Mexican Interior Minister Dies in Helicopter Crash

A top official in Mexico’s drug war and its second-highest leader after President Felipe Calderon was killed along with seven other people after their helicopter crashed south of the capital.

Foggy conditions may have caused Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora’s helicopter to crash en route from Mexico City to Cuernavaca, Calderon said in a televised speech. Blake Mora was traveling to the city for a meeting with judicial officials.

While the government continues to investigate the cause, the weather conditions “certainly have us thinking of the probability it was an accident,” Calderon said. The helicopter had been guarded at all times by the presidential guard and underwent rigorous maintenance, he said.

“He was above all a great Mexican who deeply loved his country and served it until the last moment of his life,” Calderon said of Blake Mora.

Mexico’s Interior minister is the country’s top official after the president. In addition to coordinating action among security and law-enforcement agencies, he oversees the administration’s relations with Congress, response to natural disasters and the monitoring of dissident groups.

Condolences From Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama called Calderon from Air Force One to express his condolences at the beginning of a nine-day trip to Hawaii and Australia and other nations.

The U.S. “deeply regrets the loss of these officials,” who the administration considered “close partners of the United States, and strong public servants for the Mexican people,” according to an e-mailed statement from the White House. The president told Calderon he would “stay in close contact” and offered to help Mexico, according to the statement.

Calderon cancelled a trip to attend the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Hawaii after the crash, the presidential office said in a statement posted on the Twitter website.

Eight passengers and crew members were on board, including Deputy Interior Minister Felipe Zamora and spokesman Jose Alfredo Garcia.

Reduced Violence

Blake Mora, 45, entered politics in his native Tijuana in the 1990s. A lawyer by training, he served in Congress for Calderon’s National Action Party from 2000 to 2003. He then returned to Baja California, eventually becoming the No. 2 state official at a time that drug-fueled violence began to ease. Calderon named him Interior Minister in July 2010.

“‘No doubt he contributed to the reduction of violence in Tijuana,” said George Grayson, professor of government at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Alejandro Schtulmann, research director for Emerging Markets Political Risk Analysis, a Mexico City consulting firm, said it’s unlikely that drug gangs had a hand in the chopper’s crash because they wouldn’t stand to benefit from his removal.

“I don’t think he was the mover and shaker” in the drug war, Schtulmann said in a telephone interview from Mexico City. “As interior minister, he would coordinate things in a more general way.”

Second to Die

Blake Mora is the second interior minister in Calderon’s administration to die in an aviation accident. Juan Camilo Mourino died along with other security officials when their Learjet plane crashed in a busy Mexico City neighborhood three years ago. Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, who served as former President Vicente Fox’s top prosecutor against organized crime, also died in the crash, which killed 15 people. The government blamed the crash on pilot error.

Calderon’s government is locked in a battle with drug trafficking organizations that has led to the deaths of around 43,000 people since he took office in December 2006.

The state of Morelos, where Blake Mora was heading, was a base of operation for the so-called Beltran Leyva Cartel, which security officials say has splintered since Mexican marines gunned down its leader Arturo Beltran-Leyva in a Cuernavaca condominium in 2009.

Mexico’s peso pared gains and briefly fell from yesterday’s closing level after the government said Blake Mora was killed. The currency rose 0.3 percent to 13.4973 per U.S. dollar at 2:34 p.m. in Mexico City, from 13.5387 yesterday.

Mexico’s benchmark peso bonds fell, while the IPC Index of Mexican stocks briefly trimmed its increase before resuming its advance.

“If they confirm that it was some sort of assassination, the risk perception would change in the short run,” said Jorge Lagunas, who manages about $200 million at Mexico City-based Grupo Financiero Interacciones SA. “Until then I think absolutely nothing is changing.”

– Article originally from Bloomberg.