Regime of exception

Luis Rubio

Public security is a sine qua non condition for the development of the country and the issue that most concerns citizens. The problem is not new, but all attempts to confront it have proven insufficient, if not a failure. The three most recent administrations -each with its level of arrogance- has assumed the problem in its own way, but the results have all been pathetic; the only thing that is clear and unquestionable is that there are many myths around this issue*, but equally clear is that there is no single -or magical- solution to the problem: no silver bullet. If the López Obrador government does not recognize this point at the outset, its strategy, centered on the “national guard,” will end up in the same place.

The proposal to create a new structure in the form of a national guard, announced with great fanfare and little information, is not very different from the one that accompanied the announcement of the creation of the federal police two governments ago. In both cases, there was a big idea but not a plan for its integral development, much less a political consensus on the matter. The result was the expected: the insecurity did not yield. The causes can be many, but the winning prescription proved unsuccessful.

The creation of a national guard can be part of the solution or it can be another lost opportunity: everything depends on how it is constituted, what its objectives are, what strategy would be followed and, above all, what the project as a whole consists of. A misdiagnosis -which is what must be assumed because the plan presented lacks any logical coherence- entails a hazardous outcome. However, the danger lies not only in the fact that insecurity remains high, but that, unlike the previous attempts, this one comes fraught with an immeasurable risk in the form of the incorporation of the army in security tasks in an integral, permanent fashion and made permanent in the Constitution. That is, this is an extraordinarily hurried step, with unknown and, potentially, excessive and onerous consequences.

It is easy to understand why one administration after another has turned to the military: it is the most structured, respected and efficient corporation in the country. Given the vacuum, weakness -and corruption- that characterizes most of the federal, state and municipal police forces (and their counterparts on the side of law enforcement), the notion of resorting to the military is logical, even if it entailed a radical about face for the president. But the fact that there is such a fundamental challenge and such a competent institution does not imply that one thing can work to fix the other. The army has proven effective in showing the strength of the State whenever deployed, but not in creating conditions for public security beyond the time or place where it has had a temporary presence. The army is not a police corporation and should not be conceived as a long-term police response because it is useless for this and will never be different.

The army will undoubtedly be a central part of the solution to the security problem the country faces, but it cannot be the heart of the strategy. Unless the army is transformed into a police corporation -and everything that this implies in terms of conception and training- something that could be proposed as a strategy over a period of two or three decades, the military is trained to face formal enemies, not to be the guarantor of the security of the daily life of a community.

More important, the key question is not about recourse to the army for the purpose of protecting the citizenry, but about the creation of a new political and legal reality in the way the national guard has been proposed. Resorting to the army is necessary, but not in a permanent fashion, without a clear mandate or legal protection. It would be infinitely better to create a formal framework for the operation of the army in civilian security tasks than to elevate it as the heart of an unfinished security strategy in which there are no certainties for the citizens, the government or the soldiers themselves.

I wonder, why not bring the presence of the army through the national guard -or in security tasks in general- as a case of exception and, therefore, temporary? That is, what if, instead of encumbering the army in the Constitution to combat insecurity, the Congress legislates in a precise way how that corporation would act in an emergency and only for the time the emergency lasts. If what exists is a situation of exception, what is appropriate is to contemplate an equally exceptional response in the form of a regime of exception such as that contemplated in Article 29 of the Constitution.

What has been proposed is a desperate, ill-considered and inadequate response to build security, protect the citizenry, give legal certainty to the army and solve the problem that the government has raised. Instead of a single action aimed at trying to solve a complex problem once and for all, it would be far better to develop a multifactorial strategy in which the participation of the army is temporary, limited and exceptional.


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