Mexican president taps loyalist as new security chief

El presidente mexicano Andr茅s Manuel L贸pez Obrador da su conferencia de prensa matutina diaria en el palacio presidencial en la Ciudad de M茅xico, el viernes 16 de octubre de 2020. (AP Foto/Marco Ugarte)

Mexican President Andr茅s Manuel L贸pez Obrador proposed a former journalist and long-time Mexico City government bureaucrat to be the country’s new security chief Friday at a time when the country is on track to set a new annual homicide record.

It was not immediately clear if Rosa Icela Rodr铆guez would accept the post. L贸pez Obrador said he had not asked her in advance and she was currently in quarantine, recovering from COVID-19.

Rodr铆guez would replace Alfonso Durazo, who officially resigned Friday to run for governor of the northern state of Sonora. She would be the first woman to take over coordination of the security cabinet.

The tapping of Rodr铆guez was unexpected. Hers was not one of the names circulating in recent weeks as leading contenders for the post.

In late July, L贸pez Obrador had named Rodr铆guez, then secretary of the Mexico City government, to be in charge of the country’s ports and merchant marine. It was unclear at the time how long that would last because the president was pushing constitutional reforms that would allow the navy to take over the ports.

“I needed her to impose order on the ports … to end the corruption in the ports, the contraband, the introduction of drugs, all of that,” L贸pez Obrador said Friday. He said she helped develop a diagnosis of the situation in the ports that was used in preparing the reforms approved by the senate this week giving responsibility to the navy.

Rodr铆guez comes from the central Mexico state of San Luis Potosi. She studied as a journalist and worked for La Jornada, a national newspaper before embarking on a two-decade career in government.

When L贸pez Obrador was Mexico City mayor from 2000 to 2005, Rodr铆guez held posts in public security and was social development secretary.

In 2006, Mexico City’s then mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, named Rodr铆guez as coordinator of the capital’s security cabinet. Ebrard is now L贸pez Obrador’s foreign affairs minister and one of his closest collaborators.

Rodr铆guez continued to hold posts in the capital’s government until L贸pez Obrador brought her into the federal government this summer.

L贸pez Obrador has been saying for weeks that the most important thing in choosing Durazo’s replacement would be selecting someone who is honest and completely trustworthy.

He called Rodr铆guez “a woman who came up from below.”

Ana Vanessa C谩rdenas Zanatta, a political science professor at Monterrey Technological and Anahuac universities in Mexico City, applauded the decision to name a woman to the post. “I wish it was one with more experience and capability than loyalty.”

It appeared L贸pez Obrador was prioritizing personal loyalty over finding someone who could reliably do the job, said C谩rdenas, who specializes in security issues. “We continue down the path of improvisation,” she said.

If Rodr铆guez does accept the job, she will be entering a challenging situation. L贸pez Obrador has given more responsibility than any other president in modern times to the military and not just in the security realm.

While the military has historically been one of Mexico’s most trusted institutions, that confidence was shaken earlier this month when U.S. officials arrested its former defense minister in Los Angeles on drug trafficking charges.

The president bet on the creation of the National Guard last year to stem rising levels of violence across the country. It’s an ostensibly civilian security force, but most of its rank-and-file and command structure come from the armed forces.

Mexico’s murders are not climbing as rapidly as they were, but still remain at historically high levels. Mexico saw 36,476 homicides in 2019, only a tiny decline from the 36,685 registered in 2018. This year is slightly outpacing last.