National Guard Is Deployed In The Mexico City Subway

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican National Guard has a new job starting Thursday: guarding the capital’s subway after a series of recent accidents that authorities suggest may be caused and some workers blame a lack of maintenance.

Claudia Sheinbaum, head of government of Mexico City, announced that 6,060 agents would be deployed to monitor the extensive metro network because “episodes that we classify as unusual have been occurring in recent months.”


Sheinbaum seemed to suggest, although he did not say, that it could be some kind of sabotage and for this reason he asked President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for help, who was more specific and spoke of avoiding concerns about accidents that can “be caused.” “What we want is for there to be no psychosis,” he said.

The officers of the National Guard, the star body created in this administration and which is under the orders of the army, will monitor the subway stations and “some other facilities” in the transport system “for a few months”, Sheinbaum added.

The mayor is one of the hopefuls to be a presidential candidate in 2024 for the ruling Morena party and, like the president, has often denounced a dirty war against her by her critics.

But it is not clear how military elements will be able to solve a problem that, according to the subway workers, is fundamentally technical, as recurring accidents have shown in the extensive network that has 226.5 kilometers of tracks with 195 stations and serves an average of 4.6 million passengers per day.

“The decision is political,” said Mario Alberto Hernández, a station manager who has been in service for 31 years. As he explained, spare parts are missing or they are old and the mechanics “are taking (parts) from trains that are rubble to get refractions.”

The measure fueled the controversy over the growing power that this government has given to the military, who are now in charge of everything from the fight against drug trafficking to the construction of large infrastructures, customs management or the cultivation of trees.

Human rights groups such as the Agustín Pro Juárez Center expressed their concern because “it is clear that this corporation reproduces the military inertia of opacity and excessive use of force.” For this reason, he called for “extraordinary supervision mechanisms to be activated.”

“We are going to have surveillance and if they call that militarization… we assume responsibility,” the president warned in the morning, anticipating criticism.

The latest accident occurred on Saturday when two trains collided on a stretch between stations, killing one person and injuring dozens more. Local media reported that there had previously been signaling problems on that section of the road.

In May 2021, an elevated section of the subway collapsed causing 26 deaths and nearly 100 injuries. An investigation attributed the ruling to flaws in the construction process and 10 former employees have been charged with manslaughter, battery and property damage, but none have been jailed.

In the past, problems have been blamed on poor welding, lack of maintenance, outdated electronics, frequent earthquakes, and the city’s soft soil, but sabotage has never been discussed before.

However, in recent days Sheinbaum said three “non-normal” problems had been found on railcars or tracks, including a tire failure “that had just been inspected”. The city’s subway cars run on both tires and rails.

As he assured, the metro “has a budget and if necessary there will be more based on a comprehensive diagnosis that is already underway.”

The capital’s transportation is one of the cheapest subways in the world, it costs the equivalent of about 25 cents on the dollar, and complaints of lack of budget have been present with different administrations.

Posters posted in many stations with the signature of a workers’ union denounce the “lack of tools and spare parts” necessary to provide citizens with “efficient and safe transportation.”

In 2021, one person died and another 32 were injured in a fire at a network control center that also left half the lines without service. Some of the technology in that center appeared to be analog equipment from the 1970s.

“The support for the Metro is not visible,” explained another station manager, Juan Carlos Hernández González, after receiving the two national guardsmen who were going to be stationed at his location early in the afternoon.

The agents deployed without weapons and mostly walked along the platforms in what they themselves described as “deterrence” work.

But the station manager insisted that the problem is not on the platforms but on the trains. “The conductors get on the trains and ask God not to have problems.”

The technology publication “Rest of World” cited employees who complained about the communications network and how they sometimes had to resort to messaging applications on their phones to contact other operators.

A driver with more than a decade of experience confirmed these problems to the AP, adding that sometimes cell phones don’t even work because there are places without a signal.

“Today, for example, in one of my trains, in the cabin, there was no fire extinguisher, we communicated it but it is no longer in our hands to do more,” he commented, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals from his bosses. “Every day there are failures of this type, there is no sabotage, we do not have the tools.”

Skepticism was rampant among users.

Isabel Mendoza did not think it was bad that the uniformed men were there and she hoped that security could be improved, but she said that the authorities “should be more concerned with fixing damages because unfortunately something has to happen for them to follow up on the lines.”

Tarcisio Montaño, a building maintenance worker who generally supports López Obrador, called some of the criticism an attempt to “discredit” the government but acknowledged that the system is underfunded and not working properly. “Where does all the ticket money go?” he wondered.

Nor did he see any need for the Watch. “They are there to defend the country, not to take care of the metro.”

The National Guard has an operational force of some 106,000 agents throughout the country. With the deployment announced Thursday, there would be more agents assigned to the capital’s subway than to 29 of the 32 Mexican states, some with a lot of violence.

Lilly Téllez, a senator from the opposition National Action Party, lamented that this situation occurred only “to satisfy a paranoia about sabotage.”