Mexico’s top military brass is criticizing his country’s strategy in the drug war offensive and wants the army to return to its barracks after 10 years of fighting narcos in the streets.
Secretary of National Defense Salvador Cienfuegos, the Mexican Army's top general, says Mexico’s spiral of violence cannot be “resolved with bullets.”
“They want us to be in our barracks, go ahead, I would be the first one to raise not one, but two hands so that we can go and perform our constitutional duties,” the general said during an unusual press conference last week in which he distanced himself from the government's drug war policy.
“We don’t feel comfortable,” he said. “We didn’t study to chase criminals.”
In 2006 then-President Felipe Calderon deployed the army to pacify towns and cities that were largely controlled by organized crime. Calderon argued he had no choice but to use the army because police institutions had become deeply infiltrated by the drug cartels.
A decade later, the army is showing signs of drug-war fatigue. Gen. Cienfuegos' latest comments follow previous statements in which he said the army was frustrated and tired of fighting the drug war with scarce resources and amid growing criticism over human rights violations.
Polls suggest the army historically has been one of Mexico’s most-trusted institutions, along with the Catholic Church. But public opinion seems to be shifting as soldiers increasingly find themselves accused of corruption, torture, extrajudicial killings and participating in forced disappearances.
Soldiers and their families are also being targeted directly by drug cartels. And though their wages have been steadily increasing, risking one’s life and loved ones for around $500 dollars a month is a rough situation.
Cienfuegos’ comments have pushed some Mexican lawmakers to evaluate a potential bill to regulate the army in the fight against drug cartels.
President Enrique Peña Nieto has also been trying to sweet talk the general while reassuring the country’s armed forces by visiting wounded soldiers. He recently worked with lawmakers to give one of Mexico’s highest honors to the mother of a fallen cop who died trying to prevent a gas station from exploding after a clash with protesters.
Mexico is also facing a problem of neglected veterans who lack solid pensions and public support.
Indeed, 10 years and over 70,000 deaths after Mexico's drug war officially started, everyone seems exhausted by the seemingly endless violence; it's not working for the soldiers fighting in the streets or the people caught in the middle.