Monday, February 21, 2011

Change in Philosophy?

The secretary of national defense (Sedena), Guillermo Galván Galván, declared yesterday that the army is determined to be transparent, to be held accountable, and to strengthen respect for human rights.

"Because of the right of the society to be informed, we incorporate ourselves with determination and good spirits to the culture and obligation of transparency. With an unprecedented opening, where only the character of our affairs limits us and prudence guides us", he said during the Day of the Army, carried out in Tamaulipas.

With President Felipe Calderón and Francisco Saynez, secretary of the navy, Galván added that respect for the individual guarantees of the population is the key for the society to continue trusting the army.

The general said that the role of Sedena in the strategy against crime is to seek peace: "The armed forces will collaborate in the restoration of social tranquility".
This follows other recent attempts to bring the military close to the population at large, which makes all of this seem like a concerted push by the army to clean up its image. It's easy to be cynical, what with the change from persistent denials that there was a problem in the army's conduct, and time will tell if this is a genuine change or just a passing phase. While acknowledging the possibility of the latter, I think this is good news, for a couple of reasons. Taking some of the mystique out of the army is a positive step that is long-overdue; Calderón announced his initial deployment in Michoacán more than four years ago, there have been tens of thousands of troops on the streets for basically the duration of his presidency, and no end to their deployment is in sight. Regarding human rights violations, an army showing concern for its image will ultimately be more professional and less abusive than an army that couldn't care less about its reputation. However, the impact will be severely limited if it is not accompanied by real changes in the way the military conducts investigations into abuse, which goes back to whether this is just a cynical ploy or reflective of a deeper shift in attitudes.

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