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Mexico Senate extends use of armed forces for public safety to 2028

Debate over the bill grew heated on the Senate floor, with one former Morena senator calling her erstwhile allies “hyenas waiting for the stinking leftovers the president throws them.”

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Mexico’s Senate advanced President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s expansion of military power Tuesday when it voted to extend the deployment of the armed forces in matters of public safety until 2028. 

The bill passed 87-40 with no abstentions after nearly nine hours of heated debate. It had the full support of López Obrador’s Morena party and its political allies, as well as most of the senators from the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. 

Initially sent to the Senate floor in mid-September, the bill was returned to a joint committee in order to “rethink the text of the draft and work on a new one that achieves the consensus of the parliamentary groups that come together in these legislative bodies,” according to a Senate press release. 

The joint committee returned the bill to the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon with added “parliamentary controls” on how the armed forces can participate in matters of public safety. Such controls included biannual reports with performance indicators, regular appearances of generals before the Congress, and joint responsibility for the budget between the federal and state governments. 

The bill now heads to the Chamber of Deputies, where lawmakers plan to fast-track its approval.

López Obrador’s expansion of military power in Mexico has been a contentious topic throughout his term, and Tuesday’s debate was not without polemics. 

Senator Eduardo Ramírez Aguilar, chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee — one of two that reviewed the bill — opened the debate, saying: “We also understand that this is not what is best for Mexico, but in this moment, it is the most necessary. This support of the armed forces is politically and socially necessary.”

Ramírez addressed public concern over the growing militarization of Mexico, but said that there is “great confidence” in the armed forces and that “they are made for big responsibilities in the defense of our homeland.”

Opponents have criticized López Obrador for his creation of the National Guard as a civil security force in 2019 and his recent decision to move it to the armed forces under the Secretariat of National Defense. The Senate approved the transfer in early September. 

The most spirited discourse against the bill came from Senator Lilly Téllez, a former journalist who began her political career under the banner of Morena in 2018, but left the party in April 2020 due to ideological differences.

“You bunch of corrupt politicians,” she said, pointing at her former political allies. “I remember how you swore that the National Guard was to be a civil force. Right here, you all spoke for hours, you promised, you defended, you tore your clothing, screaming that the National Guard was to be a civil force.”

Female National Guard soldiers listen to their commanding officer during Mexico's annual Independence Day military parade on Sept. 16, 2022. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

Although she initially supported López Obrador and his ideas to transform Mexico, Téllez is now part of the National Action Party, or PAN.

“You Morena are heartless people,” she continued as other senators could be heard expressing their disapproval of her diatribe. She accused the National Guard of being a “deception” from the start and said that López Obrador “is going to use the army to intimidate, operate, cover up and contain the population in the next presidential elections.”

Senator Noé Castañón of the Citizens’ Movement party expressed his opposition with less vitriol.

“A vote against is a vote in favor of the army, yes, the army,” he said, stating that voting down the bill would return them to their normal duties and allow the government to work on improving civilian police forces. 

“A vote against lays the framework for reaching a solution and correcting the failed public safety strategy,” Castañón said.

On Tuesday, the newspaper Reforma published data from the National Guard’s Internal Affairs Unit revealing that as of April it had opened over 1,100 investigations into several crimes including extortion, theft, organized crime, human rights violations, kidnapping and at least one case of rape. The unit had received nearly 9,000 complaints about the force.

The investigations and complaints are telling of what Mexicans can expect from their military in the coming years, according to María Elena Morera, executive director of the government watchdog Causa En Común (Common Cause). 

“Nothing guarantees that they’re going to comply [with the conditions stipulated in the bill] when they have nearly four years with the National Guard and it hasn’t carried through with being a civil force,” Morera said. 

“It’s incredible that with all that’s come out about the corruption in the armed forces, violation of human rights, rapes of female soldiers, now they’re voting in favor,” she said.

“What they’re doing is schizophrenic, as the vast majority of Morena senators were always against militarization. I really don’t understand the politicians who voted for this, how they think they’re going to keep calling the shots once the military is giving the orders.”

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