In September, 43 “Normalistas,” students studying to be teachers, in Iguala, Guerrero State, Mexico disappeared. They are now presumed to have been murdered. They were kidnapped by municipal police and handed over to “Guerreros Unidos,” the local organized-crime executioners. The response to these kidnappings and presumed murders has been widespread protests in Mexico City and a new plan to reform Mexico’s security from President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Pena Nieto’s plan, presented on November 27 (some two months after the disappearances in question), begins with dissolving the 1800-odd municipal police forces in Mexico, and bringing their areas of responsibility under the 32 state police commands. This is in keeping with the earlier embrace of the Michoacan autodefensas into the official Rurales irregulars. Pena Nieto appears to be attempting to pursue a policy of centralization when it comes to Mexico’s internal security.
However, Pena Nieto is already extremely unpopular with the Mexican people and, in fact, the rest of the Mexican government. While federal troops have moved into Guerrero and Michoacan to take over from municipal police forces as of December 4, Mexico’s Congress has yet to pass any of Pena Nieto’s 10-point plan, which, along with the “mando unico” centralization plan, also addressed social and economic reforms in the poorer states of Guerrero and Michoacan. Given Pena Nieto’s unpopularity, the proposal may be dead on arrival.
Protests in Mexico City have been going on for two months, fueled by the disappearances of the 43, and largely led, at least symbolically, by the parents of the missing students. Calls for Pena Nieto’s resignation are foremost, along with appeals to the memory of protestors killed by government security forces under Pena Nieto, both as President, and as governor of the State of Mexico.
There has been some violence, though there is suspicion of government instigation (video of a demonstration on November 20 show a General of the Mexican Army among the masked individuals who attempted to set fire to the doors of the Presidential Palace). It is believed that government forces are instigating violence during the protests in order to discredit the protestors.
The disappearance of the 43 in Iguala made international news about a week after it occurred, prompting the massive outcry and President Pena Nieto’s announcement of his reform plan. But Borderland Beat reports that the disappearances in Iguala are nothing new; hundreds of people have been kidnapped and murdered there. August saw 32 bodies show up in Iguala, and the estimates for just one landfill in Iguala, in the last 2 years, is over 300 dead. And that’s just the ones that can be accounted for.
The “disappeared” in Mexico amount to at least 26,000 in the last seven years. So why has Pena Nieto suddenly decided to act based on only 43? For the same reason that so much was preached about the 200 kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria: it made enough headlines that it had to appear that something was being done.
The “mando unico” plan of centralizing security operations under the Army and the federales is not a new one; President Calderon expressed his interest in putting a similar plan in action during his entire presidency. It is also, provided Pena Nieto can get it past the Mexican legislature, unlikely to actually change anything.
While Pena Nieto’s plan focuses on the weaknesses of local security forces, it discounts the proven corruption of state and federal cops, as well. It also does not address manpower. Are the municipal forces simply going to be rolled into the federal ones? Then you simply have corrupt cops putting on federal uniforms and continuing as before, just under different colors.
Are the municipal cops going to be simply thrown out and replaced by federales? In that case, not only do the Mexican authorities have to rely on the federales not being corrupt, but they will be faced with more ready-made cartel soldiers, as the fired local cops (those that aren’t arrested) have just lost what legitimate income they had. It is a similar situation to the de-Baathification of the Iraqi Army in 2003.
While Pena Nieto was hailed as the “Savior of Mexico” just two years ago when he was elected, crises and scandals (and the reaction to them) suggest that nothing new is coming to curb the violence in Mexico. As long as organized crime (limiting the problem to “drug cartels” is inaccurate–more to come on that subject) can command nearly as much money and loyalty as the government, the instability in Mexico will continue.
(Featured Image Courtesy: CNN)