Lawmakers in Mexico moved one step closer to cementing the military’s role in the fight against organized crime, despite criticisms about whether oversight mechanisms have been put in place to ensure accountability and transparency.
If enacted, the bill would give the president the authority to order the country’s armed forces to intervene in situations that “threaten internal security.” The bill would also allow the armed forces to use any “lawful information-gathering methods” when carrying out intelligence tasks, among other things.
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Debate over the bill comes against the backdrop of Mexico’s deteriorating security situation. The 2,371 homicides committed in October made it the most violent month so far in 2017. Moreover, this year is on pace to be the deadliest year in the country’s modern history.
In spite of the bill’s clear language empowering the military, Mexico’s Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said in a press release that the law “does not seek to militarize the country.”
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The move to codify the military is not necessarily a surprise. The Mexican government, including the current administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, has long favored the military over the police in the fight against organized crime. Mexico’s decision to increase the military’s role also follows a regional trend.
However, when the armed forces are green-lit to intervene in domestic security issues, it is harder to hold them accountable. Unlike the police, which in most countries operate under the interior ministry and are subject to civilian-led legal and regulatory agencies, the armed forces normally have parallel regulatory and judicial agencies.
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In Mexico this has already been a problem. A recent report from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) found that military authorities obstruct and delay investigations into alleged abuses committed by their members by “withholding, falsifying or tampering with evidence and testimony.”
Other countries are facing similar dilemmas. Lawmakers in Brazil, for example, recently passed a controversial measure that would give the military jurisdiction in cases of abuses committed by the armed forces, illustrating how the armed forces can potentially control access to information in cases of misconduct.