Militarization of Mexican Society Comes Under Growing Scrutiny

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Over the past several years, Mexico’s armed forces have been out in full force and more visible than ever. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The tenure of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has seen a dramatic increase in the armed forces in Mexican daily life.

The phenomenon of militarization has become particularly visible at Mexico’s tourist attractions.

Flyovers by military aircraft have become a sight at many of México’s most popular tourist attractions. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Armed forces have become routine at archaeological sites like Chichén Itzá and beaches like Playa del Carmen

Over the past Easter holiday, the president ordered 8,000 troops to patrol Mexico’s Caribbean resort towns alone.

Mexico’s Marines appear in full tactical gear at the Punta Sur Archaeological site on Isla Mujeres, near Cancún. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

While the presence of the military is necessary to help ensure peace, growing segments of society, even some of the president’s most prominent supporters, argue that enough is enough.

Even in exceptionally safe cities like Mérida, the presence of the armed forces can be seen daily.

Before being elected president in 2018, López Obrador had been tough on his successors’ use of the military, but upon taking up office, he cranked the dial up to 11.

As part of his overall strategy to combat organized crime, López Obrador founded a new branch of the armed forces called the National Guard, which today serves as a national police force. 

Other examples of the heightened role of the armed forces in daily life have included their takeover of security at dozens of Mexican air and sea ports.

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Other examples include decrees that have awarded national security status to mega-projects like the Tren Maya and the new airport in Tulum. As a result, these projects and several others have been de facto turned over to military security. 

National security status has been decreed for construction and maintenance projects including Mérida’s new La Plancha Park. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

These types of decrees have allowed such projects to avoid scrutiny by the judiciary, as they can simply be overruled on national security grounds.

Aside from the discomfort caused by having camouflaged armed personnel become routine, the increased presence of the armed forces does not appear to be having the desired effect. 

Despite the increased presence of the military, Mexico has experienced a surge in homicides, drug-related crimes, and human rights violations. Mexico has experienced a dramatic increase in homicides over the past five years. In 2017, there were 29,121 homicides reported in Mexico, a figure that steadily rose to a peak of 34,690 in 2022. 

This fact has largely soured public opinion on the ongoing militarization of the country, and several politicians and industry leaders have also come out publicly against the policy. 

“This strategy is simply not working. The sad fact is that of the continent’s 10 deadliest cities, eight are in Mexico. This fact alone speaks volumes,” said political analyst Leo Zuckermann at a recent national security summit. 

That being said, public trust in the Mexican armed forces is relatively high, with recent polls consistently showing that the military is the most trusted institution in the country. According to a 2022 survey by the Americas Quarterly, 85% of Mexicans have a great deal or some trust in the army, and 88% have the same level of trust in the navy. This compares to only 53% for state police and 46.9% for municipal police.

The National Guard has been hailed as being particularly less intimidating in their approach than Mexico’s police forces. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Now all eyes rest on the frontrunner to be México’s next President, Claudia Sheinbaum, and her approach for dealing with México’s security woes. 

Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy, and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.
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