More than 56,000 Mexican military personnel have reportedly deserted during President Felipe Calderon’s government, raising concerns that an alarming number of former soldiers could be switching sides in the fight against Mexico’s cartels.
Since Calderon took office in 2006, 56,886 soldiers have deserted ranks in the Mexican military. Of the total, less than one fifth (10,154) are known to have received any form of punishment from the state, while the whereabouts of over 40 percent (23,694) remains unknown, reports Animal Politico.
According to figures from the National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA), the desertions amount to over a quarter of the 206,013 soldiers based in the country as of December 2011.
The number of desertions over the past six years, while high, marks a decline from the the 106,813 desertions registered between 2000 and 2005.
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While the number of soldiers deserting the military has actually fallen under Calderon, this alarmingly high number will still be unwelcome news for a government that has placed the army at the forefront of its fight against Mexico’s criminal organizations.
According to a CNN report in 2009, these desertions have been particularly detrimental to Calderon’s fight against drug trafficking since many have taken place in the states of Michoacan, Guerrero, Sinaloa and Chihuahua. All four are widely regarded as the front line of the government’s fight against drug cartels.
One concern is that many deserters, especially those whose current activities remain untracked by the state, are opting to work for criminal organizations. In 2008, for example, the Zetas — a group founded by former members of special forces — brazenly hung a banner in Nuevo Laredo in an attempt to recruit military personnel. The “ad” offered good pay rates, food, and medical care for the soldiers and their families.
Speaking to CNN, a former soldier who deserted the army confirmed that the switch from army to cartel is common, stating “[Former soldiers] see a better opportunity in going with the narcotrafficker… It’s a way of making a living from what they learned in the military.”
The Mexican government has tried to counter this by increasing the pay for soldiers by 115 percent from 2006 to 2010. However, a soldier’s basic salary is still only about $200-$300 per month, meaning the financial incentives of joining a criminal group remain high.
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