Mexico's Gendarmerie has been slated to begin operations as a force dedicated to protecting industries threatened by organized crime. The plans represent a significant scaling down of the size and role initially foreseen for the body.
According to Mexico's Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido, the National Gendarmerie will begin operating this month with 5,000 members, with plans to double this number in the future, reported EFE.
The new force will be responsible for protecting the "productive chains" of crops such as limes in Michoacan state or tomatoes in Sinaloa state, by monitoring the harvesting, transport and sales processes. The gendarmes will also provide support in mining regions, reported Prensa Latina.
Federal Police Commissioner Enrique Galindo told EFE the decision was part of a "paradigm shift" aimed at providing security for a sector that had until now not been adequately protected from organized crime.
The first members of the new force were chosen out of over 100,000 applicants based on the results of rigorous testing, according to officials.
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President Enrique Peña Nieto made the creation of the Gendarmerie a key element of his security policy since campaigning in the 2012 elections. The original plans were for a 40,000 strong force that would carry out various functions primarily in rural areas. More recently, the body was described as a kind of "super-police" that would have rotating responsibilities depending on security needs at a given time.
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However, questions dogged the proposal from the beginning. Which state entity would finance and provide the soldiers for the force -- which was intended to be a joint military-civilian initiative? Why even create a new force when you have a large national police and military working on citizen security matters?
The current proposal represents a drastic scaling-down of the Gendarmerie, in both size and remit. And the security triumph Peña Nieto -- whose security policies have not brought him popularity with the Mexican people -- might have hoped for when he launched the idea during the campaign seems to have run into a political reality: the government cannot afford to have another sizeable, national security force that competes with the police and the military.
The revised role of the force also suggests the government is reacting to recent evolutions in organized crime and security, and in particular the rise of vigilante movements. The extortion of lime and avocado farming and mining by the Knights Templar in Michoacan was one of the main factors spurring the growth of self-defense militias, suggesting the government may now be using the Gendarmerie to address the root causes of the vigilante movement -- or at least win some political capital -- in an attempt to deter the formation of more such groups, which have challenged the state's authority.