Mexico’s president orders military back on streets to tackle rising violence

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Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during a meeting with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (out of frame) and Canadian Vice-Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (out of frame) in Mexico City on December 10, 2019. - The United States, Mexico and Canada signed a deal Tuesday finalizing their new trade agreement after more than two years of arduous negotiations and paving the way to ratification. (Photo by RODRIGO ARANGUA / AFP) (Photo by RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP via Getty Images)

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during a meeting with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (out of frame) and Canadian Vice-Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (out of frame) in Mexico City on December 10, 2019. – The United States, Mexico and Canada signed a deal Tuesday finalizing their new trade agreement after more than two years of arduous negotiations and paving the way to ratification. (Photo by RODRIGO ARANGUA / AFP) (Photo by RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP via Getty Images)

MEXICO CITY (CNN) — Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has ordered the Armed Forces to return to the streets for the next five years, to tackle worsening crime in the country.

The decree, signed last week, comes after 2,585 murders were recorded in March, the deadliest month since Lopez Obrador took office in Dec. 2018.

The arrangement will end on March 27, 2024 and, according to the document, is designed to stay in place until the National Guard can improve its capabilities.

Lopez Obrador created the National Guard shortly after he took office in 2018 as a way to combat Mexico’s historic levels of violence, pulling its members from various units of the armed forces. Its mandate was to reduce violence by primarily targeting organized criminal groups.

But after pressure from the United States, Lopez Obrador deployed thousands of National Guard troops to Mexico’s southern and northern borders in an attempt to control the flow of migrants who pass through Mexico on their way to the United States.

Meanwhile, the number of homicides continued to rise, with 22,059 murders recorded in the first nine months of 2019, compared to 21,581 in the same period the previous year.

His decision to put the military back on the streets is likely to generate controversy in Mexico, as Lopez Obrador won the presidency on a platform of demilitarizing the country’s long-running war against drug cartels.

“The fact is that the National Guard is simply insufficient as a response to the violence in Mexico,” said Duncan Wood, Director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute. “That was always going to be the case but with all the extra migration-related tasks being forced on the Guard, there is a desperate shortage of manpower.”

Wood noted that “Mexico’s homicide numbers just keep going up despite the [Covid-19] pandemic, and the president’s approval rating is suffering.” But he didn’t see widespread changes as a result. “This will be a Band-Aid solution at best, but it may have temporary success in calming certain hotpots in the country “

Previous administrations also deployed the military to fight drug cartels. The resulting violence has left hundreds of thousands of dead in Mexico since 2006.

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