Why Is the US Silent About Mexico’s New Internal Security Law?

While Mexican governmental institutions are experiencing a credibility crisis, Mexico’s National Congress approved what is known as the Internal Security Law. According to Article 2 of the text of the law, its objective is “to safeguard the permanence and continuity of governmental order and institutions, as well as national development through the maintenance of constitutional order, the rule of law and democratic governance.”

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto enacted the law, which became effective on December 21, 2017, and has since caused a wave of protests throughout Mexico. Numerous social movements, unions and civil society organizations see the new law as part of a process of militarizing Mexican society, which could worsen violence in the county.

In general terms, this law broadens opportunities for the armed forces to act throughout Mexican territory, even legitimizing the use of violence. It allows the armed forces to intervene in matters that concern civil authorities, such as disturbances and protests that are considered violent or acts of resistance. The law also permits the invasion of citizens’ privacy to collect intelligence information and entry into homes without a court order, including during criminal legal system investigations.

Anneliese Danaé Echeverria, an attorney and professor who is a union member and legal affairs assistant with Section 22 of the National Organization of Education Workers (CNTE) in the state of Oaxaca, tells Truthout, “The Mexican Constitution established that the army could not intervene in civil matters, they had to resolve any conflicts through the military court system. Civilians have their own courts. But the new law guarantees military intervention in all aspects of civilian life throughout the country. Civil authorities that are already in crisis will have little room to interfere with these interventions, because the military will act immediately, without consultation or requesting a warrant.”

In order to define “threats to Internal Security,” the text of the law references definitions from the National Security Law, approved in 2005 by former President Vicente Fox Quesada. In turn, the National Security Law follows the guidelines of a trilateral agreement, the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, which was created in Waco, Texas, on March 23, 2005, and signed by the United States, Canada and Mexico, during the period of Felipe Calderon’s government.

The National Security Law describes a number of threats — including acts aimed at committing espionage, sabotage, terrorism, rebellion, treason and genocide — that are considered threats to the nation which justify military intervention.

Diverse social movements argue that the terms of the Internal Security Law are very general and provide leeway for State manipulation. “Herein lies great danger for society in general,” says Echeverria, referring to the context in which she lives in the state of Oaxaca, the nation’s second most impoverished state, preceded only by Chiapas. “It is no longer just [the] National Security [Law], created by international agreements with a focus on terrorism and drug trafficking. Now there is also an internal enemy; for example, when municipalities or communities try to defend their land from the exploitation of national and foreign megaprojects, they will be categorized as a threat to economic development. Then the Army will be able to intervene.”

Military equipment donated by the United States to the Government of Mexico through the Merida Initiative.

The law establishes that federal authorities, including the armed forces, will carry out actions to guarantee implementation of mechanisms to contain threats identified in the National Risk Agenda, a confidential document written annually by the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN), which ranks levels of risk against the Mexican State. “CISEN is known for dismantling and attacking social movements,” says teacher and legal assistant for CNTE Section 22 Donashi López Mejía in an interview with Truthout. She believes that “even without knowing our risk ranking, it is almost certain that we [teachers] are ranked as even more dangerous than drug traffickers.”

For some time now, even before the approval of the Internal Security Law, many protesters arrested during actions throughout Mexico have been accused of crimes of terrorism, rebellion, interrupting transportation networks and disrupting the peace. “Whoever takes to the streets to express their discontent can be considered a terrorist,” says López Mejía. The teacher’s argument is supported by documentation of local media, such as Aristegui News and Sipse, which reported the 2016 detention of 18 teachers from Chiapas who were accused of terrorism and transferred to a maximum security prison in the state of Nayarit.

López Mejía was detained and psychologically and physically tortured by Oaxacan state police during a protest held September 7, 2017. She believes that with the Internal Security Law the situation will get worse. “The military and federal police modus operandi is to shoot first and ask questions later,” she says.

Amnesty International stated that the approval of the law is a setback for human rights. “This approval is worrisome. We cannot permit the normalization of armed forces participating in police work because for decades we have been documenting the prevalence of human rights violations under the sustained use of armed forces. On the contrary, a progressive withdrawal must be planned,” noted Tania Reneaum, executive director of Amnesty International’s Mexico branch, in a press conference.

Overturning the Law

During the implementation of the Security Law of México between 2005 and 2010, numerous protests were carried out.

Of the 31 Mexican states, plus the Capital District, 10 are home to 81 percent of the impoverished population. In Oaxaca alone, 66.8 percent of the population lives in conditions of poverty, according to National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy data. Poverty is a root cause of daily protests, roadblocks and diverse expressions of social unrest, all considered acts of resistance.

In a comment to Truthout, teacher and CNTE member Hugo Ramírez Hernández states, “Now we, as a national teachers’ union, are mobilizing to overturn this law because we have already been attacked by federal police. One example is the massacre that they perpetrated in Nochixtlán (Oaxaca) in 2016, where more than 10 people who protested against the education reforms, reforms that seek privatization, died.”

CNTE Section 22 of Oaxaca filed a writ of amparo, a form of legal recourse that was accepted by Judge Leonel Medina Rubio of the State Court of Oaxaca on February 8, 2018. Among other things, the writ of amparo demands that the parliament and the federal executive branch “present a public report where they justify with solid arguments the reasons for the passage of the law,” says Ramírez.

The teacher, Ramírez Hernández, states that “at least 42,000 CNTE members and health sector union members, as well as a range of Oaxacan social organizations, supported this appeal. Now the House and the Senate, as well as President Peña Nieto, have to respond to the teachers’ union.”

“Through February, more than 70,000 additional amparos had been granted,” adds Ramírez Hernández. These writs of amparo from other states in Mexico were also accepted. Their objective is to overturn the new law. In May, two federal judges, one in Mexico City and the other in the state of Guanajuato — considering the law unconstitutional — granted amparos. The first judge to issue the protection was Eighth District Judge of Administrative Affairs Fernando Silva, who ruled that the actions of armed forces in public safety tasks and internal security imply “introducing a risk to the exercise of individuals’ fundamental rights, because military authority cannot be separated from the command and training regime for which it was created.”

The second, Ninth District Judge in Guanajuato, Karla María Macías Lovera, granted the amparo against the law to a human rights organization and affirmed that some articles of the law violate human rights, because they broadly impact society as a whole.

Militarization for “Development”

“Army return to your barracks,” demanded protestors in 2011, when the war had gone out of control.

It took members of Congress only a few days to analyze and approve the Internal Security Law. In the law’s language, great emphasis was placed on “security” threats, but if one reads between the lines, the law poses the greatest danger to those who put the economic policies implemented by the State and its development model at risk.

Mexico’s National Development Plan (NDP), approved by Peña Nieto in 2013, had already defined the terms “national security” and “internal security” in a way that made it possible for the government to implement the “development model”: a free market model with a social sensibility.

The text of the NDP affirms that “the mission of the armed forces of Mexico is to employ the country’s military force for external defense and to contribute to the internal security of the country.”

This development model includes a package of structural reforms in the energy, education, labor, health, telecommunications, treasury and financial sectors, among others. “This [Internal Security Law] is a part of these structural reforms, as it seeks to provide security for capitalism,” says Gilberto López y Rivas, an anthropologist and former congressman of the 57th Legislature of the Mexican Congress, in an interview with Truthout. “Wherever there are financial interests at risk, they will be prepared to use armed forces.”

The banners carried by these protesters declare that “the war on drug trafficking is an excuse to militarize the country and to quell the social unrest of more than 70 million of poor in this country.”

For López y Rivas, the new law is unconstitutional and deceptive, as it responds to a global reordering of the market. “The current form that globalization takes is militarized, authoritarian and wildly repressive. This requires countries to adjust their legal and constitutional frameworks so that corporations have free access to territories,” he notes.

López y Rivas adds that resistance to “development” often involves people defending their lives and communities — pushing back against displacement and the destruction of their land.

“When the government talks about development for the communities, especially indigenous and campesino communities, it means destruction and eviction from their lands. Clear examples are the Special Economic Zones, ‘clean’ energy projects, and mineral extraction. This is where there has been the greatest resistance which can be considered to threaten so-called development,” adds Ramírez.

Ramírez notes that the teachers’ union is another focal point for state repression, due to teachers’ opposition to education reform which seeks privatization, a policy suggested by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and implemented during Peña Nieto’s administration. “As a union, we demonstrate in the streets as a right to protest because we disagree with the education reforms, but above all, with the whole of structural reforms that are stripping away rights from workers, campesinos and citizens in general,” said Ramírez.

Sustainable Development

Federal police waiting to receive the order to suppress a protest by teachers who disagree with the educational reform.

According to John Saxe-Fernández, a professor of Latin American Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the structural reforms implemented under Nieto and Fox were initially suggested by the World Bank and are aimed at “dismantling” the energy sector, which prior to these reforms, was state-owned. Today, the energy sector is in the process of being privatized, principally by US companies.

The World Bank outlined Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with targets for the eight goals, which were integrated into the NDP. These goals, agreed upon in the year 2000 by the 191 UN-member heads of state, are integrated into the new UN 2030 Agenda.

Claudia Ramos, a member of the NGO Otros Mundos, claims that indigenous communities will be some of the most affected by the Internal Security Law, as it involves “a strategy of control and surveillance,” especially in the context of sustainable development. Ramos also tells Truthout that the Army has already, without permission, entered communities located in the southeastern state of Chiapas, where Otros Mundos works with indigenous communities. “The Environmental Gendarmerie [a military component with jurisdiction in the application of civil law in Mexico], created in 2016 to safeguard protected natural areas, has already been present in the communities,” states Ramos.

The assessment exam site for teachers who did accept the educational reform was cordoned by hundreds of federal police in the year 2015 in Oaxaca.

The same is true of the wind parks for clean energy production in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, that are displacing people and causing social damage. “In other words, there is a large contradiction between what the Development Goals ideally propose and what the pueblos of Mexico actually want,” adds López.

The UN’s program Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a continuation of the MDGs. The 2030 Agenda was officially presented on January 1, 2016, and lays out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets for the year 2030, encompassing “social, economic, and environmental dimensions.” It was adopted by the UN during the Sustainable Development Summit held at the UN Headquarters in New York, September 25-27, 2015.

During the plenary session of the Summit, Peña Nieto made a commitment to carry out the objectives set by the UN, stating that Mexico “assumes Agenda 2030 as a State commitment, as a collective mission.”

SDG 16 focuses on promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels as well as promoting “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development,” providing “access to justice for all” and building “effective and accountable institutions at all levels.” It also seeks to “strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, in order to create at all levels, especially in developing countries, the ability to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime.”

According to the 2018 Expenditure Budget of the Federation, the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit, which developed the inclusion of the UN 2030 Agenda in the National Development Plan, prioritizes SDG 16 in their Expenditure Budget with the largest number of budgetary programs, a total of 173.

Political scientist and environmentalist Luis Olivares Dysli states: “Sustainable Development, which is an international policy adopted by humanity (nearly entirely), is directly related to the national security of any state. This very important role leads us to conclude that there cannot be development of this nature without the support of defense institutions, which should additionally be fully integrated into environmental sustainability.”

US Silence

The US Embassy in Mexico’s official site states that Mexico has reached a “poverty level above 50% and ranks among the worst in the region in terms of income inequality and corruption.” These conditions of poverty, according to the Embassy, are factors that have worsened and fueled the “growth of Mexican transnational crime, undermining Mexican governmental institutions.”

The US government, in its 2014 Country Development Cooperation Strategy, acknowledges that Mexican governmental institutions have received recommendations from the UN and the Organization of American States to address human rights concerns, including “the practice of torture, the number of disappeared persons, aggressions against human rights defenders and journalists, and violence against women in Mexico.” However, the US has not spoken out on the new Internal Security Law.

For López y Rivas, this silence is complicity, especially given the US’s militaristic interests regarding Mexico. “From the School of the Americas, [the US] has trained the armed forces, and a close collaboration exists there, but also with all US espionage agencies,” said López y Rivas, who is the author of the book Studying US Counterinsurgencies: Guides, mentalities, and the use of anthropology.

The US has given significant support to Peña Nieto’s “security” efforts. A prime example is USAID assistance that supports “reduction of drug-related violence and promotion of transparency and integrity efforts under the Merida Initiative,” as cited on the website of the US Embassy in Mexico.

By 2008, the deputy chief of the United States Embassy in Mexico, Leslie Bassett, had proposed integrating the Merida Initiative in the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.

“The Merida Initiative and the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America were the beginning. They are closely related security policies, both of which were executive orders that did not pass through the Congress of either country. In both cases they have infringed upon Mexican sovereignty, as they are subject to the United States Northern Command,” adds López y Rivas.

Violence in Mexico escalated when the war on drugs began, supported by the US government through the Merida Initiative. “If you ask any Mexican if things have improved with this war, they are going to tell you that nothing has improved, that this has been a war against the civilian population and not against criminals,” says López y Rivas.

The Merida Initiative, initially called Plan Mexico, is an international security treaty established by the United States in accordance with Mexico and Central American countries to combat drug trafficking and organized crime. According to the June 2017 report by the Congressional Research Service, between 2008 and 2017, Mexico had received more than $1.6 billion dollars in equipment, training courses and government capacity development. The United States Congress has approved a total budget of $2.8 billion for the Merida Initiative.

In January 2018, the Peña Nieto administration additionally purchased heavy weaponry for the first time in the history of the country, including six RGM-L Harpoon Block II missiles, 23 Block II Rolling Airframe tactical missiles, six light torpedoes and MK 54 Mod torpedoes. The cost of the armament was 98.4 million dollars.

This deal was made, according to the Defense Secretary Cooperation Agency, to support “the foreign policy and the national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner.”

The framework of Mexico’s Internal Security Law is interwoven with the National Security Law, which is a response to international security policies, principally those of the US. Now the scale of the war on drugs is “transregional and transnational,” says the US Southern Command in its new program “Theater Strategy,” which is scheduled for 2017-2027 and calls upon allies and countries that have participated in the war on terrorism and the war on drugs.