MEXICO CITY (CN) — Amid a firestorm of controversy, Mexico’s president on Tuesday defended his proposal to move the National Guard to the Secretariat of National Defense.
“I’m not going to give up,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during his Tuesday morning press conference. “I’ve never backed down. Although the [political] minorities may not like it, if I’m right, if my conscience is clear, if I know that this is good for the people, we’re going to move forward.”
Critics accused López Obrador of violating Mexico’s constitution and governing in an authoritarian manner after he announced Monday that he plans to issue an executive order to transfer control of the National Guard from the Secretariat of Security and Civil Protection to that of National Defense.
“No [it is not unconstitutional],” said López Obrador. “If there is a violation of the constitution, that’s what the judiciary is for.”
To those who oppose the president’s increasing militarization of Mexico, the proposed executive order’s variance with federal precedents is undeniable. The National Guard was created in 2019 via 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 establishes with complete clarity that the National Guard is a civilian police force with civilian command,” said Jorge Javier Romero, a politics and culture professor at Mexico’s Autonomous Metropolitan University.
“It’s right there, by constitutional mandate, and the president, of course, does not have any faculties to modify the constitution,” Romero said.
The only way to change the constitution would be via another reform, which would require a two-thirds vote in favor in both houses of Mexico’s Congress and approval by at least 17 state legislatures.
“That’s not going to happen,” Romero said.
While López Obrador’s Morena party holds majorities in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, it is not the two-thirds necessary, and all opposition parties have expressed their intentions to vote against putting the National Guard under military command.
“President López Obrador has learned very quickly that it’s easier for him to issue an executive order that only depends on him and his subordinates than it is to get a legal reform approved,” said Javier Martín Reyes, a law professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
By issuing an executive order, the president not only avoids a vote in the legislature that would potentially block the move, but he also sidesteps a legal challenge of unconstitutionality that only requires one-third of the Congress to set in motion.
“It’s basically telling the Constitution to go to hell,” Reyes said. “And that’s the huge paradox of the thing because the reform that created the National Guard was a López Obrador initiative. It was propelled by the president, approved by Morena legislators, and despite that, the president doesn’t want to comply with his own reforms.”
While the executive order would officially bring the National Guard under the command of the military, experts say the force has already been operating as a militarized organization for some time.
“In practice, it is 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% 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’s budget. Others are former federal police officers who transferred after the dissolving of that force in 2019.
“In reality, the civilian force of the National Guard is very small, considering 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. While they generally do not fear an outright military coup, they say that there are clear political risks involved.
“Giving the military so much political and economic power has been fraught with danger in other countries that have experienced militarization, where the armed forces are now in charge of making many decisions,” Ahumada said.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing this phenomenon in Mexico,” he said, noting the military’s increasing role in state police forces and government departments unrelated to security, like the social security administrator ISSSTE and the state-owned medical lab company Birmex.
“These kinds of actions that are carried out without consensus that bypass the legislature and are executed unilaterally are the kinds of things that we can’t allow to happen,” Ahumada said.
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