MEXICO CITY — When he was running for president in 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto offered a new police organization, the gendarmerie, as a cornerstone campaign promise and his only security initiative. It was to be a 50,000-member, independent paramilitary force that would tackle Mexico’s toughest crimes.
On Friday, after much delay, President Enrique Peña Nieto unveiled a much-scaled-back gendarmerie.
It is instead a 5,000-member unit of the federal police that will focus on economic crimes. It will work as a kind of rapid-reaction force, he said, that will be deployed around the country to hot spots as needed.
The force will be used to protect businesses, tourist areas and harvests of lime, sorghum and other crops, all often targeted by drug and crime cartels that extort businesspeople and producers with threats of death.
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The diminished version of the new corps underscores criticism that Peña Nieto is unable to come up with security strategies that are innovative and wants to minimize all discussion of security and violence.
Peña Nieto said the force would help restore citizen safety in the violent nation and would be deployed especially where local institutions have been crippled by organized crime, such as the states of Michoacán in the west and Tamaulipas on the border with Texas.
But critics asked how 5,000 more police officers in a country that has 440,000 — many corrupt or ineffective — will make much of a difference.
Mexico needs better, not more, police officers, said security expert Ernesto López Portillo.
“Once again, the federal government will give us more police,” López Portillo wrote in a column in El Universal newspaper.
“History repeats itself, and the obligatory question is why should we expect the results to be different. … The country continues without defining a police model that is modern, professional and democratic.”
Efforts to clean up existing police forces have been slow and spotty. Vetting, much of it paid for by the United States, has been going on for years, and in some towns and cities, entire police forces flunked.
National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido, however, insisted this week that the process was nearing completion.
Peña Nieto formally installed the gendarmerie Friday in a military-style ceremony at federal police headquarters in Mexico City. There were bands and salutes and speeches. He thanked six foreign nations — France, Spain, Colombia, the United States, Italy and Chile — for helping to train the recruits.
This force “will contribute to the protection of Mexicans, their properties and their source of work when these are threatened by crime,” he said. “It will also help contain and dismantle criminal organization and will be deployed based on greater use of technology and intelligence systems.”
Members selected for the force have an average age of 28 and have never served on another police force. Thirteen percent are women.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.