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Mexico Senate approves transfer of National Guard to army

The vote had almost full support from the president’s Morena party and coalition senators. Opposition lawmakers called out popular Morena politicians for past statements disapproving of similar measures by previous administrations.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Mexico’s Senate approved a bill early Friday morning that transfers administrative and operative control of the National Guard to the armed forces.

The move that will add over 115,000 formerly civil serviceman and an estimated $5.6 billion USD to the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) now heads to the office of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for signing. 

López Obrador’s move to militarize the National Guard and transfer of formerly civilian operations to the military have become a hot-button issues during his term. Although he opposed the militarization of previous administrations, he now says he believes the armed forces are the way to bring peace to Mexico.

The controversial legislation incited heated debate on the Senate floor that lasted until after 1 a.m., when it was passed by a vote of 69-50, with two abstentions. 

The vote largely fell along party lines, with approving votes coming from the majority of the coalition Juntos Hacemos Historia (Together We Make History), comprised of the president’s Morena party and the Worker and Green parties. 

The opposition National Action (PAN), Institutional Revolutionary (PRI) and Democratic Revolution (PRD) parties voted against.

In the debate, Morena Senator Citlalli Hernández defended her party’s support for increasing the militarization of Mexico, which she and many of her colleagues opposed in the past. 

“We will take responsibility for [the military],” she said. “If we’re wrong, at least I will show my face and apologize, unlike in the previous 90 years in which decisions like this have been made. I believe we’re under the eye of everyone.”

Several opposition lawmakers drew attention to past statements of Morena politicians in which they opposed militarization. 

PAN Senator Lilly Téllez held a poster board featuring a tweet Hernández published in May 2012 in which she referred to López Obrador by his initials: “If AMLO were president he would withdraw the army from the streets in six months. PRI and PAN oppose him… What country do they live in?”

Other lawmakers held poster boards featuring past tweets with similar statements from López Obrador and Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum. 

Independent Senator Emilio Álvarez Icaza showed a video from 2017 in which national Morena party chair Mario Delgado expressed vehement opposition to the militaristic policies of the administration of former President Enrique Peña Nieto. 

“The country is walking dangerously on the tightrope of military authoritarianism,” Delgado said as a senator. “The dead of Peña and [former President Felipe] Calderón add up to 210,000 and the country is still falling into the bottomless spiral of blood and violence.”

The process of putting the task of public safety in the hands of the armed forces, Delgado said, would “keep exposing the military to more serious cases of violations of human rights.”

Morena Senator Félix Salgado Macedonio, formerly of the PRI and PRD, called Álvarez’s speech a “circus.”

The most notable vote was not a vote at all. Morena Senate leader and 2024 presidential hopeful Ricardo Monreal abstained from voting. Green Party Senator Alejandra Lagunes was the other abstention. 

Two of five senators who did not attend the vote belong to the Morena party, and two others were from parties in the Juntos Hacemos Historia coalition.

López Obrador addressed Monreal’s abstention in his morning press conference Friday, saying: “I don’t agree with his position, because he is backing the falseness, hypocrisy and politicking of conservatism in Mexico.”

Anti-militarization activists are now prepared to take the matter to the Supreme Court.

“It’s pitiful that our senators are so servile, because they know that it is unconstitutional, that having the military in the streets hasn’t worked, that giving so many resources to the Army will break it apart, since it will cause more corruption,” said María Elena Morera, executive director of the militarization watchdog Causa En Común (Common Cause), at a protest before debate began Thursday.

“After this, we’re going to support all the legal challenges and unconstitutionality suits brought against the reform,” she said. “The court will declare it unconstitutional, but that could take three years.”

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