Mexico Defense Secretary Walks Back Criticism of Militarization

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Mexico’s top military official says that soldiers will remain in the streets to fight organized crime, a seeming departure from earlier comments condemning militarization as a strategy, and a signal that the country remains far from setting aside this failing policy.

National Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda said that the military’s public security missions in Mexico would continue until necessary, Proceso reported on March 9.

Last year, however, Cienfuegos condemned the use of the military against organized crime.

“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.”

The official justified the apparent reversal of his previous stance by pointing to the public’s desire for military involvement in the fight against crime and the concordant presidential orders to maintain the military on the streets.

Cienfuegos also argued that military deployment was necessary in certain states where powerful criminal organizations operate, and that the objective was actually to expand military presence across Mexican territory, reported La Jornada.

“The people are the ones that don’t want us to go,” he said. “It is society itself that is asking us not to go. We’re going to be there as long as society asks for it and the president does not give orders to the contrary.”

The defense secretary also urged Congress to pass a proposed Internal Security Law, which could actually expand the military’s role in fighting crime.

InSight Crime Analysis

Despite increasing levels of insecurity and violence that strongly suggest a failure of Mexico’s militarized security policies, Cienfuegos’ backtracking on his earlier comments indicates that the country is far from being ready to modify its perspective on how to tackle organized crime.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

As Cienfuegos pointed out, one of the main obstacles to sending soldiers back to the barracks is the public’s relative lack of trust in local police forces in comparison to the military. This makes it difficult for political leaders to support demilitarization initiatives. And given this political reality, Mexico’s decade-old strategy of militarizing the fight against crime is unlikely to shift gears in the near future.

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