What’s the Military For?

By Raúl Romero*

On Monday the 11th of May, a contract was published in the Official Journal of the Federation which makes the permanent Armed Forces available to carry out tasks of public security. The agreement, dated last May 8, is accompanied by the signatures of Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the secretaries of National Defense, the Navy and of Citizen Security and Protection.

This follows the route already marked out in March and May of 2019, when with the approval of all the political parties, the constitution was modified and the law of the National Guard was expedited. Accordingly, the agreement just published is in line with the militaristic logic of the past and current administrations, and gives continuity to both direct and indirect militarization of the country’s public security  country until 2024, which is to say, during AMLO’s entire six-year term. 

It should be remembered that, according to the cable 06MEXICO505 of WikiLeaks on the 31st of January, 2006, López Obrador, let the United States ambassador, Tony Garza, know that he wanted to give more power and authority to the military in the war on drugs, and for this purpose, he was seeking a constitutional amendment that he didn’t hesitate to obtain.  

The moment in which this contract was published is particularly striking: in the midst of the height of Covid-19 contagion, marked by a strong dispute with part of the business sector and with the national and foreign media, but also at a time when the two emblematic megaprojects of his administration, the mis-named “Mayan” Train and the Inter-Oceanic Corridor have met the most opposition from the communities and their organizations. 

By the same token, between the possible new scenarios for Mexico, as a consequence of the global economic crisis that was already underway and will be exacerbated with the pandemic, one has to consider the discontent of huge social sectors that will be affected, as well as the rise in migration, and also the growth and expansion of enterprises of organized crime, which will be able to feed off of the great numbers of people who remain unemployed.  

The great political, economic and social power that the current administration has handed over to the armed forces is undeniable. Even if, with Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto Sedena (the Secretariat of Defense) was converted into a great construction industry, this hasn’t ceased under Lopez Obrador, because the same [entities] will build and maintain highways, ports, airports, railways, banks, hospitals, telecommunications infrastructure and other works. 

According to AMLO’s own words, the military is already building, with a budget of 10 billion pesos, the first 1300 branches of the Bank of Well-being of the 2700 planned. Sedena is also building the Felipe Ángeles International Airport in Santa Lucía and it has been announced that they will be granted the construction of two sections of the Mayan Train. With regard to the Sembrando Vida program, 12 Military Forest Nurseries in seven states of the country are being used, from which the distribution of and delivery of the plants is handled. 

The control and security of Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) pipelines , the distribution of medicines, and in recent days, the control of some hospitals has been handed over to Sedena, the Navy, and the National Guard. 

As for the National Guard, last February, AMLO reported that the 70,000 troops had been deployed, but that the plan implied having 140,000 throughout the national territory by the end of 2020.   

The path of militarization was not, before the pandemia, and is not now an option, above all in our country where the military forces have been systematically used to repress and silence discontent, to persecute and disappear resistances, and also to protect and strengthen the businesses of criminal groups. The names of Ernestina Ascencio and Ayotzinapa, to mention a few, should resonate strongly in the collective memory in these moments. 

As long as the armed forces are not brought to justice for past and present crimes, or for their participation in the acts of corruption, the pact of impunity will continue to mark their actions. As long as  the armed forces are not fundamentally transformed to obey the people, the subjects from whom public power emanates, they are in fact a threat. 

Militarism is one field of capital accumulation, Rosa Luxemburg warned us, and its function of violent proletarianization of the indigenous people and the imposition of wage labor in the colonies, in the formation and extension of Europeans spheres of influence on non-European territories, in the forced installation of railroads in the backward countries. Here is one possible answer as to why the current government has so much invested in the military: it is needed to ensure order and social rest, in order to guarantee its development projects. 

*Sociologist

This article was first published in Spanish in La Jornada on the 16th of May, 2020.  https://www.jornada.com.mx/2020/05/16/opinion/. This English interpretation has been published by Schools for Chiapas.