President Enrique Pena Nieto laid out a security strategy Monday that creates a new national force, or gendarmerie, to combat organized crime and restore law to the most distant corners of Mexico.
The paramilitary force will be set up with 10,000 members but may grow to 40,000 in coming years, following models like those of Spain’s Civil Guard or the Italian Carabinieri.
While the new corps takes shape, Pena Nieto said dozens of disparate state police forces would fall under a unified command led by Mexico’s interior secretary, centralizing anti-crime efforts that have lacked coordination in the recent past.
The announcements underscored how Pena Nieto, in his third week of a six-year presidential term, seeks to mark distance from his predecessor, whose all-out war on crime gangs resulted in a frenzy of killing and soaring homicide rates.
“There is a grand national consensus. We all want a Mexico at peace, a more just, fair and safer Mexico,” Pena Nieto told the National Council on Public Security.
As Mexico’s 31 state governors and the powerful mayor of Mexico City looked on, Pena Nieto’s top security aides offered a blistering assessment of the security situation and the inability of prosecutors to punish criminals.
Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said seven out of 10 Mexicans tell pollsters that they don’t feel safe, and one out of every three households has been victim of a crime. Only one out of each 100 criminal acts is punished, he added.
Pena Nieto hailed Mexico’s armed forces and said soldiers and marines would remain in the streets of some cities and rural areas until order is more fully restored and the national gendarmerie takes shape.
“This corps will be responsible for strengthening territorial control in municipalities with weak institutions and guard strategic facilities such as ports, airports and borders,” Pena Nieto said.
Currently, Mexico has more than 2,000 municipal and state police forces, with some 430,000 officers. Corruption often weakens larger forces, while municipal police in some towns have fallen entirely into the hands of crime gangs.
Mexico’s former interior secretary, Alejandro Poire, said in Washington in September that fully a third of state and local police who’d undergone vetting were found unfit to serve.
Osorio Chong said 60 percent of police in Mexico have only an elementary school education, and their wages average less than $315 a month, he said.
Pena Nieto emphasized that his administration would observe “unrestricted respect” for human rights while combating organized crime.
He pledged to create guidelines for when law enforcement agents may use lethal force, enact laws to protect and compensate victims of abuse, and set up a registry of disappeared persons that meets global standards.
Under Pena Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderon, Mexico suffered what human rights monitors said were between 60,000 and 80,000 homicides and tens of thousands of disappearances, much of them blamed on crime gangs.
To centralize anti-crime efforts, Pena Nieto said his government would divide the nation into five regions, each with a police training facility. It also will set up 15 specialized federal police units to combat extortion and kidnapping.