President Enrique Peña Nieto laying out security plan

Just over two weeks after taking office, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced a new security strategy for the country that will see the creation of a new and controversial gendarmerie force, but that on closer inspection appears to vary little from that employed by his predecessor.

On December 17, Peña Nieto, outlined his administration’s strategy for curbing crime in Mexico over the coming years, one which would be based on six principal initiatives. Among these was the announcement that Mexico would receive a new National Gendarmerie force comprised of 10,000 agents.

Peña Nieto declared during his presidential campaign that he would attempt to create a gendarmerie force that could count on up to 40,000 officials. This figure was not alluded to during his announcement, nor was a timeframe for when the new force would come into effect. The military will continue to be utilized in a citizen security role until the gendarmerie is ready, reported Reuters.

An advisor for Peña Nieto, who spoke to the LA Times on the condition of anonymity, stated that part of gendarmerie would be made up of former federal police officers who will lose their jobs as part of the institutional shake up. They added that the force would be primarily responsible for carrying out security patrols while the federal police would focus efforts on investigations.

Under the changes, 15 new federal police units will be created to tackle crimes such as extortion and kidnapping. Meanwhile, as part of the new government’s attempts to centralize public security apparatuses -- something which includes the elimination of the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) and bringing the federal police under the control of the Interior Ministry -- five regional centers will be set up across Mexico to coordinate crime fighting activities.

The president declared that the overall strategy would be focused on crime prevention rather than being reactionary like his predecessor’s was. Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong delivered a stinging critique of former president Felipe Calderon’s policies, pointing to rises in kidnappings and extortion and stating, “financial resources dedicated to security have more than doubled but unfortunately crime has increased,” reported the Associated Press.

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The announcement that Mexico will indeed see the creation of a gendarmerie is somewhat controversial. In a recent op-ed, analyst Alejandro Hope* argued that creating such a force was verging on being redundant. What's more, not only is the idea of a gendarmerie archaic, its existence alongside Mexico's federal police force could bring the two institutions into conflict with one another since the gendarmerie would essentially carry out the same functions as the federal police. Therefore, Hope stated, the government would be better served focusing attention on strengthening and reforming the federal police rather than installing an entirely new force with the same role.

For all the emphasis made by the new government on making a break with the past security strategy, there may be more continuity than change. For one, the military will remain on the streets, continuing a key tenet of Calderon's strategy. As Milenio journalist Carlos Puig also points out, loose concepts such as "planning" and "evaluating state policy" are hardly revolutionary ideas, yet they serve as two of the six pillars of Peña Nieto's security strategy. True, the new government may be placing more emphasis on tackling key crimes such as kidnapping and extortion as opposed to employing Calderon's "kingpin strategy." But, as Hope told the Associated Press, there is "a lot of continuity despite the implicit and explicit criticism [of Calderon's government] that was made."

One of the more interesting developments to look out for now will be where the government focuses its strategy in the first few months of its inception. When Calderon took office in 2006, he made the state of Michoacan a focus point from the outset, with the first deployment of troops being sent there. Based on the current dynamics in Mexico's violence, Torreon and Acapulco would be unsurprising candidates for a security surge.

*Hope is a member of InSight Crime's Board of Directors.

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