Mexico's interior secretary dies in helicopter accident; no foul play and little policy impact

By Carlos Ramirez

The death of Mexico's Interior Secretary Francisco Blake in a helicopter crash on Nov. 11 initially sparked fears of foul play, perhaps by drug traffickers. The early evidence, however, points to a tragic accident caused by bad weather and all but rules out any sabotage or criminal intent. As a result, the policy ramifications of his death will be limited.

The government immediately called for an exhaustive inquiry into the accident and has been forthcoming with evidence. The Ministry of Communication, formally in charge of the investigations, provided enough information in the days following the crash to dispel speculation that foul play was involved. According to analysis, the best explanation so far is that heavy fog in the area contributed to pilot error that resulted in the helicopter crashing on a hillside. There is no evidence of mechanical failure or signs of sabotage.

The similarity to an earlier incident likely prompted the government's relative openness. The accident occurred three years after the death of the former interior secretary Juan Camilo Mourino in a plane crash in Mexico City. Mourino's death also initially generated suspicions of sabotage by drug traffickers and that speculation likely underpinned the government's response this time around.

Like Mourino, Blake was a close associate of President Felipe Calderon. He joined the administration in 2010 as Calderon's fourth interior secretary. Blake and Calderon grew close when both served in the lower chamber of congress between 2000 and 2003. Although he was a surprise choice to head the Interior Secretariat, he impressed with a low-key but effective approach to negotiating with the opposition.

The policy implications of Blake's death, however, will be limited. The Interior Secretariat plays an important role in government affairs ranging from congressional negotiations to elections, but it is more a facilitator than policymaker. Also, all major initiatives-such as labor reform-are on hold until the next president takes office (there is only one full congressional session before the July 2012 presidential election). The secretariat has also ceded much of its earlier oversight of security policy to other agencies. And while Blake was an effective mediator between different institutions involved in day-to-day security policy, his death will not disrupt policies designed and implemented by the Public Security Secretariat, the Secretariats of Defense and Navy, and the Attorney General's Department.

Carlos Ramirez is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Latin America practice.