Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, published a decree on Monday authorizing the Mexican military to participate in civilian law enforcement for four more years, until March 2024. The policy was first implemented as the Mexican government was struggling to curb the violence that plagues the country.

Obrador ordered the armed forces to participate “in an extraordinary, regulated and complementary manner with the National Guard” in public security tasks. “The participation of the armed forces in public safety should be under extraordinary conditions and should be regulated, reviewed, subordinated, and complementary” to civilian authorities, according to his proclamation.

President Obrador, who has been in office since December 2018, has often criticized former President Felipe Calderon for the use of soldiers and sailors for public security and in the fight against drug violence. He had also initially criticized the policy he now decreed extended.

Obrador was elected in large part due to his plan of adopting a more conciliatory security strategy, whereby he planned on removing the root causes of crime by reducing poverty and corruption. But, thus far, his plan has been a failure. The violence has continued at an unprecedented pace with a record 34,582 murders in 2019. There were nearly 3,100 murders in March, the second-bloodiest month ever. 

The Mexican National Guard was created in 2019. There were two main reasons for its formation: Firstly, the very high level of corruption in the Mexican Federal Police. Secondly, the numerous complains of human rights abuses by the military. The authorities were hoping that enough security forces would be trained to remove the military from the equation. 

The aim was to instill in the guard forces the discipline shown by the military. About half of the initial force of guard troops, and all of the top officers, come from the army. The National Guard answers directly to Alfonso Durazo, the Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection.

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The National Guard’s strength currently stands at about 100,000 troops. That number is set to increase to 120,000 by 2021 and up to 150,000 by 2023.

Obrador’s decree was met with a healthy dose of skepticism. One Mexican security analyst, Alejandro Hope, said that the decree did not justify the “extraordinary” circumstances and did not provide for the outside supervision of soldiers.

“It says [the military forces] should be supervised, reviewed, and subordinated, but by who? By themselves. The Defense Department regulates itself,” Hope said in an interview with the media.

“[The decree] evades the requirement that the [military forces] are regulated, reviewed, subordinated, and complementary. It not only violates the intent of the legislators, but it also violates international jurisprudence.”

He added that “on the ground, this decree doesn’t change much. The armed forces already detain people, set up phone taps, they [sic] set up checkpoints, and detain migrants.”

Hope’s reference to the detainment of migrants relates to the movement of many national guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to stem the influx of illegal immigrants from other countries seeking to flood into the United States. 

Because of the corruption and intimidation of local police forces, the Mexican government turned to the military to combat the drug cartels that run rampant in the country. But, according to Amnesty International, with military involvement came accusations of torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, and other human rights abuses.