MEXICO CITY - Mexico’s first female security chief is about to start the uphill struggle to bring down soaring crime rates - once she recovers from COVID-19.
Rosa Icela Rodríguez - who until today was the head of Mexico’s ports - is the first female top security chief in Mexico's history, handpicked by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Rodríguez, who is currently suffering from coronavirus in her home, accepted the position on November 3 on Twitter, and announced that she'd begin once doctors gave her a clean bill of health.
Alfonso Durazo, who previously held the position, confirmed in mid-October that he intended to run for governor of the border state of Sonora in 2021 and would step down from his post by the end of the month. Under Durazo’s watch, which lasted nearly two years, Mexico saw a steady rise in crime and violence, and is on track to break homicide records in 2020.
Rodríguez was a surprise choice for the position to many.
For months, speculation around Durazo’s replacement was focused primarily on Omar García Harfuch, Mexico City's top security official who survived a barrage of bullets, allegedly from cartel gunmen, in June. Ricardo Mejía, the second in command under Durazo, was also in the running. Mejia will serve in the position until Rodríguez has cleared coronavirus protocols.
Critics of the decision to appoint Rodríguez focused on her lack of experience in the security realm and the perception that she is a longtime loyalist of the president.
When López Obrador served as mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2006, Rodríguez served in several prominent posts within his government. She remained an important player in the capital’s politics, and held high profile roles in the three subsequent administrations, while López Obrador launched failed bids at the presidency in 2006 and 2012, before finally succeeding in 2018.
Only in July 2020 did she finally leave the Mexico City administration when she was appointed to take control of the country's ports as López Obrador prepared reforms to hand responsibility of the ports to the navy, which passed last week.
"The president needed someone for the job who was trustworthy, and it seems like it's her," said Lilian Chapa, a Mexican security analyst.
Rodríguez's lack of security experience isn’t necessarily a bad thing, said Chapa, who pointed out that many others who have held the position didn’t have a wealth of relevant wisdom. Predecessors who did - such as former policeman Genaro García Luna, who is now facing criminal drug trafficking charges in the United States - arguably brought baggage and relationships with them from their time served.
Having someone "who can be a bridge, a negotiator" with the different tentacles of Mexico’s security apparatus is key, said Chapa, and is especially relevant after the recent arrest of a former top Mexican army official, Salvador Cienfuegos, last month in Los Angeles.
She compared the job to being the "conductor of an orchestra" because "we don't need one security plan, we need lots of different security plans in all 32 states, the federal level, and in the municipalities."
While Mexico's crime is often minimized by narratives that pit one drug cartel against another, the reality is much more complicated. The fragmentation of major criminal organizations over the recent decades has led to smaller groups engaged in localized warfare over a wide variety of criminal opportunities, from fuel theft to kidnapping, people trafficking and drugs, amongst others. A security plan that works in one municipality against one group may be completely ineffective towards another criminal actor acting in a different manner in a nearby municipality. The idea of having a single nationalized plan that is effective in states across the country and all of their municipalities is extremely unlikely, say observers.
Chapa believed that one of the most pressing issues for Rodríguez as she enters the position is to bridge the growing divide between the federal government and state and municipal police forces, and to build community trust in local authorities.
While the appointment of a woman to run Mexico's nationwide security plan is noteworthy, Chapa didn't feel it was something to celebrate given a lack of female security chiefs at the state and municipal level. “There are some, but very few,” she said.
The majority of the first chairs in Rodríguez’s orchestra remain male and continue being the majority of the decision-makers who implement the plans on the ground and throughout the apparatus.
“We haven't seen, within this administration, a female police officer from the federal government that is below a female security chief,” said Chapa, expressing doubt that it would happen in the near future.