Saturday, May 15

National Palace 8M: López Obrador’s anti-drone defense

Image distributed on the account of Jesus Ramírez presidential spokesperson.
Image distributed on the account of Jesus Ramírez presidential spokesperson.Twitter / @JesusRCuevas

The drones became on the day of 8-M a matter of national security. During the demonstrations on Monday for International Women’s Day, a handful of agents with anti-drone devices from the roof of the National Palace, current residence of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, caused alarm among the protesters. Given the warning signs from the women who described the agents carrying objects similar to weapons, the spokesman for the presidency Jesús Ramírez assured through his Twitter account that they were inhibitors to prevent drone flights over the colonial building. It is the first time that devices of this type were so evident during the course of a citizen protest, according to security experts consulted by this newspaper.

The Government of Mexico City deployed more than 2,300 police officers and surrounded 34 monuments during the feminist mobilizations of 8-M. One of the most prominent sites to protect was the National Palace, the official residence and headquarters of the Executive, which was walled in with metal fences since Friday in anticipation of the protesters’ clash. The demonstration left 81 injured and four arrested according to the latest report from the capital authorities. The head of Government, Claudia Sheinbaum, insisted on Tuesday morning that tear gas was not used to repress the contingents that charged against the protection of the palace. This despite the numerous images of clashes between the police and the women and testimonies of those affected by irritant gas. Officers stationed on the roof of the residence, wielding signal-inhibiting rifles, completed the photograph of the use of force during the commemoration of Women’s Day.

In September, the Ministry of Defense (Sedena) bought four anti-drone equipment from the company INT Intelligence and Telecom Technologies México. The act of the tender, available on the Compranet portal, shows that this type of artifact had a unit cost of 816,262 pesos, about $ 38,300. In total, the Army disbursed 3.7 million pesos ($ 178,000) for the devices. According to information from the manufacturer Hikvision, the devices of the UAV-D04JAI Jammer model have a range of up to 1,200 meters, a weight of seven kilos and the rifle is connected to a battery that guarantees the operation of the inhibitor for up to 10 hours.

For the photographer Santiago Arau, who has used drones to capture images for five years, the use of these drone inhibitors was an exaggerated measure and he criticized that the authorities did not previously communicate the use of these devices in order to avoid an accident. “They are blocking a signal from a device that is flying over thousands of people who are down which can cause an accident. A drone falls from the sky and hits a person, it can kill them, “he said.

Arau said she planned to capture aerial images of the feminist march at the edge of five in the afternoon. From his first takeoff it was evident that unusual interference was preventing him from having full control of his drone, so he decided not to fly. The photographer added that there is no precedent in Mexico to consider drones as a national threat. “In the march, the function of a drone is to try to communicate and share the feelings of a movement as important as the feminist movement,” she said.

Anti-drone rifles work by sending electromagnetic waves that make the device lose awareness of its satellites and the remote control signal of the person who is piloting them, so it cannot continue the flight. The Mexican photographer, who has long experience shooting areas on the plateau of the Zócalo in Mexico City, assured that this is the first time he has had problems flying a device because of these inhibitors. He, who has portrayed the entire border and much of the country from a bird’s eye view, has managed to fly drones, with prior authorization, in federal areas.

The Ministry of Communications and Transportation prohibits the operation of these devices in restricted or dangerous areas, to transport risky goods, prohibited substances, weapons, explosives or operate in open or closed places where more than 12 people gather. Drones weighing more than two kilos must have a special permit for their handling, while devices with a lower weight must only comply with the provisions established for recreational or commercial use.

For Alejandro Hope, a security analyst, the use of drone jammers during the march seemed more like a provocation than an element of protection. The expert added that the decision to use anti-drone rifles, wall off the National Palace and even launch tear gas at the attendees attest to the escalation of tension by the López Obrador Administration with the feminist movement. “The images are devastating, the battle for the image is lost by the federal government,” he mentioned.

Daniel Gómez, another security analyst, questioned the visible deployment of this type of inhibitor during a mobilization. “There are photos and videos of the National Palace from the air, which are obviously taken with drones and they have not been downloaded, I understand that for security reasons these types of devices are used [inhibidores]What I don’t understand is why they are being taken out at that moment in such an ostentatiously visible way ”, he pointed out.

Gómez believes that the government failed to guarantee the safety of those attending the mobilization and of the police, many of them also women. “At this moment there is no protocol, a manual, or a law on the use of public force that guarantees the human rights of anyone. We will see these images repeated throughout the electoral campaign on many levels, ”he explained.

The level of vigilance and protection that was shown to safeguard the National Palace during the 8-M day contrasts with the null security guarantees of women who live in a country where 10 femicides are perpetrated a day and where 99% of sexual crimes go unpunished.

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