Mexico’s president has begun exploring plans to sidestep Congress to hand formal control of the National Guard to the military, which could increase the military’s control over policing in a country with high levels of violence.
This has raised concerns as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador approved the creation of an army in 2019, promising that it would be under nominal civilian control in the constitution and that the army would be off the streets by 2024.
However, neither the National Guard nor the army has been able to reduce insecurity in the country. This past week, drug cartels carried out mass arson and shooting attacks, terrorizing citizens. On Saturday, authorities sent 300 military special forces and 50 National Guard members to the border city of Tijuana.
Still, López Obrador wants to involve soldiers in policing and remove civilian control over the National Guard, whose officers and commanders are mostly soldiers, along with military training and pay grades.
Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero issued a public appeal against the term “organized crime” used in Mexico for drug cartels to stem the growing trend of targeting innocent civilians.
“Today we are telling the organized crime groups that committed these crimes that Tijuana will remain open and take care of its citizens,” Caballero said in a video. “And we ask them to settle their debts with defaulters, not with families and working citizens.”
The extent of the violence on Saturday was still unclear. Late Friday, the“Many vehicles in Tijuana, Mexicali, Rosarito, Ensenada and Tecate are aware of reports of fires, roadblocks and heavy police activity.”
Karina Bazarte, a reporter for CBS San Diego affiliate KFMB-TV, has family in Tijuana, and travels there on a weekly basis, but said “we couldn’t go back home” because of the violence.
“Literally, people were at the border lighting up their cars to go back home to the United States,” Bazarte said.
On Saturday, some people took to the streets in Tijuana and many bus and passenger van services were suspended, leaving some residents unable to get where they were going.
“Let them fight among themselves, but leave us alone,” Tijuana resident Blanca Estela Fuentes said as she searched for some means of public transportation. “So they kill each other, they can do whatever they want, but why blame us, the public?”
Later Saturday, Caballero said some bus and van routes had resumed service.
The federal Department of Public Safety said one person was injured in the violence, and federal, state and local forces detained 17 suspects, including seven in Tijuana and four each in Rosarito and Mexicali.
It said some of the suspects had been identified as members of the Jalisco cartel, a group blamed for burning stores and shooting people in the states of Jalisco and Guanajuato earlier this week.
The area of Tijuana, bordering Southern California, is a lucrative drug-trafficking corridor dominated by the Arellano Felix cartel, but has since become a battleground for various gangs, including the Jalisco and Sinaloa cartels.
The mayor’s comments about Tijuana staying open were an apparent reference to the border city of Ciudad Juarez from El Paso, Texas, where some classes and public events were canceled after similar violence on Thursday.
Alleged gang members killed nine people, including four employees of a radio station, in Ciudad Juarez after two inmates died after a fight between rival gangs at a local prison.
On Tuesday, drug cartel gunmen burned vehicles and businesses in the western states of Jalisco and Guanajuato in response to an attempt by the Jalisco cartel to arrest a high-ranking cartel leader.
Oxxo, a national chain of convenience stores owned by Femsa, the country’s largest bottling company, said 25 stores in Guanajuato – which borders Jalisco, home to the cartel of the same name – burned completely or partially on Tuesday.
Speaking about the Ciudad Juarez violence on Thursday, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said: “They attacked civilians, innocent people in retaliation. This was not just a conflict between two groups, it reached the point where it started. Shoot the civilians, the innocent people. That’s the most unfortunate thing about the case.”
Four employees of a Megaradio station broadcasting a live promotional program outside a pizza store in Ciudad Juarez were killed in the shooting.
Mexico has no precedents for such random violence.
In June last year, a rival group of the Gulf Cartel entered the border city of Reynosa and killed 14 people whose governor described as “innocent civilians”. The army retaliated and killed four suspected gunmen.