MEXICO CITY – The lower house of the Mexican Congress approved on Friday a controversial bill institutionalizing a role for the armed forces in law enforcement.
By a vote of 262-25, the chamber passed the final version of the Internal Security Law, which will now go to President Enrique Peña Nieto for his signature.
Coming on the final day of the 2017 congressional session, the vote followed 16 hours of often heated debate.
The bill provides a formal legal framework for a practice that goes back a decade.
Conservative Felipe Calderon, who took office in December 2006 after winning the presidency by the narrowest margin in Mexican history, ordered the armed forces to take the lead in the “war on drugs.”
The escalation spurred an explosion in violence, with 121,683 homicides over the course of Calderon’s six-year term.
Statistics released in October by the federal public safety office put the total number of murders since 2007 at 233,000. In addition, an estimated 30,000 people have been “disappeared” over the same period.
The bill passed Friday makes protection of internal security a function of the federal government and creates a mechanism for municipal and state authorities to request an intervention by the federal police or armed forces.
The initial authorization would be for 12 months, subject to renewal.
The legislation also gives the president authority to order immediate action by federal forces in the event of “grave danger to the physical integrity of persons or the functioning of institutions.”
Under consideration for a year, the bill has sharply divided Mexican society.
“I want to affirm in front of the nation, of everybody, of my family, that it is a constitutional law, which complies with all requirements, which does not violate any right and which will not militarize the country. Enough of lying!,” ruling-party congresswoman Mercedes Guillen said during the debate.
Leftist lawmaker Rocio Nahle, meanwhile, criticized the use of the armed forces “in this senseless war.”
“Today, we the legislators have irresponsibly created a permanent state of siege,” she said.
Mexican and international human rights bodies have been unanimous in condemning the proposed law.
Instead of militarizing law enforcement, Mexico should improve training and equipment for its beleaguered local police departments, the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights said.
Within hours of the vote in Congress, lawmakers from the Citizens Movement party said they would ask Mexico’s Supreme Court to throw out the Internal Security Law as unconstitutional.
Party member Clemente Castañeda told a press conference that the measure will do nothing to improve public safety and will generate “perverse incentives” to neglect improvements to civilian law enforcement agencies.
“We will absolutely not stand aside and we have said so from the beginning. It is a law that plainly and simply has no reason to exist,” he said.