The Mexican military is afflicted by desertions. According to documents from the Defense Ministry, 56,886 soldiers and officers have fled the army and air force over the past six years. The figures were published (in Spanish) on the animalpolitico.com website here.
That's a lot of soldiers, and to make matters worse the Mexican army has lost track of the majority of those gone AWOL. No one knows if they've joined the gangsters or are simply on the lam.
By my calculations, this is somewhere around a fourth or a fifth the number of the standing army, although trying to figure out how many soldiers Mexico has is not easy. I've just spent 10 minutes researching and come up with figures between 242,000 and over 300,000. This may be a reflection of featherbedding ranks so that higher ranking officers can pocket the salaries.
Animal Politico said that Sedena has tracked down and sanctioned only two of every 10 soldiers gone missing. The rest have escaped any punishment. The site says punishments can range from a month to six years in prison, depending on the rank of the desertor.
If this figure seems high, it was even higher for the period 2000-2006. The website says the ministry told it 106,813 soldiers went missing during that period.
To understand why the desertion problem is so severe, one can catch a glimmer of the reasons from the comments posted to the article.
One person writes: "With those starvation salaries and the risks, let's see who turns out the lights."
Another writes: "Is it because Mexican military tradition is a tradition of an army staying in the barracks or marching in an annual military parade? An army at the personal service of politicians, their relatives and friends? An army at the service of those temporarily in power? That is to say, a shoddy army?..."