AMLO confirms that 7 National Guard recruits drowned during an army training accident in Ensenada

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Mexico’s president acknowledged for the first time Monday that seven National Guard recruits drowned in an army training accident in February — the worst military training accident in recent memory in Mexico.

The drownings on Feb. 20 raised questions about the president’s insistence that guard members receive military training and be under army command, despite the fact they do civilian law enforcement work.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said a total of 11 recruits had been swept away by the waves and four survived. The drownings occurred on a beach near a military base in Ensenada, Baja California.

Videos posted by a support group of the victims’ relatives showed dozens of cadets walking into the rough surf with full uniforms on. López Obrador said at his press briefing that the recruits “had their boots on, they’re very heavy.”

He said the commanding officer had been detained.

“An investigation of the facts has been opened,” López Obrador said. “We are very, very sorry.”

Relatives have questioned why the recruits were ordered into the Pacific when there were local weather alerts about rough seas and high waves at the time.

Mexico’s Defense Department has long refused to answer press questions about casualties.

When four soldiers were killed last week by a roadside bomb in the state of Michoacan, where drug cartels are active, it was the president who confirmed the deaths, not the army.

The army’s silence since the drownings has reflected the military’s newfound power under the administration of López Obrador. The president has insisted that only the armed forces are free from corruption, and has tried to hand complete control of the National Guard to the army.

Most National Guard recruits are deployed to anti-crime duty, where local police say their military training leaves them ill-prepared to perform simple tasks like filling out arrest reports. As a consequence, the Guard makes very few arrests.

Since he took office in late 2018, López Obrador has not only made the military the main arm of law enforcement. He has also given the army ownership of trains, tourism projects, airports and government hotels. The army has taken a leading role in building public works projects and operating Mexico’s new state-owned airline.