MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday that he had changed his mind about deploying the armed forces to oversee public security as he defended his plan to give the Army control of the civilian-led National Guard.
When running for office, Lopez Obrador had pledged to return the Army to their barracks, and his unusually frank U-turn came after the lower house of Congress on Saturday passed a fast-tracked bill to give the armed forces control of the National Guard.
“I changed my mind once I saw the problem they had left me with,” the leftist president said during his daily morning news conference, referring to the previous government.
His plan, now with the Senate, has provoked criticism from the opposition, who say the president is using the National Guard to unconstitutionally militarize the country. If passed, the legislation is likely to face immediate challenges in court.
Former President Felipe Calderon in late 2006 deployed the armed forces to tackle powerful drug gangs, a move which critics blamed for fanning violence in Mexico and exposing the military to the corrupting influence of organized crime.
Lopez Obrador during his presidential bids in 2012 and 2018 promised to take the military off the streets. He won the election by a landslide in July 2018, and assumed power that December.
The president said he changed his views when he saw that Mexico was in a state of “helplessness” trying to pacify the country under the leadership of a corrupt federal police. Lopez Obrador replaced the federal police with the National Guard.
(Reporting by Jackie Botts and Dave Graham; editing by Jonathan Oatis)