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Mexico: Tasks and Missions
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > National Security Concerns > Tasks and Missions


In the half-century following World War II, the Mexican armed forces have never been called upon to exercise an external defense role. Their primary mission has been to deter and prevent violence threatening public order, including outbreaks arising from strikes and protests, rural political grievances, guerrilla insurgency, and urban terrorism. Since the 1920s, the military has devoted a considerable share of its resources to civic-action programs to improve socioeconomic conditions and relieve human distress, particularly in rural areas that otherwise have little contact with government representatives, and to coordinate the work of other agencies during the course of the emergency. The army took charge of relief operations after the volcanic eruption in Chiapas in 1982. When parts of the capital were devastated by the powerful earthquake of 1985, however, the army played a lesser role because the civil authorities did not wish to appear incapable of dealing with the crisis without military help.

The army assigns large numbers of personnel to the antinarcotics campaign, carrying out crop eradication as well as supporting law enforcement agencies in interdiction missions. The navy is responsible for maritime drug interdiction, and the ground-based radar system of the air force supports air interdiction efforts.

Under the Mexican code for federal elections, the army has a limited but important part in the administration of elections, monitoring polling stations and protecting ballot boxes on election day. Although the military has generally remained impartial in carrying out its election duties, it faced accusations in 1985 and 1986 that it assisted in manipulating ballot counts in the northern states to ensure victories by the government party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional -- PRI).

As part of its domestic security functions, the army is also responsible for protecting strategic economic installations such as electric power plants, oil fields, petroleum complexes, ports, and airports. All regions where the country's petroleum reserves are located are regarded as of high strategic significance. Petroleum fields are found primarily in the southeastern states of Veracruz and Tabasco and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. The threat of spreading conflict in Central America and the strategic importance attached to Mexico's oil fields were the decisive factors in the government's decision to assign additional military personnel to the southernmost areas in the mid-1980s and to relocate Guatemalans living in refugee camps there so as to remove any pretext for Guatemalan border incursions.

Along with protection of Mexico's fisheries and detection of vessels transporting contraband, the Mexican navy is charged with the defense of offshore oil installations and other maritime resources. The campaign against drug smuggling has placed an increasing burden on the navy's resources. These heightened priorities led the government to dedicate a significantly greater portion of its budget to the Secretariat of the Navy during the 1980s. Between 1980 and 1984, the United States and Mexico were at odds over the Mexican navy's apprehending of United States fishing vessels -- mainly tuna boats -- within Mexico's EEZ. In 1993 three smuggling ships carrying several hundred illegal Chinese immigrants were forced to land in Mexico after the ships had been detected off the California coast, adding another dimension to the navy's mission.

Data as of June 1996

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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