Mexico City, Mexico — Mexico’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that a bill that would hand over control of the country’s National Guard to the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA), which was proposed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and approved by his allies in Congress last September, is unconstitutional.
The ruling came just days after troops from the National Guard opened fire on a family traveling in a car in northern Mexico, killing three people, including an unborn baby.
With eight votes in favor and three against, the Supreme Court ruled that the National Guard’s shift from a civilian body to a military body was unconstitutional.
Since its inception in 2019, the National Guard has been criticized for its military nature. The supposedly civilian-led security force was meant to rely on the military only temporarily, however, over the years, all of its resources, training, and operations have been directed by SEDENA.
By 2022, 80% of its members and 100% of its commanders came from the military, and the body currently counts over 128,000 active troops in the country.
In August of 2022, López Obrador moved to further solidify the ties between the bodies by submitting a bill that would transfer control of the Guard to SEDENA. The bill passed the next month with significant help from López Obrador’s MORENA party allies.
On Tuesday, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the bill was unconstitutional, citing that the law was in direct violation of Article 21 of Mexico’s Constitution which establishes that the National Guard must be a “civilian police institution.”
During the deliberations, Judge Luis María Aguilar cited that the very nature of the training of the military differs from civilian institutions.
“The training and education received by members of the armed forces by their very nature and functions differ from that required by police forces to perform their public security tasks since the main mission entrusted to the armed forces is the defense of the sovereignty and integrity of the homeland and the defense of the State against the enemy,” said Aguilar.
While the Supreme Court’s decision may be a political blow for the López Obrador administration, the National Guard remains a military force that operates within the logic and strategies of the defense apparatus, something Minister of Interior Adán Augusto López reminded his opponents of:
“The Guard will continue to receive guidance and professional training from SEDENA,” he said.
National Guard shoots and kills family members in northern Mexico
Two days before the court’s decision, troops from Mexico’s National Guard opened fire on a family in northern Mexico, resulting in the deaths of a 15-year-old pregnant girl, her unborn child, and a middle aged man.
The shooting occurred on the morning of April 16 in the city of Nuevo Laredo, in the northern state of Tamaulipas, when a National Guard patrol fired at a family of five traveling in a Chevrolet Suburban on a highway connecting Nuevo Laredo to the border city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila.
The vehicle crashed after being shot at, and the patrol reportedly ordered the passengers to get out of the vehicle. The family was then shot 86 times by troops while they attempted to run.
In the aftermath, 54-year-old Jesús Felipe García García died on the scene. The teen mother, Miriam Mariana Flores Pizano, who was eight months pregnant, succumbed to her injuries two days later and her unborn child died during the attack.
Other family members were also injured, including 24-year-old Luis Adán Rodríguez Santiago, who is in critical condition at a hospital in Nuevo Laredo. His cousin Edwin Leonel, 14, and Verónica Patricia Treviño Rubí, 24, are also hospitalized for gunshot wounds.
According to the President of the Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee, Raymundo Ramos Vázquez, once the National Guard officers realized the family was unarmed, they quickly left the scene, leaving the family injured in the middle of the highway.
Nuevo Laredo has seen, on repeated occasions, excessive use of force and executions by the military, where Ramos Vázquez has played an active role in denouncing the military and its abuses.
A history of excessive violence
Ramos Vázquez has documented several different instances in which military troops from SEDENA have killed unarmed civilians in Nuevo Laredo, including the February 26 killing of five young men, as well as the execution of 12 alleged hitmen in July 2020 — a case in which Ramos Vázquez helped prove that three of the victims had no links to criminal organizations, and had their hands and feet bound at the time they were murdered.
His role as a human rights defender has made Ramos Vázquez a target of espionage by the military, who have used spyware to surveil and hinder his activism. He has also been the subject of a smear campaign by the Mexican government, which has tried to undermine his chronicling of human rights abuses by saying he works for criminal syndicates in Mexico to attack the military.
Read more: Mexican military spied on activist documenting army killings
Along with SEDENA, the National Guard, too, has a history of excessive violence.
On January 1, National Guard troops opened fire on a vehicle killing Mauro Miguel Rocha Saucedo, 24, and Luis Fernando Maldonado in Chihuahua. The murder of the two young men was reported after a video showing the shooting surfaced on social media.
On April 27, 2022, a National Guard patrol shot at unarmed agronomy students from the Central Mexican city of Irapuato, resulting in the death of 19-year-old Ángel Yael Ignacio Rángel and the hospitalization of 22-year-old Edith Alejandra Carrillo.
Months later, in October, in Jalisco, on Mexico’s western coast, a 16-year-old girl who was two-months pregnant was shot and killed by Guard troops after the car in which she was traveling did not stop at a checkpoint.
In Chihuahua, on September 8, 2020, during a protest by farmers, the National Guard fired on two demonstrators resulting in the death of Jessica Silva and the hospitalization of her husband, Jaime Torres.
For years, human rights defenders have been denouncing excessive violence from the security force, and argue that its tendency towards violence has its roots in the body’s militaristic nature.