Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mexico crime fighters die in air crash

By Adam Thomson in Mexico City

Published: November 5 2008 03:57 | Last updated: November 5 2008 03:57

Two of Mexico’s top crime fighters died in a plane crash Tuesday night, leaving the government’s cabinet in tatters and serious questions hanging over the future of the country’s anti-narcotics strategy.

The victims were Juan Camilo Mouriño, government secretary and the man responsible for coordinating Mexico’s war against organised crime, and José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, a presidential advisor on security issues. According to local media reports, several motorists also died after the plane carrying the government officials ploughed into rush-hour traffic in Mexico City.

The cause of the tragedy was still unclear, but there was some concern that it may have been the work of one of the country’s powerful drugs cartels. By late Tuesday night, however, there was still no evidence to support those suspicions.

The news of the deaths will doubtless come as devastating news for Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s centre-right president. Mr Calderon appointed Mouriño to the post of government secretary in January this year, and considered him both a personal friend and a close confident.

His death, together with that of Vasconcelos, leaves a huge hole in Mr Calderon’s anti-crime team, and it is not clear how Mr Calderon can fill it. Late Tuesday, Jorge Zepeda, a political analyst, said: ”This leaves Calderon against the wall. Mouriño was the brains behind the anti-narcotics strategy.”

The tragic loss comes as Mexico finds itself embroiled in the bloodiest narcotics war in its history. So far this year, more than 3,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence – a rise of about 50 per cent compared with 2007.

Last night, Mr Calderon lamented Mouriño’s death. At an impromptu press conference at Mexico City’s international airport, he called on Mexicans to pull together. ”This is a powerful reason to work without rest, and now more than ever, for the ideals that we share. I am instructing my team to redouble their efforts.”

Mouriño was 37 years old. He was married with three daughters aged, nine, six and three.

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