President elect Amlo pledges new military force to fight crime in Mexico World news Critics of Amlo’s plan accused the incoming president of pursuing the same short-term thinking as his two predecessors Critics of Amlo’s plan accused the incoming president of pursuing the same short-term thinking as his two predecessors In opposition, Mexico’s president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to pacify the country by taking troops off the street and sending them back to their barracks. This week, lawmakers from his party proposed to keep soldiers on the front lines for the foreseeable future with the creation of a national guard. The new force would combine military and civilian police under a single military command to “prevent and combat crime across Mexico and [would be] endowed with the discipline hierarchy and ranking of military institutions,” according to proposed bill published in the legislative gazette on Tuesday. López Obrador – known as Amlo – takes office 1 December, after winning election on a populist promise to pull Mexico out of a worsening spiral of crime, corruption and inequality. He arrives as the murder rate reaches a record high, and 12 years after the start of a militarized crackdown on organized crime which has left more than 200,000 dead and more than 37,000 missing. The rule of law also remains as fragile as ever, while police forces are plagued by corruption and incompetence. On 10 December 2006, president Felipe Calderón, launched Mexico’s war on drugs by sending 6,500 troops into his home state of Michoacán, where rival cartels were engaged in tit-for-tat massacres. Calderón declared war eight days after taking power – a move widely seen as an attempt to boost his own legitimacy after a bitterly contested election victory. Within two months, around 20,000 troops were involved in operations across the country. The US has donated at least $1.5bn through the Merida Initiative since 2008, while Mexico has spent at least $54bn on security and defence since 2007. Critics say that this influx of cash has helped create an opaque security industry open to corruption at every level. But the biggest costs have been human: since 2007, around 230,000 people have been murdered and more than 28,000 reported as disappeared. Human rights groups have also detailed a vast rise in human rights abuses by security forces. As the cartels have fractured and diversified, other violent crimes such as kidnapping and extortion have also surged. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by violence. Improved collaboration between the US and Mexico has resulted in numerous high-profile arrests and drug busts. Officials say 25 of the 37 drug traffickers on Calderón’s most-wanted list have been jailed, extradited to the US or killed, although not all of these actions have been independently corroborated. The biggest victory – and most embarrassing blunder – under Peña Nieto’s leadership was the recapture, escape and another recapture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa cartel. While the crackdown and capture of kingpins has won praise from the media and US, it has done little to reduce the violence. Mexico’s decade-long war on drugs would never have been possible without the huge injection of American cash and military cooperation under the Merida Initiative. The funds have continued to flow despite growing evidence of serious human rights violations. “More than 90 percent of crimes end up going unpunished, and the country is still seriously suffering from not having a professional police force,” said congresswoman Maria Alvarado of Amlo’s National Regeneration Movement. But critics of the plan accused the incoming president of pursuing the same short-term thinking as his two predecessors. Felipe Calderón first deployed soldiers against the cartels in December 2006, arguing it was temporary measure until police forces were prepared to take on the task. They have remained in place ever since. “Amlo’s security plan is the same as Calderón and [outgoing President Enrique] Peña Nieto, but on steroids. More soldiers, fewer civilian controls; more soldiers, fewer police,” tweeted political science professor Denise Dresser. Surveys show that Mexico’s armed forces are the country’s most trusted institution, but the military has repeatedly been accused of human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings. Amlo had pledged to pursue a new security strategy, promising to explore amnesties for low-level criminals, crack down on corruption, fight poverty and decriminalize marijuana. So many Mexicans were surprised by the announcement of a new military force to fight crime. “Soldiers have showed they’re not prepared to coexist with people – much less treat them as the police should,” said Jorge Medellín, a journalist covering Mexico’s military. Mario Delgado, Morena’s leader in the lower house, said on Tuesday that the new body would exist “as long as this crisis of violence and insecurity persists”. “It’s an institution, which on the inside has military discipline and organisation. On the outside, it’s a national police,” he said. But civil society organisations said the move would enshrine the “militarisation” of Mexico. “It’s clear this radical redistribution of power will have profound political consequences,” said a statement signed by 523 human rights defenders, academics and security experts. “Military leaders will inevitably become political actors, eventually overturning the federal pact and absorbing power, which until today, have corresponded with civilian authorities.” Tuesday’s announcement came just days after the supreme court ruled that a controversial law enshrining the military’s role in law-enforcement was unconstitutional. The legislation was passed last year over stiff opposition from Amlo’s Morena party.