General: Fighting Drug Gangs has Taken Toll on Mexican Army

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A former top Mexican military official has cautioned legislators that the armed forces are worn down from the long struggle against organized crime and that a revision of the current strategy must be carried out.

Speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Chamber of Deputies’ National Defense Commission, retired brigadier general and Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) congressman Raul Macias warned that the six-year fight against drug trafficking has worn down troops, reported Reforma.

In response to promises from legislators to improve the military’s situation, Macias stated that his fellow congressmen, “sitting around drinking coffee,” could not imagine the environment of constant risk and uncertainty faced by troops deployed against organized crime.

Macias concluded that because of this, it is necessary to revise the national strategy against organized crime, anticipating many more “difficult” years ahead with regards to security. He did not elaborate, however, on the direction of any possible revision.

InSight Crime Analysis

The role of the military in Mexico’s fight against organized crime is controversial. While the armed forces are often better trained and equipped than police and are believed to be less prone to criminal influence, many have argued that using the military in policing can delay the urgency of much-needed police reform, lead to human rights abuses, and even increase violence in some cases.

The head of Mexico’s Navy last month called on President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto to adopt a less militarized approach to organized crime. However, while initially critical of Felipe Calderon’s hardline strategies during the early months of his presidential campaign, Peña Nieto has now said that he will continue to deploy the military, possibly up until 2014.

Macias’ statements about the difficulties faced by deployed soldiers on a day-to-day basis adds a new dimension to this debate. Low quality of life for soldiers can increase the incentives for desertion; although the desertion rate has dropped under President Calderon, since 2006 nearly 45,000 soldiers and marines have deserted the armed forces. Many of the thousands of low-level troops who desert each year may wind up in the employ of criminal groups, who have openly recruited them in the past by hanging banners promising good salaries to any soldiers willing to change sides.

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