Mexico has never received as much criticism against the approval of a law as it did last week. On Friday, with the votes of President Peña Nieto’s party, the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), and its allies on the Right, the Senate approved the controversial Law of Internal Security amid protests from civil society, united in the collective #SeguridadSinGuerra (Safety without war), and international institutions like the U.N., the European Parliament and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The law expands the powers of the military, giving it police functions and a role in the fight against drug trafficking, effectively equating public safety to national security. In those states where President Nieto will declare that there is a security risk, the military will be able to investigate, search homes, hide “strategic” information, intercept communications and make arrests without the intervention of the judicial authority or any external controls.
In December 2006, former President Felipe Calderon launched the “narcoguerra” (‘’drug war”), a military offensive against the drug cartels that was supposed to be exceptional and temporary, with the aim of allowing the professionalization of the police and then gradually withdrawing the military—but that did not happen.
The new law normalizes this situation and is presented as a necessary step that doesn’t militarize the streets but brings everything into order, given that the armed forces have nowadays assumed anti-narcos and internal security functions, and it is important to support their actions with a ”legal framework,” according to PRI Senator Cristina Díaz.
In the past decade, the Mexican gangs have multiplied and have diversified their criminal activities. Today, the country is living through an endemic human rights crisis: There have been over 200,000 deaths attributable to what is “a true civil war”—according to Andreas Schedler, a researcher on conflicts—as well as 34,000 “disappeared.”
The independent Senator Alejandro Encinas says the president will now be able to politicize the activities of the army and intervene in social conflicts, and the army will not only have the right to self-regulate, coordinating the functions that are the object of the presidential delegation of power and its protocols, but may also act directly in the case of imminent security risks. Therefore, the example to look at in Mexico’s case is Honduras, where a curfew and a state of emergency were declared to control the protests after the elections.
The opposition and the Commission on Human Rights will file lawsuits before the Supreme Court alleging unconstitutionality, but the legal technicalities and appeals will take a long time. The law will thus be operational during the electoral campaign in 2018, in which the politician López Obrador, candidate for the third consecutive time, is ahead in all the polls and could lead the Left into government. Ultimately, as Encinas stressed, no one wants a repeat of the “dirty war” of the 1970s next year, or the entrance of the armed forces into national politics.
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