The ambiguous nature of the Mexican Armed Forces is creating a legal black hole for all the military actions that carry out their constitutional mandate to “preserve national security.”
They have fallen into the now too familiar situation of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Because of their actions against organized criminals, they are seen by a large group of non-government organizations as criminals with a badge to kill but when the attack comes from criminals without a badge, there is nobody to defend the dead soldiers.
The problem of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) is not new, and it is legal. The Armed Forces have been soliciting to Congress, for the past 16 years, to regulate their participation in the government’s war against armed civilian groups, now labeled as “organized crime,” who devote their business activities to drug trafficking to the booming U.S. pothead and junkie market. Their claim is that they are doing what economics 101 says: demand creates supply.
Yet their claim is declared illegal both in Mexico and the United States whose interdiction efforts have escalated to the volume of trafficking we’ve been experiencing along the border for the past 20 years with no letup in sight.
In the midst of this “war on drugs,” the Mexican Armed Forces have been entangled in a battle that it is not their own and that’s why they have been asking Congress to either give them the authority to perform as representatives of the law, or send them back to the barracks where their most noteworthy effort is that of participating in National Emergency situations caused mostly by natural disasters. And mind you, these guys are good at helping the civilian population in distress.
But since former President Felipe Calderón arrived in power on Dec. 1, 2006, he immediately ordered that the Armed Forces be displayed to territories that were controlled by drug trafficking organizations.
Calderón did this under pressure from the U.S. State Department, the Department of Justice and clearly under the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to whose wishes and demands Calderón gave way to, much to the chagrin of many nationalist Mexicans who do not want to see a U.S. “intervention” in Mexican affairs.
Yet this “intervention” or whatever you want to call it led to the 2008 inking of the Mérida Initiative that many back then saw as “The Colombianization” of Mexico’s battle against drug planting and trafficking.
As a reaction in Mexico, the Senate legislated a regulation and the installation of the then already existing National Security Council in which the Armed Forces could engage in military mobilizations only if the NSC requested it to the president, and the president approved it.
The mandate got tangled up in the Chamber of Deputies where it is still in the realm of limbo and neither presidents Calderón nor Peña Nieto have been able to move it.
That leaves the Armed Forces participation in police work exactly where it is now: in the position that they can be accused of crimes against humanity if they act with harsh authority and are defenseless against the above mentioned onslaught of NGOs who see them as dogs that have to be put on a leash.
It must be pointed out that traditionally, the Mexican Armed Forces have not had good publicity with the tax paying people, as they are seen as a cadre of well protected authoritarian bureaucrats, a fame they inherited from the armies of the Mexican revolution who sacked and robbed towns and cities.
Yet times have changed, and at the moment the Armed Forces do not have the needed legislative rights to act as commanded by the president to be both an Army and a police force. Under current Mexican laws, they can be both, and they are paying the price. They are considered criminals if they act, and as a bunch of wimps if they don’t. They boast no juridical legal framework to protect them and their interdiction actions, when summoned to carry them out by civilian authorities.
But their situation can’t go on much longer. Either they go back to the barracks and perform the duties that they are still commanded under the Constitution, or they are given the freedom to act as a police force where they can bring criminals to be judged under civilian law.
The problem is Congress, which does not define the legal situation of the Armed Forces. And as long as that doesn’t happen, they’ll be judged by the public as a ruthless authority and human rights violators or be left without a legal framework to protect them from suits and verbal attacks by civilians.
In short, damned if they do, damned if they don’t.