Mexico’ domestic security resigns; ex-congressmen who fought cartels replaces him

By Mark Stevenson, AP
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mexican president replaces top security official

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s president accepted the resignation Wednesday of his top domestic security official, Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez Mont, and named a former congressman with experience in fighting drug cartels to replace him.

President Felipe Calderon praised the hands-on experience the new federal interior secretary, Jose Francisco Blake, gained serving in the same post at the state level in Baja California, a border state plagued by drug violence.

“In that position, he has played a fundamental role in confronting in a decisive way the problems of violence in that state,” Calderon said of Blake, who will oversee the multi-agency national security council.

“The knowledge he has of crime, and the good relations he managed to build between the police and army in the fight against crime in Baja California, will without doubt be of great value in strengthening the fight for public safety,” Calderon said.

Mexico’s federal police and the army have played the leading roles in a war against drug cartels that has cost more than 22,700 lives since Calderon announced an anti-drug offensive in late 2006.

But in many regions, the army has voiced mistrust of corruption-ridden local police forces.

The Interior Department that Blake will head plays a key role in coordinating efforts between the forces and intelligence gathering. It also recently began promoting a series of social programs it said are aimed at reducing the poverty and unemployment that contribute to the drug problem.

One of the challenges facing the new interior secretary will be gaining approval for a government proposal to combine scattered, ill-equipped and poorly supervised city police forces into single, statewide forces.

Calderon praised Gomez Mont, but more for his efforts at political reforms since assuming the post in November 2008 than for any hands-on involvement in the war against drug cartels.

Gomez Mont’s most famous moment in the drug war was an undignified moment in the drug-plagued border city of Ciudad Juarez when a heckler slapped him in the back of the head.

Calderon suggested that Gomez, a prominent lawyer and gifted orator with little or no law enforcement experience, would return to private practice.

The leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, welcomed Gomez Mont’s resignation.

In a statement, the PRD said his exit “puts an end to a period of constant confrontation between the former head of domestic policy and the opposition parties, who he always treated with disrespect.”

The resignation came after a highly publicized dispute between Gomez Mont and Calderon over the advisability of forming electoral alliances with leftist parties like the PRD to prevent a predicted wave of victories by the old ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Gomez Mont heatedly opposed such alliances, and resigned from Calderon’s conservative National Action Party in February to protest the pacts, which some party members said placed in doubt the party’s ideological underpinnings.

However, the alliances helped coalition candidates wrest two important governorships from the PRI in the country’s July 4th elections.

He also angered the opposition by overseeing the liquidation of a state-owned electrical power company whose militant union had been a constant thorn in the side of the government.

The new interior secretary, Blake, stressed his commitment to human rights and press freedoms, and promised “a democratic security policy, supported not only by the forces of law and order, but also by the three branches of government, and society as a whole.”

“We will have to specially direct our efforts in meeting the challenges to public safety and the fight against organized crime,” Blake said in accepting the post.

Gomez Mont was also hurt by the antics of his brother Miguel — the former head of the country’s tourism investment fund — who was involved in an embarrassing scuffle at the soccer World Cup in June, and later resigned.

Calderon also announced the appointment of Bruno Ferrari, the former head of the country’s investment promotion agency, as economy secretary, to replace Gerardo Ruiz Mateos, who will move on to become Calderon’s chief-of-staff.

Ferrari said Mexico has “been promoting a responsible and profound transformation,” and pledged to continue that work.

But while it has passed tax and regulatory reforms, Calderon’s administration has made little headway on its biggest challenge — reforming the country’s antiquated labor laws and opening the state-controlled oil sector to greater private participation.

Ferrari said he would continue to make Mexico more investment-friendly, more competitive and productive, and pledged greater economic growth and job creation, but did not say what specific reforms he would pursue in the two years left in the administration.

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