Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is about to achieve the quiet but full militarization of Mexican society through the inclusion of all armed government forces under the umbrella of the Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (SEDENA). If he is successful, this move lays the groundwork for his possible extended tenure, even if it creates a military junta by subterfuge. He just hasn’t said it yet.
This latest political maneuvering comes on the heels of a legislative proposal filed on September 2 by the MORENA political party that proposes to subordinate Mexico’s heretofore civilian-led Guardia Nacional (National Guard) to SEDENA. This turn of events is incongruent with López Obrador’s original plan to remove the military from the field as the preeminent force conducting civilian policing operations. It also brings into question the real motive behind his intention to consolidate all of Mexico's military, police power and total boot strength into the military establishment.
Currently, both Mexico’s army and navy are under SEDENA, and now the Guardia Nacional, the hybrid civilian entity that was created as a paramilitary response to supplant the national federal police, may be moved under SEDENA as well. This transfer of power centralizes control of many national government functions that support the longevity of the “Fourth Transformation,” given that it will be backed by an integrated military that has one commander in chief — López Obrador.
Does that seem like a military “junta” in the offing?
By the looks of it, Mexico is headed in that direction. A number of government functions have been placed into military hands, giving SEDENA almost absolute power. In October 2020, all trade import and export functions were taken away from civilian officials and turned over to the Secretaría de Marina (Secretary of the Navy), thereby militarizing the performance of customs duties and responsibilities at all Mexican seaports. The army has historically controlled all land ports of entry, and land-based energy sector assets. Now the Guardia Nacional is being pulled further away from its intended design as a Mexican version of a European-styled gendarmerie, originally envisioned to replace, boot for boot, army soldiers sidelined to work on civil projects under López Obrador’s tenure. Having SEDENA control all of the armed forces that are now charged with managing and operating many traditional civilian functions (which provide sustained revenue streams for Mexico) does nothing more than facilitate military corruption and involvement in migrant smuggling, drug production, chemical smuggling and other functions of the criminal supply chain.
More likely than not, López Obrador is consolidating his armed forces to protect his interests and power and support further attempts to extend his tenure as president. These military-political moves are among the many bells signaling the alarm that if Mexico converts itself into a military junta, declared or not, its future actions and political posture will increase the likelihood of the nation being seen as a threat to the national security interests of the United States — and could lead to the further deterioration of Mexican civilian society.
The U.S. government needs to take notice and act diplomatically to dissuade López Obrador from building an autocracy backed by a consolidated SEDENA military junta. The Mexican congress is right to challenge López Obrador’s placement of the military into so many crucial civilian functions. To ignore this matter now is to push the problem into the future, when Mexico may end up looking like a military state or banana republic junta anyway.