No story has received as much in attention last week as the death of Mexico’s interior minister, Francisco Blake Mora, in a helicopter crash on the morning of Nov. 11. Effectively the vice president in a country without one, head of domestic affairs and CISEN, Mexico’s equivalent of the CIA, Blake Mora was the “chief public servant carrying a message to stay tough and bringing new offensives to states beleaguered by drug violence.”
The Super Puma helicopter carrying Blake Mora crashed into mountains near Mexico City in heavy fog, apparently after the helicopter’s pilot changed course. Foul play is not suspected, but conspiracy theories alleging government corruption or a cartel assassination — or some combination of both — have a wide reach in a country beset by a drug war that has killed more than 40,000 people. The theories were compounded by a plane crash three years ago, nearly to the date, which killed former interior minister Juan Camilo Mourino.
Blake Mora’s death will not likely affect the war, according to analysts cited in media reports, as the interior minister is relatively less powerful than the country’s defense and public security ministers and the attorney general.
Killed in the helicopter crash were Blake Mora, three air force officers belonging to the crew, Blake Mora’s security chief, two interior agency officials and Felipe Zamora, the undersecretary for legal affairs and human rights, reported the Associated Press. “I am convinced that the best way to honor his generosity and loyalty … is to intensify the struggle,” Mexican President Felipe Calderon said. “We will continue with renewed vigor and zeal.” Calderon appointed Alejandro Poire, the federal security chief and former federal security spokesman to replace the deceased Blake Mora.
The FARC guerrilla army has a new leader. Rodrigo Londono Echeverri, alias “Timochenko,” was promoted to replace former commander Alfonso Cano by the FARC’s governing secretariat last week. Cano was killed Nov. 4 by a Colombian military strike in the country’s south, dealing a severe blow to the group. The FARC announced Timochenko’s promotion and added they are “proud that the commander [Cano] has fallen fighting on the battlefield.”
What this means for the FARC is entrenchment. Timochenko, a hard-boiled military commander and cocaine boss, passed over FARC “foreign minister” Lucian Marin, aka “Ivan Marquez,” and is said to represent “the traditional and hard line side of the FARC,” writes Jeremy McDermott.
“Militarily [the FARC] are increasingly weak,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said. “The way of the gun, the way of violence will not take them anywhere. He must think about this, or he will soon meet the fate of Alfonso Cano.” Santos also said the FARC, following the death of Cano, will “fall like a house of cards.”
“This is most unlikely,” McDermott said, “as Timochenko, with almost 30 years in the FARC, has widespread respect among the rank-and-file, particularly the hardliners that form the core of the rural fighters.” This tracks with news the Colombian military has not been able to keep up with growing attacks by the FARC and networks of BACRIMs, a Spanish abbreviation for “emergent criminal bands.” Paramilitary drug cartels, essentially.
Timochenko may also be more difficult for Colombia’s military to kill than Cano, as he is said to not only operate in the remote mountains and jungles of eastern Colombia with hundreds of guerrillas acting as personal bodyguards, but is reported to move frequently into Venezuela. Thus, the Colombian military cannot follow, as they risk inciting war with their neighbor. The two countries nearly went to war in 2008 following the death of FARC commander Raul Reyes in a military strike by Colombian forces within Ecuadorian territory.
Southern Partnership Station
The U.S. Navy High Speed Vessel 2 Swift catamaran is in the Dominican Republic this month. The vessel’s mission: send in the Marines — to train with their Dominican counterparts in “land navigation, marksmanship, first aid and tactics.” Navy personnel will also train Dominican sailors in maintenance and in safety exercises. On the humanitarian front: deploy school desks, medical equipment and water filters, among other items.
It’s the latest example of the Navy’s “soft power” strategy applied to Latin America. And instead of ships, think “sea bases,” with free medical and veterinary care, and pallets of construction equipment. Swift, as a speedy, low-profile vessel, is also a leaner alternative to hulking warships, although with fewer personnel. “Swift is a unique platform that allows us to make lasting bonds with our partner nations,” Cmdr. Gary Wright said.