Feb 10, 2015

Editorial: Mexico's Armed Forces Must Explain

La Jornada, February 10, 2015 8:29
Original in Spanish: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ultimas/2015/02/10/editorial-sedena-precisiones-necesarias-1991.html
Translation: Americas Program

Yesterday, during the commemoration of the March of Loyalty--when Heroic Military College cadets escorted President Francisco I. Madero at the beginning of the 'tragic decade'--Secretary of Defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda endorsed the subordination of military authorities to civil institutions. Referring to the military, he stated, "There are those who want to distance us from the people."  

This is a serious remark, not only because it comes from the head of the Department of Defense but because it is formulated at a time when members of the armed forces face charges for their alleged involvement in extrajudicial executions, including those perpetrated in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico in June last year, and when various sectors call for the alleged involvement of military personnel in the attack on normalistas in Iguala, Guerrero investigation, four months ago.

In such circumstances, an accusation like that made yesterday by General Cienfuegos does not contribute to clearing up society's expressions of distrust that affect institutionality as a whole and the armed forces in particular. If indeed the military commanders have identified a specific effort oriented to causing a rift between the armed forces and the civilian population, it would be appropriate to formulate a precise statement that clearly names whoever they are accusing of these acts.

In the absence of such specific information, what can be seen is a national situation of erosion of the image of the armed forces among various sectors of the population as a result of their involvement in tasks
beyond their constitutional mandate. The main responsibility for this deterioration does not lie with the military, but with civil rulers who have abused both their authority and the loyalty extolled yesterday by the Secretary of Defense to address a public safety crisis that must be dealt with through statesmanship and not from a military logic.

Many voices from civil society have stated on numerous occasions that the central tasks of the Army, Navy and Air Force are to preserve security and national sovereignty, safeguard territorial integrity and help the population during disasters, not investigate or combat the various criminal groups that have increased in the country over the past few decades. Also, it has been stated many times that  sending in the military to perform police duties not only puts them at risk of being infiltrated by criminal groups, but creates an environment for the commission of human rights violations and, eventually, foments precisely the distance between civilians and the military that Cienfuegos warned of.

The Mexican military's discipline and loyalty to the civilian power structure are valuable and unquestionable attributes, and it is paradoxical and regrettable that successive governments have appealed to them to detract from the core mission of the armed forces and that by doing so this has  opened them up to public criticism.  

But if there has been a deliberate effort to distance the army from the people, the military command should come right out and express it openly and accurately.

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