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Dissenting Army Officers Are Arrested by Mexican Military

By James F. Smith
Los Angeles Times
MEXICO CITY

Faced with an embarrassing mini-mutiny, the Mexican military has opted for a hard-line approach to dissent, jailing five army officers on sedition and insubordination charges for leading the first organized protest by Mexican soldiers in modern memory.

The arrests Monday followed repeated public demonstrations by members of the "Patriotic Command to Raise the Consciousness of the People" since the group of about 50 officers first emerged Dec. 18 with a march down Mexico City's main boulevard.

The leader of the group, Lt. Col. Hildegardo Bacilio, was also charged but evaded arrest and remained in hiding Tuesday. His organization, meanwhile, protested that the arrests "reflect the abuses of authority that are committed constantly by high functionaries of the Ministry of Defense."

Mexico's armed forces, unlike those in some Latin American countries, have consistently stayed loyal to the government since the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, first won power in 1929. In return, the government has largely left the military to run its own internal affairs, including discipline.

Roderic Ai Camp, a specialist in the Mexican military at Claremont College, said the arrests "obviously reflect a hard-line attitude" by the Mexican military command. "They have really been very orthodox in their attitude, (and) they want to send a very tough message that anyone who goes out into public and makes statements critical of military policies is going to be dealt with in a severe manner," he said.

But Camp added that, while the dissidents appear to have little support, some of the issues they are raising, such as unfair and outmoded military justice, "do resonate with other military officers and that's what makes this so important."

The public protests sparked major debates in Mexico over the military and its relationship with civil society in an era of increasing openness.

In announcing the charges Monday night, the military prosecutor general's office said five lieutenants were consigned to the military prison in Mazatlan on the Pacific coast.