MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s army drew criticism Monday for meddling in politics, in a country where the military has long been excluded from political debate.
Criticism centered on a speech by the secretary of defense — a general, like all those before him — that heaped praise on the political project of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
López Obrador defines his administration as the “fourth transformation” of Mexico, echoing three earlier political movements: the independence struggle, the 1910-17 Mexican Revolution and the Liberal reform movement of the 1850s and 60s.
In a speech over the weekend, Defense Secretary Gen. Luis Cresencio Sandoval said “as Mexicans, we must be united in the national project that is being carried out.”
“For us it is a mark of pride to be able to contribute to the transformation that is being carried out,” Cresencio Sandoval said. “The efforts of your administration are founded on the legitimate needs of the majority of Mexicans.”
The conservative opposition National Action Party said in a statement that “this political content is not appropriate from a military man, and clearly violates” a clause in the Constitution that prohibits political activity by the armed forces.
José Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, wrote in his Twitter account that Cresencio Sandoval “publicly backed and identified himself” with López Obrador and “his political project."
“When military officers get involved in politics, democracy is in danger,” Vivanco wrote.
The Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After decades of military revolts and rule by former generals, military officers stopped running for the presidency in the 1940s.
In exchange, civilian governments long shielded the army from outside scrutiny or oversight.
But López Obrador has dramatically expanded the army’s role in everything from law enforcement to building and operating airports and rail projects.