Mexico City (AFP) - Mexico approved a constitutional amendment Wednesday to create a new National Guard, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's controversial proposal to fight the violent crime racking the country.
The reform, which already had more than the required two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress, was effectively ratified after more than half Mexico's 32 state legislatures voted to approve it -- the final constitutional hurdle.
Lopez Obrador's original proposal was sharply criticized by human rights groups, which said the new force would permanently militarize the country.
But the final version was modified to put a five-year limit on the army's role in fighting crime and place the National Guard under the command of the security rather than the defense ministry.
"Seventeen state legislatures have now approved (the reform), the threshold established by the constitution," tweeted Senate leader Marti Batres, a member of the president's party, Morena.
Once the remaining state legislatures vote on the reform -- a formality -- the federal Congress will officially publish it, at which point it comes into force.
Lopez Obrador's proposal initially drew strong opposition, including in the Senate, where experts and activists testified that Mexico has been hit by an explosion of violence and human rights abuses since it first deployed the military to fight the country's powerful drug cartels in 2006.
However, after amendments to reduce the military's role in the new force, Congress passed the legislation almost unanimously, with just one vote against in the lower house.
Since the 2006 deployment, Mexico has registered nearly 250,000 murders -- including a record 33,334 last year -- as fragmented cartels wage war on the authorities and each other.
Lopez Obrador, an anti-establishment leftist, vowed during his presidential campaign last year to remove the army from the streets.
Once in office, though, he said Mexico's police forces did not have the capacity to fight crime without the military. He has floated the idea of putting a current or retired military commander in charge of the new force.
This is not the first time Mexico has attempted to overhaul its security forces.
Lopez Obrador's predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto, created a new force called the "Gendarmerie" in 2014 in a bid to bring anti-drug policing back under civilian command.
But the reform ultimately fizzled, with almost no changes on the ground.