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Mexico holds annual Independence Day military parade amid National Guard controversy

As his administration and party advance policies that broaden Mexico’s military power to deal with record-high levels of violence in the country, President López Obrador addressed conflicts elsewhere in the world during his Independence Day speech.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — A wary optimism prevailed among attendees of Mexico’s annual Independence Day military parade Friday.

While the majority of those who spoke with Courthouse News supported President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his initiatives to expand the authority of Mexico’s armed forces, many expressed concern over the possibility of that power falling into the wrong hands. 

“I think the military can bring peace and security to Mexico, provided that it is only used for the protection of the community, the country,” said Felipe de Jesús Mendoza. 

The recent transfer of the National Guard to army command was a good thing, “for now,” said Mendoza, 28, who came from his hometown of Chilpancingo, Guerrero, to watch the parade. 

“At the moment people have a lot of trust in the National Guard,” he said. “Let’s hope that it doesn’t get corrupted in future presidential administrations. If it does, what happened to the Mexican army will happen to it, it will get corrupted, people will lose trust and this will become a never-ending story. I hope we don’t realize that too late.”

Although the 2019 constitutional reform that created the National Guard stipulated that it be a civil force, and despite López Obrador’s past opposition to the militarization of his predecessors, he recently stated that he changed his mind on the issue, “considering the problem I inherited [from previous administrations].”

National Guard soldiers wait to march in Mexico's Independence Day military parade on Sep. 16, 2022. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

In addition to the Senate’s approval last week of a new constitutional reform to bring the National Guard under military control, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies Wednesday sent a bill to the Senate that aims to extend the use of the armed forces in matters of public security until 2028. 

Luz Valdovinos, 52, shared Mendoza’s cautious hopefulness that she can maintain her trust in the newest branch of Mexico’s armed forces.

“It depends on the command,” said Valdovinos, originally from the state of Michoacán. “As long as the commanding officers are good, the military can bring peace.”

She said she believed the level of trustworthiness of the current military command was “normal.”

As many Mexicans — primarily López Obrador’s supporters — hail the incorruptibility of the armed forces during the process of what his opponents call his militarization of the country, reports of malfeasance continue to surface. 

In August, 4-year-old Heidi Mariana Pérez was killed by what the Secretariat of National Defense said was a stray bullet during a firefight with members of organized crime in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. 

On Wednesday, the newspaper Milenio reported a roadblock by citizens in Tamaulipas who accused National Guard members of extortion. 

Activists and human rights defenders have said that Tamaulipas is proof that the military does not have the ability to bring peace and security to Mexico. 

A civilian woman poses with soldiers of the Mexican army before the Independence Day military parade on Sep. 16, 2022. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

While most who spoke with Courthouse News expressed ambivalence toward López Obrador’s military policies, two firmly situated themselves at either end of the spectrum. 

“Yes, they bring peace, because without them, just imagine,” said Juan Manuel Díaz, 52, who came to see his son, an army soldier, march in Thursday’s parade. “The municipal, state and federal police can’t take care of everyone. [The violence] is a huge epidemic.”

Verónica Rodríguez, 45, attended the parade just to see the spectacle, since she recently moved to Mexico City from neighboring México state, but said she does not think the military is the solution to the country’s violence.

“It’s a way to control the citizens,” said Rodríguez, who called López Obrador’s military policies “dangerous.” 

Although she was able to joke with her friends who came to support the president over the differences in their political opinions, she grew serious when speaking about why she opposes the use of military force in public security measures.

“Little by little, what they want is to close off possibilities for us to have freedom,” she said. “What it looks like is that we’re headed toward communism.”

Tanks and soldiers stand in formation in Mexico City's main square at the Independence Day military parade on Sep. 16, 2022. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

For his part, López Obrador spoke not of the violence in Mexico, but that of conflicts elsewhere in the world. 

Calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “without a doubt reprehensible,” he announced that Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard will present a proposal to the United Nations in the coming days that will “urgently seek an agreement to stop the war in Ukraine and achieve a truce of at least five years in favor of peace among all nations in order to dedicate all that time to confronting the great and grave economic and social problems that afflict and torment the peoples of the world.”

He hailed politics as “the only instrument we have to avoid war” and attributed global conflicts to “interest groups” with political or economic power. 

“Without peace, there will be no economic growth, much less justice,” said López Obrador, who appeared to address Rodríguez’s concerns. 

“Governing must not be a exercise of hegemony or control, but, above all, the search for well-being for all peoples,” he said. “Power only makes sense and is turned into virtue when it is put at the service of others.”

Courthouse News correspondent Cody Copeland is based in Mexico City.

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