The Pros and Cons of Absorbing Mexico’s Gendarmerie into the Federal Police

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Mexico’s government has decided to make the controversial Gendarmerie — a key component of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s national security policy — part of the national police force. Security analyst Alejandro Hope examines the positive and negative implications of this decision.

There has been a new twist in the Gendarmerie matter. Last Friday, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced that the Gendarmerie will be a unit of the Federal Police, initially composed of 5,000 members with military and police training.

This decision is a significant change to the original project and merits various comments, some positive and others not so much. First comes the good:

1. The interior minister had the good grace to meet, prior to the announcement, with civil society organizations and specialists interested in the matter, in order to discuss the new design of the Gendarmerie and to solicit contributions and commentary. Given the importance that we in civil society have placed on extensive debate regarding the topic, the opportunity to listen to contrasting opinions was appreciated. I hope this attitude will persist in the future, in this and other matters.

2. He listened to one of the principal critiques that various people had regarding the initial proposal: the fact that the parallel operation of the Gendarmerie and the Federal Police would have the potential to create very serious jurisdictional conflicts, as occurs in all countries that have a dual police system. By placing the Gendarmerie within the Federal Police, this risk disappears by definition. I don’t know about others, but I am happy about the change and, above all, the fact that the authorities have chosen to rectify the situation before placing the country on a path difficult to turn back from.

Now, the not so good:

1. I am constantly surprised by the habit of this government to break the announcement of important decisions into seperate statements. Even if we already know that the Gendarmerie will form part of the Federal Police, they are still failing to address its precise administrative position, its relationship with units given similar mandates (the Federal Assistance Forces and the Division of Regional Security), the employment status of its members (commissioned soldiers, or civilians with military training?), its impact on the budget and its possible growth trajectory (how many members does it hope to recruit, above the initial 5,000?). Wouldn’t it be better to save the announcement until they had defined all of these details? We would save ourselves a lot of ink, many comings and goings, many doubts and many meetings.

2. I still don’t understand what it is that they are hoping to achieve. The best argument in favor of the Gendarmerie (articulated not so much by the government, but by some intelligent supporters of the new body) was that an intermediate body created with clear military origin and identity could take advantage of the positive image of the armed forces (in comparison to the police) to gain the confidence of civilians, without directly involving the army and the navy in public security tasks. By placing the Gendarmerie within the Federal Police, this advantage is lost; like it or not, the gendarmes will be seen as police. In that case, why not simply recruit 5,000 more national police? With military training, if they want. Reforming the control structures and mechanisms, if that is necessary. But what exactly is the point in creating an additional administrative unit? I do not understand.

3. If the Gendarmerie is not going to be of the size originally proposed, the obvious implication is that the armed forces are going to continue to be involved in public security matters for a long time. If this is the case, it is absolutely urgent to regulate this participation. Following this decision, the government should reopen debate over the National Security Law, the domestic security regime and the regulation of Article 29 of the Constitution. If not, the army and the navy are going to continue to tread dangerous legal ground, as well described by Supreme Court Minister Jose Ramon Cossio a year ago.

In sum, it is the wise who change their minds. The rectification of the project speaks well of the government; it tells us that they are not deaf to the questions being asked by society. Nonetheless, with the decision taken last week, we are back to square one: how do we strengthen state control of the territory? How do we avoid resorting to the armed forces for jobs that do not correspond to them in the first place? What do we do to have trustworthy and effective police bodies? The answers continue to await.

P.S. I have been very distant in recent weeks. The excuse is that I have been travelling. The reality is that I needed to recharge my batteries before continuing the conversation that I have sustained with you, my dear readers, for the past two years. I hope you will excuse me.

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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