Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Militarized Mexico: A Lost War That Has Not Brought Peace

Stephanie Brewer from Washington Office On Latin America (WOLA)
The National Guard is an example of how militarization has morphed from a supposedly temporary measure into a long-term strategy, says a new report.
In the midst of a crisis of violence that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives in Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador came to power pledging to transform the failed public security strategies of his predecessors, who had deployed the military in policing tasks. Nevertheless, López Obrador has deepened militarization both within and beyond the realm of public security. What do these decisions mean for security and democracy in Mexico?

Since the intensification of the war on crime in Mexico nearly fifteen years ago—characterized by the deployment of the armed forces and the targeting of drug kingpins—annual homicides have more than tripled. Since December 2006, Mexico has registered approximately 350,000 homicides and the government reports 85,000 disappeared and missing people.

In 2012, then-candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador stated that, should he become president, he would take the military off the streets and leave a professionalized federal police force in its place. In 2016, he strongly criticized the war-on-crime model, declaring that coercive and militarized measures “don’t solve anything.” He reiterated in his successful 2018 campaign that he would redesign the country’s anti-violence strategy. As president, he has implemented social programs that, he believes, will address economic causes of insecurity.

However, López Obrador has failed to demilitarize public security; on the contrary, he has deepened various aspects of the militarized model. This month marks the one-year anniversary of López Obrador’s Presidential Agreement assigning a range of policing tasks to the armed forces until 2024. Likewise, this month marks the second anniversary of the law that created the National Guard, the new federal security force proposed by López Obrador. Despite forming part of the civilian Ministry of Security and Citizen Protection, the National Guard is a militarized force that operates under the coordination of the Ministry of Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA).

The sum of these two legal instruments is not encouraging: even if the armed forces withdraw from policing tasks by 2024, those tasks would remain in the hands of another militarized institution—the National Guard. Plans for necessary civilian police reform remain unclear in this context, as do strategies to address the multiple structural factors that drive violence in Mexico.

Militarization’s Failure to Curb Violence
Upon taking office in December 2006, President Felipe Calderón declared an all-out war on crime. Although military participation in policing and anti-drug tasks in Mexico was not new, the Calderón presidency ushered in the military’s current, central role in the anti-crime strategy. His government initiated a series of militarized security operations, leading to thousands of armed clashes involving military forces and tens of thousands of arrests by military troops.

Calderón also oversaw reforms to the country’s civilian policing structure; he stated that his long-term objective was for civilian authorities to take over public security tasks. However, those reforms did not bring about the level of change needed to achieve police effectiveness and accountability. In the end, militarization continued throughout the Calderón administration. President Enrique Peña Nieto would repeat, with some differences, the same cycle during his 2012-2018 presidency: having touted the creation of a new federal security force, the Gendarmerie, he ended up maintaining military deployment throughout his term. Under López Obrador, the territorial deployment of security forces includes an ever-growing contingent of National Guard (a force whose militarized nature will be analyzed below). As of today, the armed forces also continue to participate directly in security tasks. In short, despite some variations, militarization has morphed from a supposedly temporary measure into a long-term strategy.

As another component of the anti-crime model, successive Mexican administrations have targeted drug kingpins for arrest, a tactic in which Navy special forces (belonging to the Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) have played a leading role with United States support. López Obrador has distanced himself from the kingpin strategy, although there have been examples of kingpin arrests during his time in office.

The results of the militarized war on crime have been catastrophic. Homicides increased dramatically from the Calderón presidency onwards (see figure 1). Arrests and killings of kingpins have fostered the fragmentation of criminal groups, leading to increased violence. Shoot-outs with security forces trigger increases in local homicide rates. The overwhelming majority of the tens of thousands of people the government reports as disappeared were taken in the past 15 years. A significant percentage of homicides and disappearances registered in recent years are concentrated in certain regions of the country, including several of Mexico’s most populous states.

In the last two years, various analysts identify a reduction in federal security forces’ levels of frontal combat against criminal groups. Scaling back the use of warlike tactics that have increased violence without controlling insecurity can, in itself, be considered a positive step. However, this modification in the strategy has not been accompanied by appropriate and sufficient measures to address ongoing violence in the country. Today, a range of criminal groups continue to victimize the population, while homicides remain at record levels.

The foregoing confirms that authorities have not used these nearly 15 years of militarization to put in place sustainable and effective anti-violence measures at the national level. Instead of buying time for authorities to implement solutions, militarization has become the addiction that postpones those solutions indefinitely.

In this context, it is vital that Mexico’s authorities address the structural factors driving violence—starting with the State’s own role in violent phenomena. As exemplified in a series of high-profile cases over the last decade and a half, criminal groups routinely benefit from the tolerance or participation of State actors. The power exercised at different levels by criminal networks today can be understood only in light of this reality, whose consequences include a lack of effective investigation of both regional and local patterns of violence (which go well beyond the activities of transnational cartels).

An effective security model also requires prioritizing the true reform and professionalization of civilian police institutions, breaking the cycle of militarizing indefinitely as a failed response to police corruption and local forces’ lack of capacity. Achieving this requires overcoming once and for all the historic lack of commitment to police reform at all three levels of government.

The López Obrador administration has presented the National Police and Civic Justice Model with the aim of strengthening the role of state and municipal police in preventing and investigating crimes, among other goals. Progress in the implementation of the model—and, more importantly, its initial results in daily life—will shed light on the depth of this initiative’s potential impact on police institutions and practices. Up until now, however, the creation of the National Guard has been a much more visible priority than police reform.

Former president Felipe Calderón in 2009 in Nuevo León for Day of the Army. Calderón began deploying the military to combat organized crime in 2006.

Militarization and Serious Human Rights Violations
Mexico’s militarized war on crime triggered high levels of serious human rights violations. Enforced disappearances committed by the army, the navy, and other security forces at all levels soon became one of the most high-profile expressions of this human rights crisis.

Another widely documented pattern has been the arbitrary detention and torture of civilians, including the torture of innocent people subsequently charged for crimes they did not commit. Although torture was already widespread before the Calderón administration, militarization and the war-on-crime model were important aggravating factors in its commission. According to an analysis by the World Justice Project based on data from the 2016 National Survey of People Deprived of Liberty, 88% of people detained by the navy and 85% of people detained by the army from 2006-2016 reported torture or ill-treatment. According to the same official survey, 41% of women detained by the navy, 21% of women detained by the army, and 10%-13% of women detained by police forces reported having survived rape in the context of the detention.

Finally, there are numerous documented cases of the armed forces killing civilians who posed no imminent threat and/or who were not participating in any crime, thus constituting extrajudicial or arbitrary executions. The perpetrators have repeatedly altered the scenes of these crimes. In a 2010 example, soldiers arbitrarily killed two students from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and planted weapons on the victims. Another example of scene alteration is the 2014 Tlatlaya case, in which it was also revealed that the soldiers responsible for killing a group of civilians had been operating under orders to “take out criminals” during nighttime hours.

During the current federal administration, cases such as the encounter that left one soldier and 14 civilians dead in Tepochica, Guerrero and the killing of a young couple in Carbó, Sonora have raised renewed concerns of arbitrary use of lethal force. In July 2020, part of an extrajudicial execution committed by soldiers was captured on video in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas—one of a series of civilian deaths at the hands of soldiers in that city over the past two years, according to documentation by the non-governmental Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee. In March 2021, the dangers of militarizing Mexico’s southern border were illustrated by the arbitrary killing of a Guatemalan citizen by a soldier in Mazapa de Madero, Chiapas.

An internationally recognized indicator of potential extrajudicial executions is the lethality index, a measure that compares the number of civilians killed versus injured by a given security force in combat scenarios. In armed conflict, normally the injured outnumber those killed. That is, a “normal” lethality index would be 1 or less. In Mexico, the lethality index of the armed forces, according to data presented in December 2020 by López Obrador, is far above that level (see figure 2). Neither the current number of civilians killed nor the current lethality index reach the extreme levels of prior administrations. However, the armed forces continue to kill four or five civilians for each one they injure; that is, the lethality index today is over 400% of the expected level.

Equally disproportionate is the number of civilians versus military personnel killed. Official SEDENA data obtained by the organization Intersecta show that in 2020, soldiers killed 237 civilians, while 6 soldiers died in these same encounters. Of the civilians killed, 71% died in “perfect lethality events” in which civilian deaths were the only result of the encounter between civilians and SEDENA.

Serious violations committed by authorities, coupled with militarization’s failure to curb violence, have led many actors to call on successive administrations to demilitarize and transform the country’s security model. Both human rights organizations and families who have experienced firsthand serious military abuses or the criminal violence unleashed by the war on crime have demanded an end to State violence and a change in strategy.

The National Guard: A New Militarized Force
According to the Presidential Agreement issued by López Obrador one year ago, military participation in federal policing tasks will end by 2024. From then on, these tasks will fall exclusively to the National Guard (Guardia Nacional, GN), the new federal security force created in 2019. However, available information suggests that this planned transition, if it occurs, will be more of a change in name than a shift in strategy.

In theory, the GN is a civilian body: it is formally part of the Ministry of Security and Citizen Protection. However, it has a fundamentally military structure and institutional identity: the majority of its roughly 100,000 members are military troops, it is deployed throughout the country in barracks, and its Commander is a military general—one who went from active to retired status while leading the GN. Further, official documents published by the media—whose contents have not been denied by the government—reveal that SEDENA assumed operational control of the GN as of October 6, 2020.

The GN’s military character caused human rights concerns from the outset. Members of the GN have been implicated in alleged arbitrary executions in 2020 and 2021; in 2021, the GN has asked victims’ relatives to accept monetary compensation for the loss of their family members in exchange for not pushing for an investigation of the facts. The National Human Rights Commission has received roughly the same number of complaints against the GN as against SEDENA since 2020. In the first three months of 2021, the GN and SEDENA were the federal institutions driving the most complaints of ill-treatment, among other human rights violations, with each institution averaging more than one complaint daily.

Thus far, the Mexican government has failed to establish adequate control mechanisms for the GN. This issue is the subject of an order by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), which, in its 2018 judgment in the Atenco case, ordered the creation of an observatory to monitor and improve accountability mechanisms and controls on the use of force by the Federal Police. Today this obligation applies to the National Guard, but the federal government has indicated to the IACtHR that it sees no need to comply with the Court’s order.

From Militarization to Militarism: The Growing Role of the Armed Forces in the Government
Historically, the Mexican armed forces have maintained a notable degree of autonomy, and their leading role in the public security strategy has further expanded their influence. López Obrador’s positions as a candidate had suggested that his presidency would mean a reconfiguration of this latter aspect of military power. However, after meeting with military leadership, the new president not only solidified the role of the armed forces as a pillar of the security strategy, but also began assigning them additional responsibilities.

For instance, recently enacted reforms charge SEMAR with the administration and control of the country’s ports. SEMAR and SEDENA have also assumed a growing role in customs control. The foregoing is in addition to the continuation or expansion of roles that the armed forces already played in prior administrations, such as immigration control.

Although the armed forces had participated in public works projects in the past, their role in the current government’s flagship infrastructure projects is striking. SEDENA is building hundreds of branches of the Bank of Well-Being—a channel for the delivery of social program benefits from the federal government. SEDENA is also building and, according to announcements by López Obrador, will run various airports. In a similar vein, SEDENA is building and will manage the Mayan Train, López Obrador’s priority tourism megaproject. The government has stated that the army will own and directly receive the profits generated by the project. For López Obrador, giving the Mayan Train to SEDENA will guarantee that the project cannot be privatized in the future “no matter who is in the government.” For the same reason, López Obrador announced that another megaproject, the Interoceanic Corridor, would be given to the navy and four state governments.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) during a military event

Some Current Tasks of the Mexican Armed Forces
(List includes functions in place since before the López Obrador administration as well as new activities.)
  • Deployment in public security operations (directly and through the National Guard)
  • Guarding strategic facilities
  • Control and inspection at ports and customs
  • Participation in immigration control
  • Eradication/fumigation of cannabis and opium poppies
  • Production/acquisition and licensing of firearms carried by public security forces, private security companies, and individuals
  • Transportation and/or escort service for government resources delivered to the population 
  • Construction of Bank of Well-Being branches, airports, and tourism and transportation megaprojects
  • Administration of megaprojects
  • Distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and medical equipment
  • Natural disaster response
In any country in Latin America—a region whose history has been marked by coups and military dictatorships—the delegation of civilian tasks to the armed forces raises red flags. Several recent examples of different militaries’ roles in the hemisphere raise valid concerns about civil-military relations today.

Mexico’s experience has differed from that of other countries: throughout the wave of dictatorships in the region, Mexico suffered no military coups. However, the influence of Mexico’s armed forces within and beyond the security sphere may mean that a coup is not necessary in order for them to wield levels of power that, while falling short of a military government, hardly speak of a healthy democracy. With public security and flagship government projects in military hands, it is worth questioning what degree of power the civilian government retains over the military.

A recent case that exemplifies these concerns is that of Mexico’s former Defense Minister, General Salvador Cienfuegos, arrested in the United States in 2020 on charges of collusion with a criminal organization. Through unprecedented efforts, López Obrador achieved Cienfuegos’ return to Mexico. The National Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) subsequently closed the investigation against Cienfuegos, without clearing up a series of potential crimes referenced in the chat messages that constituted the U.S. Department of Justice’s main evidence in the case (which López Obrador’s government also published online). The FGR’s central argument for closing the investigation was that Cienfuegos was not the person who wrote a series of incriminating messages.

However, even the chats’ participants posited that Cienfuegos was not the one physically writing the messages; much less does this argument explain the FGR’s failure to investigate thoroughly the chats’ numerous references to collusion between criminal actors and authorities ranging from military officials to governors. In a further reaction to the case, López Obrador proposed, and Mexico’s Congress approved, a reform that has hampered the flow of intelligence between the United States and Mexico. In short, the president, the FGR, and the Mexican Congress subordinated other interests—from criminal justice to foreign relations—to the need to reject accusations against a figure who retains influence within the armed forces.

It seems unlikely that militarism in Mexico will diminish in the near future, given that López Obrador sees the armed forces’ participation in government tasks as a strategy to fight corruption. In reality, no institution is incorruptible, including the military; rather, without adequate control mechanisms, engagement in activities that present opportunities or requests for corruption increases the risk of it occurring in any institution. Leaving that aside, however, if López Obrador views the armed forces as the way to reduce corruption and guarantee efficiency in civilian tasks such as those listed above, then there is no reason not to expect him to apply the same logic to an indefinite list of other civilian functions.

In the war on crime, Mexico’s population has sustained the greatest losses. The militarized model has increased violence without furthering effective security strategies.

As WOLA and other organizations and experts have emphasized on numerous occasions over the past 15 years, no deployment of security forces will be sufficient to reverse violence as long as authorities are among criminal networks’ accomplices; as long as civilian police reform lacks commitment; as long as the country’s institutions do not make significant progress in investigating criminal phenomena; and as long as institutions charged with consolidating the rule of law tolerate human rights violations.

Addressing these factors—ensuring a constant focus on protecting the population—should be at the heart of Mexico’s anti-violence strategy. Such a strategy requires political will and close follow-up to take hold at the national level. What is concerning is that the government seems instead to be opting for a deepening and indefinite dependence on the armed forces.

Source: WOLA


  1. no te preocupes por la paz. No los estamos comiendo ah puro Mas. Cabezon echela gas. We peace out, see the deuces leading us out, Mexican causing drought.

  2. This is stupid. Once the Zetas changed everything in Mexico, there was no other way but to militarize the police. But you can’t change the past, what if the Zetas didn’t exist, what if CDS didn’t try and take Nuevo Laredo, what if the school of the Americas didn’t teach Mexican soldiers insurgency and counter insurgency tactics. We are here now and it’s going to be a long road ahead. I say bring it back to the old PRI way, chose one cartel and hunt down the opposition, I’m talking about killing them, tell the humans rights organizations to go and screw off. Then make a deal with the state sponsored cartel, let them keep their properties and money, make them legitimate and their top crews of gunmen also legal, but they will have to let go of the drug trade, if they don’t then bring the hammer down on them.

    1. It's all about corrupt Politicians, they the leaders who take money from the cartels.

    2. Bidden is that you?

    3. 7:15 No! Culero, President Biden is too busy for shit...
      USAID blew their cover financing AMLO oppositors' activities, to undermine the 4a transformacion from successful implementing the 5th International.
      Come think of it, peace for the people has never come from the military but from the citizens,
      The National Guard is to be a transition instead of an institution, they can't support themselves or the greedy cupula that lives off the ranks.

  3. Some cartel operatives are ex Special Forces and guerillas. They drive around in bulletproof vehicles and use Barrett 50 Calibre and RPG's .
    You expect a non militarized police seriously ??????

  4. Okay but what about the drugs they want to push? They're going to keep selling drugs duhhh. That's never going to stop

  5. Clown ass almo cut off all the farmers of water where im from

    1. We’re you from ?? Water is a big problem out there in Mexico . The minas are taken the water too

    2. Is it AMLO's fault or the state government? California farmers go throughthe same dilemma, but here we know it's a state government issue not a federal issue.

    3. @8:26 Chinga tu madre Billy jajajaja

    4. 8:26 live like an astronaut,
      They drink their piss and recycle their poop and toilet paper, and the melitary cook and eat out of their helmets after using their crapping in them,
      Instead of just getting spaced out on mariguana injections.

  6. I'm sure this is over a million. Not including all the people that died crossing the border. Heard first hand account's of people left behind to die in the desert because they couldn't keep up.

  7. A lost war that has not brought peace. Mmmm. They are forgetting that criminals or drug cartels were already doing extortion and killing people at will before the war started. This drug war was not started just because of the drugs. Failure or not I feel really happy when I see the military killing cartel members. Fuck them all.

    1. Many people don’t know about the extortion business of the cartels and kidnappings for ransom money. In 2003 I used to live in Estado de Mexico and la Familia Michoacána was collecting extortion money from bars and restaurants. Even before the War on Cartels started. I lost a business because of them. So watching La Familia Michoacána losing power , getting arrested or killed was a satisfaction to me.

    2. It started whith Operation 40 when the US sent its members into Mexico to fight "communism" by recruiting graduates of The Heroic Military College to form the Direccion Federal de Seguridad that went into drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom and revenge, torturing, stealing, robbery and murder, then they got a name change but CISEN has never been but more and more and more of the same, in collusion with the federal police and the melitary, they only fight cartels when they come in to install their new cartel and boss members, some times chosen and impossed by the US government du jour.


  9. Colombians are the real deal! The term low profile is about them!recently arrested Juan José Valencia Zuluaga alias babalo, whom no one knew about for many years, because he was not visible!

    1. @1:46 Can't compare their power to Mexican groups at all.

    2. 12:09 colombians have produced the biggest drug trafficking snake, alvaro uribe velez, he even condecorated and gave medals and diplomas to FECAL alias Comandante Borolas and to genarco garcia luna, (spain gave too), he even sent giniral odcar naranjas to michuakan to help the CJNG assisted Autodefensas to stage the end of the templarios (like he did to Pablo Escobar) for EPN

  10. TL;DR = Mexico fucked it up again

  11. Off topic- Mexicali police arrest 11 suspected cartel members.

  12. Brewer from WOLA is a leftist article from a person living in fantasy !:::mexico needs to be a military state obviously because the cartels have infiltated the police forces:::how can they do their jobs when their family are threatened?

    1. 8:23 the military is corrupt from the top down, since they murdered Presidente Madero, vice-presidente Pino Suarez and Gustavo Madero, in cahoots with UD Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson and general Manuel Mondragón, headed by secretary of defense victoriano huerta, the drunk mariguano, the mexican army is being led by corrupt drug trafficking murderers, and after driving the credibility of thebSchool of the Americas they smeared themselves with french crap of the gendarmeria, the frogs are the forefathers of the School of the Americas, their teachings helped the US lose Vietnam too, after the frogs lost their indochina empire.

  13. The National Guard is a gendarmerie.

    1. 10:21 gendarmerie ttained by the frogs never did anything under EPN, their general godmother Manelich Castilla Craviotto went to take the federal police after they murdered the Tanhuato Falsos Positivos, they are carlos slim puppets like genarco garcia luna.

  14. Wait a second... So wait Stephanie Brewer wants to decrease the security level in Mexico by removing the military from the equation? And then what? The cartels will stop committing crimes because the military isn't trying to stop them anymore? Bwahahaha this kind of empty headed garbage is going to flush the entire country down the drain. AMLO got voted into office because he said the war on drugs was over. That he had a plan to bring peace back to the country. Sounds good, right? Sounds great actually! But the reality is a little different and here's part of the reason why. When two adversaries are at war one side can't just decide the war is over and stop fighting! Not without the other side agreeing with that first. If you're in a street fight and in the middle of it you decide the fight is over, drop your hands and stop fighting do you know what will happen? Your opponent will kick 7 shades of shit out of you is what will happen. Same principle as AMLO and the cartels. He decided the war was over and dropped his hands. So the cartels did what anyone would do in that situation and commenced with beating his silly ass. I know, it's shocking! Who ever would have thought? So what have we seen over the course of AMLO's term so far? Record increases in crime and now the country resembles an actual war

    So what is the solution here? According to the author we should eliminate the militaries involvement in what has become an actual war because the best way to win a war is to un-involve your military. Right? I mean how many wars have militaries ever won anyway? Mentally gifted people called "progressives" know that wars are really won by replacing the mitary and police with social justice warriors who will take to the streets armed with nothing but government programs and psychology degrees from Berkeley. And they will counsel the cartel members (this actually means they will scream leftist slogans right in their faces and not let them talk) until the sicarios just give up and accept the welfare money and foodstamps. Because these sicarios know what happens when progressives get really mad! They burn down all the fast food restaurants and loot the Walmarts and who wants to deal with that? But I have a question that has never been answered for me. When is enough enough? Now that AMLO'S in charge when will things get better? I have heard many times that "AMLO can't fix things overnight" that "it's going to take time to see the results" but how long exactly? It's been three years and things have only gotten worse. Where do you draw the line and say "this sounded like a good idea but it just isn't working? 15 years from now if things have gotten progressively worse every year is that enough time? How long does the country have to spin down into the pits of hell before they'll admit the plan isn't working? Can someone please give me a time frame? Or just tell me how bad things need to get before we can agree the plan isn't working? 1000% yearly crime increase? More? Maybe 1 in 4 people raped or killed? I just want to hear from a leftist if there is ever actually a point they will admit they were wrong about something.

  15. Neither AMLO nor Stephanie seem to be able to recognize an insurrection by "combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings."


Comments are moderated, refer to policy for more information.
Envía fotos, vídeos, notas, enlaces o información
Todo 100% Anónimo;