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Why Mexico Should Open the Gendarmerie Debate

Although the Mexican government's idea of creating a National Gendarmerie has been criticized for lack of clarity and failure to define objectives, one official has indicated that the president intends to go ahead with the proposal without passing the idea through Congress or allowing for public debate. Security analyst Alejandro Hope examines the continuing issues surrounding the proposed police body and the implications of a unilateral decree mandating its creation.

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A month and a half ago, a group of social organizations and individuals, including myself, published a joint statement with two concrete requests. We asked that the creation of the Gendarmerie a) be preceded by a broad and inclusive public debate and b) be the result of a legislative decision and not of an administrative decree. As a result of this statement, Jesus Zambrano, president of the Governing Council of the Pact for Mexico, said that the Executive had not yet produced a proposal regarding the matter and that discussion forums would be held between April and June in order to get the opinion of experts (one must remember that the creation of the Gendarmerie is the 75th commitment of the Pact for Mexico).

Well, it turns out that they are not holding discussions. Either there will not be any forums or if the forums occur, they will be an insignficant gesture, because the decision has already been made. At least, that is what Carlos Humberto Toledo, inspector general of the National Security Commission, said two days ago in the Interior Ministry (SEGOB). At the National Justice and Security Forum, Toledo stated that "the Gendarmerie is to be a unit that will begin functioning very soon; it will likely begin operations on September 16." Unless they intend to address the matter in an extraordinarily short time or in the first 15 days of the next legislative period, this means that they are planning to create the institution without passing it through Congress and without leaving space for discussion and analysis.

Is that the official position of the Interior Ministry? Or was Mr. Toledo's statement unfounded? It doesn't really matter, but the SEGOB would do well to clarify the point -- I don't think that they want to continue feeding the uncertainty surrounding this project.

We, the signatories of the March 26th statement, request a public discussion because many doubts persist regarding the Gendarmerie. And these simply increase each time a government official attempts to explain the nature, functions and costs of the new body. For example:

According to Toledo, "the Federal Police will be mainly on the streets, in the cities, specifically as more of a neighborhood police." On the other hand, National Security Commissioner Manuel Mondragon said this past February that "the function and actions of the Gendarmerie and the Federal Police will not be the same." So are there going to be two federal bodies fulfilling the functions of neighborhood police? Why? What is the rationale behind doing that? How could the national police be neighborhood police if it is coming and going?

Toledo also said that the central function of the Gendarmerie will be "to provide security at the airports, Petroleos Mexicanos [PEMEX, the national oil company] installations, and strategic zones." But two months ago Mondragon assured that "essentially, the Federal Police handle federal offenses and the Gendarmerie will handle common crime." What common crimes are going to occur in airports, PEMEX installations and strategic zones? Are the two bodies both going to attend to common crime and federal offenses? Then what is the difference?

In addition to the contradictions, there are plenty of other uncertainties surrounding the project:

 

  • How much is the Gendarmerie going to cost? How much will it cost with the 10,000 initial members and with the projected 40,000? Will the money be taken from the budget of the Defense Ministry (SEDENA) and the Mexican Navy (SEMAR)? Are they going to pay back that money to the armed forces? In that case, would we not end up with exactly the same level of force in public security matters, but at twice the cost? How could this be justified from a cost-benefit standpoint? Have they undertaken any sort of formal analysis?
  • What will be the employment status of the gendarmes who come from the Army and the Navy? Will they continue to be soldiers? Will they continue to have access to the social security system of the armed forces? At the same cost as active military personnel? Or with a surcharge for acting in another role? If they stop being considered soldiers, will they be given a benefits package similar to what they had in the armed forces? Will their salary be made equal to that of national police? How much would all of this cost?
  • Are the gendarmes going to be subject to military or civil jurisdiction? In the first case, would disciplinary issues be dealt with in military tribunals? Or would they have their own disciplinary regime? In the second case, would all gendarmes have to pass the confidence control process laid out by the General Law of the National Public Security System? What would happen if the members recruited until now didn't pass the tests?

It is not unreasonable to solicit a public debate on this matter: there are too many unknowns and too many items of concern to proceed quickly. Nor is it absurd to request that Congress intervene in the establishment of the Gendarmerie: there is no democratic country where an armed body of 40,000 is created without passing through the legislature. We hope that the Peña Nieto administration does not want to make Mexico the sad exception.

In sum, it is important to reiterate the message of the March 26th statement: yes to debate, no to decree. Does the government think the Gendarmerie is the best available alternative for improving security conditions in Mexico? Perfect. Present the evidence, counter the critiques, point out the benefits of the project. But do not prescribe us an operative body without first initiating a discussion.

Translated and reprinted with permission from *Alejandro Hope, of Plata o Plomo, a blog on the politics and economics of drugs and crime published by Animal Politico. Read the Spanish original here. Hope is also a member of InSight Crime's Board of Directors.

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