MEXICO CITY—President Bush’s plan to deploy thousands of National Guard troops to help nab illegal immigrants along the Rio Grande has sparked indignation in Mexico over potential human rights violations.
But using the military to do the dirty work of civilians is nothing new in Mexico.
Over the past year, Mexican President Vicente Fox—who called Bush on Sunday to express concern over the prospect of U.S. troops on the border—has deployed thousands of Federal Preventive Police agents to combat rising drug violence in cities along Mexico’s border with the United States. The Preventive Police is an elite force made up mostly of soldiers on loan from the army. The Mexican agents, who dress in black fatigues and carry assault rifles, are tasked with going after drug traffickers. But they also conduct more routine duties ordinarily assigned to civilians, like manning border crossings.
The measures are part of a strategy of using the military to take over where police fail—particularly in the war on drugs. Mexican soldiers have carried out eradication of marijuana and opium in the countryside since the 1940s. They also have led the battle against drug traffickers since the mid-1990s at the urging of U.S. officials.
The reason: The military is seen as more disciplined and less corruptible than the police.
While Mexican soldiers are not officially charged with detaining immigrants, there are widespread reports of them extorting and raping Central Americans who pass through on their way to the United States.
“In theory, the army is supposed to be better than the police,” said Alarcon. “But clearly that’s not always true.”