Politics: Progressive militarization – a risk to democracy

MEXICO - Report 29 Nov 2021 by Guillermo Valdes and Francisco González

There has been growing concern in Mexico over the increasing role of the military in the country’s political life. While in recent decades the military has been called on to play a role in the fight against drug trafficking, historically the army has been politically neutral and its functions limited.

However, the dimensions of the armed forces’ role in not only the war on drugs but also many other fields have mushroomed under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The issue was starkly posed this November 20 when at the official celebration to mark the anniversary of the start of the 1910 Revolution, Minister of Defense General Crescencio Sandoval endorsed and supported AMLO's political project, the Fourth Transformation (4T), and called on the population to do likewise.

This represented a sharp break from the past while also reflecting the increasing militarization of the government. The armed forces, including the recently created National Guard, have been endowed with greater legal powers, functions well outside their role as the country’s military, and resources. The army has been used in the construction of the government’s emblematic infrastructure projects, in the COVID vaccination campaign, in managing the country’s maritime and border customs stations, and will now directly own and run the Mayan Train and Santa Lucia airport. All this will clearly intensify with the recent presidential decree declaring the government’s infrastructure projects, many with heavily military involvement, to be in the public interest and a matter of national security. Many fear this will undercut transparency and the rule of law.

The new role of the army stands in sharp contrast to AMLO’s previous positions and even his promises on the campaign trail to send troops back to their barracks. The rationale for this change is that according to the President, the country’s police forces are hopelessly corrupt, while the army is basically immune from this vice, even though this is not supported by the evidence. What the army is known for is its obedience and discipline in following orders.

What concerns many critics is that all this could signal that the army might weigh in overtly or covertly on behalf of Morena in the 2024 presidential elections.

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