More Soldiers on Mexico Streets Fails to Improve Security

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The number of Mexican soldiers in policing roles has doubled under President Enrique Peña Nieto, but a new report illustrates how the militarization of domestic security has failed to produce significant improvements in public safety.

The number of Mexican soldiers involved in public security functions increased from 1,680 in 2012 when Peña Nieto first took office to 3,386 in 2016, according to Animal Político. The number of military vehicles being used to support domestic security likewise increased during this period, from 160 to 368.

These figures, however, do not include soldiers deployed on temporary operations to regions experiencing acute levels of violence, the news outlet reported. 

Moreover, in 2012, there were 75 bases of “mixed operations” throughout Mexico, where soldiers involved in public security roles are stationed. This number grew to 142 by 2016.

The state of Guerrero has the most mixed operation bases, with 28. Overall, the army is currently deployed in 24 states, or 75 percent of the country.

Yet increased military presence has not led to increased security gains. When comparing statistics from September 2011 through August 2012 to the same time period from 2015 to 2016, Animal Político found the number of criminals apprehended, and the quantity of vehicles, firearms and grenades seized by the military fell by more than 50 percent. 

InSight Crime Analysis

As Animal Político notes, the deployment of the military began as a temporary measure under former Mexican President Felipe Calderón (2006 – 2012). Upon taking office, Calderón’s successor, Peña Nieto, decided to keep the military on the streets while state police forces were strengthened.

But while involving the military in domestic security is seen as a way to bypass or supplement corrupt or inadequate police forces, this strategy has generated heavy criticism from security experts and has been accompanied by concerns about its impact on human rights.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles 

Such criticism in Mexico has even come from within the military itself. In 2015, Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos, announced the army would continue conducting patrols in the streets since police forces had not “yet been reconfigured.”

“We feel uncomfortable,” Cienfuegos added. “We did not ask for this and we did not train for this.”

Cienfuegos has been vocal in calling for Mexico to adopt a legal framework limiting the army’s involvement in policing roles, legislation he began lobbying for in 2013. Indeed, Cienfuegos has said that sending “soldiers prepared for war” to fight criminals has caused “serious problems” and puts civilian populations at risk.  

Indeed, the Mexican army has been implicated in several human rights scandals in recent years, perhaps most notably the June 2014 Tlatlya massacre, when soldiers executed at least 12 people. 

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