The Death of Mexico's Interior Minister: History Repeats Itself, Eerily

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Eduardo Verdugo / AP

Mexico's Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora attends his his swearing in ceremony at Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, July 14, 2010. The Mexican government said Friday Nov. 11, 2011, that Mora, Mexico's No. 2 government official next to the president, has died in a helicopter crash with seven others, including the pilot.

Mexican Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora's last Twitter message was posted on Nov. 4 — the third anniversary of the death of former Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño in a government Learjet crash over Mexico City. "Today we remember Juan Camilo Mouriño three years after his passing, a human being who worked toward the creation of a better Mexico," Blake tweeted.

Now Blake, 45, is dead, just a week later, himself the victim of an air crash on Nov. 11, when his government Super Puma helicopter plummeted to the ground outside Mexico City. Authorities say seven others were killed in the accident (a total of eight people, coincidentally, were also killed in the 2008 Mouriño crash). Because Mexico's Interior Minister officially heads up the nation's fight against the powerful and violent drug cartels plaguing the country, public speculation, as it did in Mouriño's case, immediately focused on the possibility of narco-assassination.

But most analysts say it's unlikely. It was later determined that Mouriño's small jet, for example, went down after getting too close to the deadly turbulence of a larger airliner's wake. Blake's helicopter, manufactured by the French-based Eurocopter, may have been trying to make an emergency landing after getting caught in foul weather on its way from Mexico City to Cuernavaca, southeast of the capital. "If they do find any elements of organized crime involvement, then the government has a grave crisis on its hands," says Alejandro Schtulmann, head of research at Emerging Markets Political Risk Analysis (EMPRA) in Mexico City. "But I don't think Mexican organized crime is sophisticated enough yet to bring down a federal government helicopter."

The most likely culprit — not just in the deaths of Mouriño and Blake but also the late head of Mexico's federal police, Ramón Martín Huerta, in another government helicopter crash in fog outside Mexico City in 2005 — was pilot error or lax aircraft maintenance, or both. Mexican political watchers tell TIME that government officials, because of Mexico's sclerotic traffic but also because of a traditional urge to project power, make excessive use of aircraft like helicopters. Weather conditions south of Mexico City on the morning of Nov. 11 probably should have prodded Blake and his entourage to drive to Cuernavaca, which is only an hour and a half by car from the capital.

The other important question, of course, is how the tragic death of yet another Interior Minister affects Mexico's drug war, which has seen 50,000 murders and 10,000 disappearances since President Felipe Calderón deployed his military against the narco-cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006. Blake "was not only an exemplary minister, he was an exemplary Mexican," said Calderón, who had to call off his trip to Hawaii this weekend for the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC), and whose sister, Luisa María Calderón, is expected to win the governorship of his home state, Michoacán, in elections that are still expected to be held on Sunday.

For the moment, Blake, who had been appointed Interior Minister in July 2010, will be replaced on an interim basis by Interior Subsecretary Juan Marcos Gutiérrez. But it may now prove difficult for Calderón to sustain inter-agency drug-war coordination, which was criticized by high-ranking U.S. officials in diplomatic cables released this year by WikiLeaks, during his last year in office.

Schtulmann, however, thinks Calderón should be able to keep the anti-cartel campaign's pieces together through the coming election year. He and other analysts say a possible permanent replacement for Blake, who was a lawyer and former Congressman from the border state of Baja California Norte, which includes Tijuana, could be Alejandro Poiré, an experienced national security figure who currently heads Mexico's National Security & Intelligence Center (CISEN).

Whoever Blake's successor will be, the Interior Minister's death simply adds another layer of trauma to a country that for the past decade has watched its security situation all but collapse in region after region, prodding the neighboring U.S. to offer up $1.5 billion in counter-narcotics aid. All most Mexicans can do this weekend is tweet the passing of another top official who was unable to put much of a dent in the cartels' power but who, by most accounts, worked toward the creation of a better Mexico.