Mexico - AMLO increases militarization
Mexico's military, already powerful and corrupt under AMLO's predecessors, has expanded its influence, role in the economy, and expectations of impunity under the current administration.
Recent incidents show President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sticking with and even expanding his militarization strategy. The president is willing to stretch the limits of his power to protect the military. Mexico's military, already powerful and corrupt under AMLO's predecessors, has expanded its influence, role in the economy, and expectations of impunity under the current administration.
Last week, AMLO defied a Supreme Court order that said the president could not simply declare infrastructure projects as "national security" issues to avoid various regulations and freedom of information requests. The biggest fight is over the Tren Maya, which AMLO has pushed forward in spite of numerous environmental concerns and judicial orders to halt construction. Following the Court ruling last week, AMLO issued additional decrees related to Tren Maya suggesting he would not follow the Court. It’s a sign of AMLO’s willingness to ignore checks on his power (I make a related comment in this week’s WPR column about Ecuador).
AMLO also used the military to seize a portion of the Inter-Oceanic Corridor from Grupo Mexico and has expropriated other land for train stations. Targeting private infrastructure for expropriation of assets to be run by the military takes the current plans beyond construction and should make the owners of other key infrastructure projects in the country nervous.
Behind the scenes, Tren Maya and the rail expropriation are part of a complicated plan by the president and the military to divert revenue from the National Tourism Fund (Fonatur) to a parastatal entity established by López Obrador's government called Grupo Aeroportuario, Ferroviario y de Servicios Auxiliares Olmeca-Maya-Mexica, S.A. de C.V. (GAFSAOMM). That entity operated by SEDENA plans hotel developments and a military-run airline.
In short, having already greatly expanded the military budget, AMLO now plans to create civilian infrastructure and tourism projects that solidify the military's economic role in the country and grant it a stream of revenue that will be difficult for future administrations to undo. The expansion of the military’s role in the country has played into AMLO’s desire for centralized decisionmaking, but it hasn’t made the country any safer.
The military is not just a passive actor following orders in all this. The New York Times reported this week that Pegasus software has been used on Alejandro Encinas, Mexico’s under-secretary for human rights. Encinas is an AMLO ally but has also been part of investigations into abuses by the military. It appears that his phone has been hacked multiple times. AMLO's promises to get rid of the country's spyware have turned out similar to his promises to demilitarize.
The next president of Mexico will have a choice. He or she can either embrace the military's expanded role in the country or fight back against the militarization. The irony is that AMLO campaigned on the demilitarization of Mexico's security strategy in 2017 and 2018, but his actual governing policies mean demilitarizing will be so much harder after his six years in office. The broad economic role that he has granted the institution and the president's willingness to look the other way amid continued abuses of power and human rights are big steps backward for Mexico. The military leadership is unlikely to give up the power and economic influence that it has gained, and that is a challenge for Mexico in the years to come.