The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, promised in his electoral campaign to take the Army out of the streets, after 12 years in which the governments of Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto decided to face the security crisis and the fight against organized crime of the Armed Forces. "The Army is not prepared for this function, it is another task, it is to defend national sovereignty and it should not continue exposing the Army, it is an institution that we must take care of all, not undermine … We have to go back to the Army in the measure that the police are professionalizing. That is my plan, I think it will take us six months to go back to the Army so that it is the new Federal Police that takes charge of guaranteeing peace and public safety. " The promise was forgotten. What the president is proposing today is a militarized National Guard, and demands that Congress grant the Army the faculties to act in public security tasks. All of which threatens serious consequences that need to be analyzed in detail.
The president not only did not return the Army to the barracks, but put them into the National Palace. He is governing with them as no Mexican president had done, since General Manuel Ávila Camacho, the last of the revolutionary military to occupy the presidential chair, handed over the government to a civilian in 1952: Miguel Aleman. The Mexican Army had since then a respectful treatment, enjoyed privileges and internal autonomy. Now, López Obrador has brought them closer to money than any of his predecessors had ever done before.
The Armed Forces enjoy great confidence among Mexicans. According to the polling house GEA / ISA, which measures the country's political pulse quarterly, 41% of the citizens trust the Army, only surpassed by the universities, with 57%, but far above the police, which have 11%, banks, 9% and in the end the media, with 8%. This speaks more of the crisis of credibility of the institutions than of the virtues of the Armed Forces; Their high credibility does not mean that they are unpolluted, much less that there are no cases of corruption in their history.
The linking of elements of the Mexican Army with drug trafficking is a topic as well known as ancient in history. Perhaps the most famous is that of General José de Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, who, being the anti-drug czar, head of the then National Institute for the Fight against Drugs (INCD) during Ernesto Zedillo's term (1994-2000), was accused by the Attorney General's Office to protect and receive bribes from Amado Carrillo, the famous Lord of the heavens, the main cocaine trafficker in the nineties.
General Gutiérrez Rebollo was sentenced to 40 years in prison accused of receiving bribes and obstructing justice and died in prison in 2013. Another case was that of generals Tomás Ángeles Dauahare, Roberto Dawe González, Ricardo Escorcia Vargas, Rubén Pérez Ramírez and Lieutenant Colonel Isidro de Jesús Hernández, who were accused in 2012 of protecting the Beltrán Leyva brothers; they left free months later due to lack of evidence because the Attorney General's Office did not present the evidence against them.
A year earlier, eight soldiers of middle ranks – lieutenants and second lieutenants – were accused of protecting the Zetas; the sentence in 2017 was 26 years in prison, which they purge in a jail in Veracruz. The weekly Zeta documented the purchase of wills from military authorities in 2016 by the Sinaloa cartel. These are just some of the most talked about cases, but the list is as long as that of any other institution in the country.
The purchase of weapons has also been a source of corruption in the Army. Nothing surprising, happens in many armies of the world: in recent years cases have been reported in Chile, Brazil, Poland and Greece, to name just a few. In Mexico, the purchase of weapons is made without any transparency, it is the Army itself that then resells them to the state and municipal police without being aware of it. The figures do not match and there are at least 20,000 weapons whose fate is unclear, as documented by the Political Animal site just in October.
The difference with other previous governments is that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador not only intends to give them great power by handing over the National Guard, still in the process of approval, but also big business. They increased the budget by 14.8%, from 81,000 to 93,000 million pesos, which would be explained by the controversial interference of the Armed Forces in the creation of the national guard. Just to give us an idea, the first year of his administration, Felipe Calderón increased the budget of Sedena by 6.2% and Peña Nieto, in its first year, by 9% (the largest increase occurs in the second year of Felipe Calderón, when the base salary of the military was increased).
But the real money is in the business that the president has given them: the real estate development of the land of the armory of Santa Fe, whose utility, roughly calculations because there are still no executive projects, would be of billions of pesos; the hiring of drivers and the driving of the pipes to transfer fuel; the construction and, more recently, the operation of the international airport in what is now the aviation military base of Santa Lucía (located 48 kilometers northeast of Mexico City) which, in its optimistic calculations, would operate more flights than the current airport of the city of Mexico so your income could be around 15,000 million pesos per year.
All the governments want to have the Armed Forces on their side and the Mexican Army has known how to be institutional and also to have it recognized for it. It is true that few countries in Latin America can boast of not having had a military coup or at least one military coup attempt in the last eighty years. Mexico, happily, has been exempt from this. The question then is: what does López Obrador want from the Army and what does Lopez Obrador's Army want? Why who criticized them most during three presidential campaigns has finally turned out to be the president closest to the Armed Forces?
There are two hypotheses that we can glimpse regarding the change in behavior of the president. The first is that a part of the Army convinced the president that the only way to stand firm in power is to govern with them. It must be remembered that in the selection of the secretary of National Defense, General Luis Sandoval, the president opted for someone relatively young and who did not belong, as was the case in previous administrations, to the first circle of the outgoing secretary.
The other is that López Obrador believes that the best way to control the Armed Forces is by keeping them close and giving them business, which increases the cost of opting for any other path. Loyalty to the president will be greater if it is well rewarded. In addition, but not separate from the latter, the fact that the Army is a supplier avoids the president that terrible monserge is to tender purchases and make contests to perform works, something that López Obrador considers useless for someone who says, textual, have "the clear conscience". He used them to buy the pipes directly to transport gasoline in the United States and he will use them to avoid having to tender the works of the airport in Santa Lucia.
The consequences of this perverse game can be incalculable. The National Guard is the most evident case and most studied by the experts, those that the president disdains for not being a people: the cost in human rights of a militarized police will be enormous and the alleged process of transition to civilian leadership, uncertain.
But the great corruption that threatens to come from an Army involved in real estate and construction businesses will be of another scale. Nothing has to do with the greater or lesser moral quality of the Armed Forces but with the lack of vigilance and the lack of transparency in the processes. If the purchase of armaments, vehicles and other military supplies is around 10,000 million pesos a year, the flows for the management of the National Guard, the construction and operation of the airport and the real estate businesses in Santa Fe will radically change the size of the interests in the army.
There is also a very sensitive issue and one that will have to be noticed: airports have become an important point of entry into the country of high-value drugs (cocaine, heroin, glass). The three airports with the highest traffic are those of Tijuana, Guadalajara and Mexico City. Having an airport in the hands of the military will make no other force become a counterweight or vigilant of what happens there. Today the tension between the customs authorities and the Federal Police allows a certain counterweight. Of course we can presume corruption and collusion between both institutions to let drugs pass, but they are still two institutions that are monitored and respond to different heads. The problem is not that the Army is more or less corrupt than other forces, but because of its characteristics it is the least transparent and monitored institution. Be the authority that operates the airport and at the same time the National Guard eliminates any counterweight.
Corruption is not a problem of good consciences but of lack of checks and balances and control schemes. Who wins with an Army with greater economic interests and therefore greater possibilities of corruption? Only those who have the information and can use it to make them eat from your hand: the president.