uniendo Caminos told Courthouse News they believe the suspension to be the end of the president’s initiative to move the National Guard to the armed forces. They also believe that public opinion is largely on their side of the issue. 

“We have 10 civil society organizations and three legal firms fighting the militarization of the country,” said attorney Joan Ochoa Sada, who helped file the writ of amparo. “We’ve seen a very good reception of these legal actions among a large portion of society.”

Ochoa has even received messages of support from members of the armed forces and National Guard.

“They don’t agree with this kind of militarization either,” he said, but did not yet have enough information to expound on their reasons for opposing the transfer.

While Ochoa and others who support the legal actions against the move of the National Guard are positive that this is the beginning of the end of this avenue for López Obrador’s militarization, there is still a ways to go to arrive at complete stoppage of the transfer.

“It’s a very good decision in argumentative terms,” said Javier Martín Reyes, a constitutional law professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University. “It takes seriously the precedents of legitimate interest and, above all, that which both the Constitution and the international courts have said about the civil nature that security forces should have.”

Despite the sound legal arguments, “the final resolution is what is more important, and that ruling could later be challenged," Reyes said.

Given the highly polarized nature of the initiative, it is likely that legal challenges will go all the way to Mexico's Supreme Court.

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