Mexico's New Security Law

Alessandro Zagato

5 min read

A new chapter in the militarization of the Mexican state

In 2015, the Zapatistas forecast the approaching of a "storm"—"a catastrophe, and we mean that in every sense of the term." Three years later, as militarization takes hold across Mexico pursuant to a new law, the meaning of their admonition is becoming increasingly clear.

2017 closed with 26,573 homicides—an average of 80 murders per day—and 671 femicides. Meanwhile, the presence and intrusion of the army into the political and social life of Mexico has reached unprecedented levels, endangering democratic life and national sovereignty. The Mexican elites are surreptitiously fostering a totalitarian model of militarization whose implications are difficult to foresee, and this is compounded by the surge of conflict that the coming presidential electoral process is likely to bring.

The Internal Security Law[1] approved on 30 November 2017 by the Chamber of Deputies establishes a procedure by which the President of the Republic can directly order the intervention of the Army and the Navy in any part of the country, so long as he identifies "threats to internal security" that federal or local police forces are incapable of handling.

Typically, to initiate this process he first needs to consult the National Security Council and determine the nature of the intervention. Within seventy-two hours, he needs to issue a "Declaration of Security Protection," which requires approval by the National Security Council. The Ministry of the Interior must notify the Bicameral Commission of National Security and the National Commission of Human Rights before making the Declaration official.

However, "in cases where those threats put in danger people's integrity or the functioning of the main governing institutions," the President of the Republic "under his own strict responsibility" is allowed to order the immediate intervention of the armed forces. This clause confers exceptional powers to the president, opening the doors to unilateral decision making and facilitating abuses of power.

This regulation circumvents Article 29 of the Constitution, which obligates the president to obtain authorization from the Congress before implementing any suspension of constitutional guarantees and drastically limits the time extension of such operations.

The law also establishes that the Federal and Armed Forces will undertake intelligence activities in matters of "Internal Security" based on their areas of specialization and with no restrictions on the legal methods they can use for gathering information. In a country where military power already enjoys an exceptional independence from other state apparatuses and has a strong influence on governmental decision-making, the army becomes de facto in charge of the internal order. It turns into a legitimate and autonomous political force capable of intervening unilaterally at almost any time, with the freedom to persecute political opposition and social movements.

Mexican society's militarization is a complex phenomenon with a long history. However, the genesis of the current sequence and escalation dates back to 2006 when —at the very beginning of his mandate—President Felipe Calderón started the infamous "War on Drugs," purportedly aimed at fighting organized crime and the drug trade.[2]

This initiative brought an uncontrolled upsurge of violence, destruction, and social fragmentation. It also served as pretext to increase military expenditures (which have tripled since 2006), to expand law enforcement strategies, and to allow the army to perform civil security tasks, justified by a "state of exception." Since the beginning of the War on Drugs, the government has adamantly maintained that the militarization of public security would be a temporary measure, essential while the state was progressing in the depuration and professionalization of the police.

Yet twelve years later, militarization has become entrenched, and the Internal Security Law suggests there's no end in sight. After more than a decade of military presence in the streets, central power felt that a regulatory framework was needed. However, the Internal Security Law does not establish clear limits to the ongoing tendency. On the contrary, it normalizes a situation of widespread low-intensity warfare through an unconstitutional approach based on very general and vague ideas like "containing risks and threats" and "democratic governability."

The law consolidates and expands a logic of state and military intervention into civil matters. This expansion of power will eventually perpetuate increased military presence in the streets, with implications including systematic human rights violations and heavy limitations on the right to congregate and freely circulate in public spaces.

The act of replacing the public ministry in the investigation of crimes committed by civilians paves the way towards a generalized espionage system with no limits or forms of democratic control and accountability. Information collected by the army is indeed considered national security material and is therefore impossible to investigate.

Also remarkable are the consequences in terms of national sovereignty, given the tight operational ties existing between the Mexican Armed Forces and the Army of the United States. With Vicente Fox, Mexico was integrated into the United States Northern Command. Many Mexican Army leaders and cadets are trained in the United States and operate under its direct influence. Even leaders of narco cartels like the "Zetas" were trained in the United States as counter insurgency forces. After breaking with the regular army, they established complex new pathways of cooperation with the Mexican State – including actions like seizure of communal land and resources and the production of fear and hopelessness in society, to the advantage of corporate profit making.

Today, through a self-justifying act of power supported by no valid or rational argument, the leading national parties are fully embracing and legalizing the military option. Mexico is experiencing an authoritarian coup, which is roughly transferring portions of power from the civil to the military sphere. Since it hands the government an unprecedented capacity to impose the heavy hand, this law is setting a juridical foundation for the coming repression.

However, this is also a sign of weakness by a state that is apparently incapable of maintaining control and "security" in a civil way, and which finds it easier to rule in a situation of chaos, widespread violence, and impunity.

In the "storm" to come, the distinction between military targets and the civilian population will increasingly blur and warfare will become part of people's day to day lived experience. Such conditions have many aspects in common with "terrorism" and the wars that governments are waging against it internationally. The differentiation between external and internal fronts becomes less and less relevant.

Contemporary wars tend to produce a transversal battlefield, where national and private armies are frequently employed to fight entire populations rather than other armies. As I previously suggested, this constant level of warfare facilitates corporate intervention into specific territories and regions. In many areas of Mexico (as in Libya and Syria, among other examples) warfare is disciplining people into a condition of servile and forced labor directly dependent on multinational companies or local criminal gangs.

As Alain Badiou argued some years ago, "[T]he objective of … military intervention is to create plebeian masses everywhere deprived of any capacity of collective cohesion" (in Pozzana and Russo 2005: 208). Indeed the hegemonic economization and profit rationality require violent fragmenting and atomizing processes and "the dislocation and disarticulation of the state's civil functions … [T]he present military campaigns are only the first steps in a plan to fully militarize the state" (Pozzana and Russo 2005: 208).

In this sense, the new Internal Security Law is compatible with the current non-democratic landscape shaped by aggressive forms of corporatization and the propagation of warfare.


EZLN. 2015. "La Tormenta, el Centinela y el Síndrome del Vigía". In Enlace Zapatista. 1 April

Pozzana, Claudia and Alessandro Russo. 2005. "After the Invasion of Iraq." Positions 13, n.1: 205–214.

  1. The full text of this legislation is available at the following link. ↩︎

  2. The massive assassination of students, journalists, teachers, community leaders, human rights defenders and so on witnessed since 2016, provides evidence of a very different rationale for violence and militarization. ↩︎