In a controversial move, President Ernesto Zedillo assigned 5,000 members of the military to the recently created anti-crime police force (Policia Federal Preventiva, PFP). Zedillo formed the PFP in November 1998 to supplement the administration's anti-crime campaign, the Cruzada Nacional contra el Crimen y la Delincuencia. However, the PFP has remained seriously understaffed, preventing the unit's full operation.
Speaking to reporters in early July, Defense Secretary Enrique Cervantes and Interior Secretary Diodoro Carrasco said assigning army and air force personnel to the PFP is the first step to ensure a more efficient operation of the unit. "If we succeed in approaching this efficiently, and with social commitment, we can guarantee a favorable environment for progress and the well-being of society," said Carrasco.
Sources at the Secretaria de Gobernacion (SEGOB) said the government has hired law-enforcement agencies from the US, Britain, France, and Spain to help train the military members assigned to the PFP.
Human rights groups & opposition parties oppose move
The decision to assign soldiers and air force personnel to a civilian police unit created an uproar among human rights organizations and drew criticism from the two major opposition parties. Using statistics compiled by the government- affiliated Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH), opponents referred to 21 complaints that military personnel and some members of the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR) engaged in torture during 1998.
"There are bound to be excesses," said attorney Salvador Tinajero of the Comision de Defensa y Promocion de Derechos Humanos. "Soldiers have not been trained to fight crime but to fight against the enemy."
Coincidentally, the decision to assign military personnel to PFP was announced only days before an 11-day visit by UN special envoy Asma Jahangir to examine human rights violations in Mexico during July. Among other things, Jahangir was sent to investigate complaints that members of the military have been involved in torture, executions, and other violations in Chiapas and Guerrero states.
Felipe Bonilla, a division director with the Secretaria de Defensa Nacional (SEDENA), said the Mexican military had nothing to hide and would be willing to present Jahangir with any information she requested.
Legislators from the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) and the conservative Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) said the incorporation of military personnel into the PFP was a possible violation of the Mexican Constitution. "The armed forces as an institution was established to guarantee our country's sovereignty and defend our national territory," said PRD interim president Pablo Gomez. "Therefore, it is completely illegal that the institution engage in any activities that differ from those spelled out in the Constitution."
Government says reinforcements needed in fight against crime
Beyond the question of constitutionality, the Zedillo administration has defended the decision to assign military personnel to the PFP as necessary to stem the soaring crime rate. …