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Mexico’s Senate approves reform, giving Army control of the National Guard

Mexico’s National Guard has been used not only as a police force, but to undertake migration control, staff ports and carry out infrastructure projects. Now, with approval from the Senate, the civilian-led law enforcement body will be handed over to the Army.

The National Guard reform was proposed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in August. His administration created the guard in 2019 as a federal civilian police force. But from the beginning it has been closely tied to the military.

"This is really the last nail in the coffin of fully militarizing federal policing tasks in Mexico," said Stephanie Brewer, director for Mexico with the think tank Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "With this reform, Mexico no longer has federal police, civilian police."

Mexican administrations have been deploying armed forces to combat criminal groups for decades, she said. But far from resolving insecurity, militarization has led to skyrocketing murder rates, disappearances and human rights violations, including torture, gender violence, arbitrary executions and forced disappearances.

The reform is expected to be challenged in court, but for now, Brewer and others that the further consolidation of military control could worsen violence, impunity and lack of transparency.

"This will just intensify the kind of violence we're already experiencing," said Krimilda Bernal, director of the Sonoran Security Observatory.

Deploying the National Guard in Sonora has not been an effective tactic to combat rampant violence, she said, and putting armed forces trained for battle in close proximity to the public is dangerous.

"All we can do now is continue to work for the rights of civilians, try to protect those rights, and hope that we can see a change in 2024," she said, alluding to the next presidential administration. "We have really lost hope that this administration will take any steps to demilitarize the country at this point."

Kendal Blust was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2018 to 2023.