Mexico's Secretary of Defense Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda

The commander of Mexico's armed forces has said it was a mistake to deploy the country's military to combat drug trafficking in comments heavily critical of the citizen security militarization policies that have become common in the region.

In an interview with Pulso, the head of Mexico's National Defense Secretariat (Sedena), General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, said it had been wrong for the Mexican military to "enter fully into combat against drug traffickers," which, he said, left the military with "a problem that is not ours." 

Cienfuegos said that sending "soldiers prepared for war" to confront criminals with no military training has caused "serious problems," and admitted that tactics such as day time raids have left the civilian population at risk.

The general added he believes the army should not be deployed in the streets for the purpose of combatting crime as they are not prepared for the role. 

"Not one of the people with responsibility for this institution is prepared to carry out the functions of the police," he said. "We don't do that. We don't ask for it. We have no taste for it and we are not comfortable in this role."

However, Cienfuegos said, corruption in the police force meant that "if we don't do it, there is no one else who will."

The general also defended the military against accusations of human rights abuses in the emblematic cases of the military's alleged mass execution of 15 people in the town of Tlatlaya in June 2014, and accusations of armed forces' complicity in the disappearance of 43 students in the town of Iguala in September 2014.

Cienfuegos noted that four soldiers have been released without charges in the Tlatlaya case, and three have yet to be tried. In the Iguala case, he stated that the armed forces have "absolutely no responsibility."

InSight Crime Analysis

The points raised by General Cienfuegos echo the concerns of human rights monitors over the trend towards militarization of citizen security in Latin America. While using soldiers in the fight against crime can be an attractive option in the short term, it often leads to an increase in human rights abuses, while taking resources and momentum away from police reform.

In Mexico, the military has been accused of a range of abuses, including excessive force, extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances, and reports of these abuses have risen considerably since the military was deployed in the drug war, according to human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Security Policy

Despite these concerns, Mexico is far from alone in pursuing a military solution to its security crisis. Currently, El Salvador has deployed military units to fight the growing gang violence in the country, while Honduras has also significantly expanded the role of the military in citizen security. There is little sign of this trend reversing, and in 2016 Argentina's incoming president, Mauricio Macri, declared a public national security emergency that could open the way for the country to become the latest to militarize its anti-drug efforts.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...