Mexico: "The country under weapons" where the enemy can be a citizen

An illustration of a soldier standing in the middle of a graveyard
Mexico under weapons. Source:
Juan Luis García Hernández


Mexico is a country at war. Sometimes the authorities have openly taken the banner of war, and others, like the current administration, a speech of pacification.

Mexico has not changed its strategy of frontal combat against organized crime in the last 15 years since former President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug trafficking in December 2006.

Calderon took the Army to the streets, relegating the police to the background, and the military has not returned to the barracks since then. The effects have been devastating, the Army's lack of human rights training and a vague legal framework has allowed the authorities to commit crimes against humanity and use excessive force.

In the last 15 years, 5 thousand 151 people have been killed in combat against the Army. These people are called "aggressors" or "linked to organized crime." However, the lack of transparency on who is being killed has been the subject of a review of cases.

El “País Bajo Armas” (The country under weapons) is a journalistic investigation focusing on the use of lethal force by the Army, the police, and the power that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador granted to the military.

Mexico's first leftist president has made the Army more powerful than ever.

It is not only a militarization of public security issues but also of militarism by granting powers to the military institutions that previously belonged to the civilian field.

Part I: Lethality

This investigation is divided into three parts. The first is entitled "AMLO's pacification is more lethal than Calderón's war" and shows that the lethality levels of the Army in confrontations with civilians are higher than those recorded in wars such as Vietnam.

Today in the confrontations registered by the Army, there is a rate of 5.9 deaths for each wounded. In contrast, in the Vietnam War, this measure was the opposite, with one death for every four wounded. Mexican Army does not shoot to neutralize its enemies but to kill.

Despite numerous innocent victims, in the official discourse, these clashes and people killed are classified as aggressors of the Armed Forces.

It is said that the aggressors are people linked to organized crime, but the criminalization of victims has been widespread to cover crimes. This journalistic work collects various testimonies of people who have been victims of shots by the Army without being aggressors or engaging in any combat.

Despite having a peace speech and his famous phrase "Hugs, not bullets." Lopez Obrador’s Army has a higher lethality rate than Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, who declared war.

The current government has replaced the previous Federal Police and has promoted its own, called the National Guard. This innovation is one more step towards the militarization of the country since the new police force is made up of trained soldiers and former navy officials.

The Army and the National Guard provide public security nowadays. The military training of its elements has taken effect. Several extrajudicial executions have taken place, where police officers overreact, or identify threats that were not.

These articles account for testimonies of victims of the National Guard. Since the appearance of a new police force in July 2019 to June 2021, at least 93 people have been executed by the National Guard in so-called combats.

To document this situation, journalists travelled to different cities. One of them is Nuevo Laredo, in Tamaulipas, a border city that has become the epicentre of several cases of extrajudicial executions by the Army.

Part II: The fourth transformation of military power

The Army enjoys an unprecedented preponderance. Without preparing for a war with any other country, internally, the Army has more budget than ever.

In the first three years of the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Ministry of National Defense added a budget of 15 billion 780 USD. This is a shot of 61% and 14.8% increase, respectively compared to the same period of his predecessors in office, Felipe Calderon and Enrique Peña Nieto.

Today the Armed Forces have transcended their functions and have been entrusted with tasks before civil institutions. As the construction of airport mega-projects and the Mayan Train, they took care of seaports, combated illegal fishing, distributed medicines, etc.

The concession of works to the Army also has an opaque character. Under the argument of national security, the information can get classified. And on this account, public scrutiny becomes increasingly difficult.

III part The life of a civilian is worth 14 thousand USD to the Army

Losing one's life at the hands of the Army is not the end of the victimization but rather the beginning of a battle for the relatives to obtain justice and reparation from the State.

In various testimonies collected, today the life of a murdered person is worth between 300,000 and 400,000 pesos in terms of compensation. We collect cases where victims have been harassed to accept these amounts and abandon the pursuit of justice against those who shot their relatives.

These institutional offers to victims are not only far from being beneficial to the victims' families but also lack an effective mechanism that guarantees non-repetition by the Ministry of National Defense.

The victims have not fallen at the hands of perpetrators who individually decided to fire their weapons, but at elements that follow a chain of command and neutralization strategies carried out systematically in the country.

Even though López Obrador has said that human rights violations by the Armed Forces are no longer committed, from 2019 to October 2021, more than two thousand complaints of human rights violations have been filed before the National Commission of Human Rights for torture, disproportionate use of public force, arbitrary arrests, deprivation of life, and illegal detentions, among others.

In Mexican Constitution, a period has been given for the military to withdraw from the streets. This term expires on March 26, 2024, but seems far from happening today. Since the National Guard is still unable to take charge of public security by itself, the authorities have forgotten to strengthen the personnel and budget of this institution civil.


This research was possible thanks to the support of UNESCO in Mexico through the 2021 Journalism Support Program. This work was published on a microsite on the portal, an effort by a group of independent journalists.

Likewise, it was republished by established media such as Aristegui Noticias, Zeta Tijuana, and ZonaDocs.

The revelation of cases of civilians killed at the hands of authorities has revolutionized the figures on the matter and given a new perspective on the path that the use of lethal force is taking in the current administration.


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