Mexico’s House of Deputies has brought the country to the cusp of a police state. The reform to the National Security Law now before the lower house would grant sweeping military powers to the executive and limit congressional oversight of domestic military activity. It would grant President Felipe Calderón the ability to effectively declare states of exception without congressional approval and unilaterally use the military against any group he deems to be a “threat to internal security.” Also expanded would be the surveillance powers of the army, marines and Cisen, the Center for National Security and Investigation, which would be allowed to “use any method of information collection, without in any case affecting human rights and guarantees for their protection.”
In a disturbing display of linguistic chicanery, the bill defends the proposed expansion of executive power through a bizarre, pseudo-philosophical discussion of the difficulty of differentiating between war and peace: “Peacetime is a state contrary to war in which there are no hostilities from foreign states, but there can still be disruptions of tranquility and social order. That is to say, a threat to national security can coexist with a state contrary to war; this threat should be dealt with without an official declaration of war because the problem does not stem from an external source, but rather from an internal situation that alters social harmony.”
The official justification for this unprecedented and likely unconstitutional reform is, of course, the ongoing and increasingly bloody war against the country’s drug cartels. However, the draft legislation, of which La Jornada obtained a copy, explicitly states that the executive can use military force against ‘movements or conflicts of political, electoral, labor, or social nature that are deemed to be a challenge or threat to interior security.’ Again, that determination would be entirely in the hands of the executive and would not be subject to any review.
“As it is now, it’s an impassable reform, because it gives plenipotentiary powers to a president who likes to govern by decrees… [Calderón] will find it easier with the new framework that undermines the restrictions to declaring states of exception and suspension of constitutional rights established in articles 29 and 119 of the Mexican Constitution, which represents a first step toward presidential authoritarianism,” said PRD Deputy Teresa Incháustegui.
Articles 29 and 119 of the Mexican constitution establish the steps necessary to declare a state of exception and the circumstances under which the executive can deploy troops to the various states.
This year’s congressional session ends April 30, but the PRI and PAN are working feverishly to push the legislation through under shady circumstances and against the growing opposition of the PRD, PT and the PVEM. Contrary to normal congressional function, the PRI and PAN are attempting to have the legislation approved by just one of the five congressional commissions that the bill was sent to, the Defense Commission, thus speeding its passage. It is likely to pass this week.
The plot thickened several days ago when El Proceso released a report, which cited sources close to the negotiations, claiming that a threatened release of so called “black files”, containing incriminating information about numerous PRI governors around the country, was used by the executive and defense department to get favorable votes from previously recalcitrant PRI deputies. According to the report, “After the PRI…showed itself to be reluctant to back the proposals from the Defense Department (Sedena), it ended up accepting all of the changes being demanded by Sedena, in spite of the fact that some [PRI deputies] had considered them to be ‘unacceptable’ or sources of ‘high politicization’ which would make its passage by a plenary session of congress difficult.
“The turnabout of the PRI, according to the three sources consulted by Proceso, was due to the Presidency’s threat to publish the so-called ‘black files’ that they are putting together about current PRI governors and their presumed participation in illegal activity. Proceso confirmed this with three difference sources who participated in negotiations and who represented the military, the PRI and the Senate respectively.”
PRI and PRD leaders back in the Senate expressed unwillingness last week to pass the altered version of the reform they passed last year. The senate’s version, passed April 27,2010, did not contain many of the most controversial elements requested by Sedena and the presidency despite their pressure.
“If the [House of Deputies’] law passes, it would be like a coup d’etat with the law in hand,” said PRD Senator Tomás Torres. “We can’t concede free reign to the executive so that it can use the army without declaring a state of exception and without congressional approval. It would be a major step backward in the fight for the rights of citizens, which has been a motive of historical struggles in this country since the 1810 independence movement, the Reform, the Restoration of the Republic and the armed movement of 1910.”
Americas Program intern Murphy Woodhouse hails from Southeast Idaho and is a proud 2008 graduate of the University of Montana’s School of Journalism.