An undersecretary of public security, Rafael Rios Garcia, will serve as interim security secretary until a permanent replacement can be found for Ramon Martin Huerta, who was killed Wednesday along with eight others in a midday helicopter crash.
Huerta, who joined President Vicente Fox’s Cabinet a year ago, was flying to a ceremony for new guards at the maximum-security La Palma prison when the Bell 412 helicopter in which he was riding apparently lost its bearings in the fog and flew into a mountainside about 20 miles from the capital, officials said.
Huerta’s high profile job as the nation’s top federal law enforcement officer and the man given the task of quelling the nation’s growing drug wars prompted immediate suspicion that the crash was not an accident.
One of those killed, Jose Antonio Bernal, worked for the country’s Human Rights Commission and reportedly had been threatened earlier this year by one of the cartel leaders imprisoned at La Palma. Federal Police Chief Gen. Tomas Valencia was also killed in the crash.
But a government spokesman said Thursday that bad weather and poor visibility appeared to have caused the crash, which was being investigated by civil aviation authorities.
Rios, Huerta’s temporary replacement, told reporters Thursday that he would not veer from the government’s effort to rein in drug smugglers, apparently from the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels that are fighting to control routes through Nuevo Laredo and other border cities.
“The best way to honor the memory of Secretary Martin Huerta is to continue his programs and the objectives he defined and gave to everyone,” Rios said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”
Rios, who is an attorney, had been Huerta’s deputy since January. He worked as an analyst for the Mexican intelligence service from 1994 to 1997 before teaching at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.
Fox, Cabinet members and several of Mexico’s 31 governors joined hundreds of people Thursday evening at a memorial service in a sprawling garden near Los Pinos, the presidential palace in Mexico City.
Fox and his Cabinet stood in silence in front of the flag-draped caskets of eight of the nine victims. Fox and his wife then hugged mourners and whispered condolences.
Huerta is survived by his wife and three children.
Carlos Abascal, Mexico’s interior secretary, spoke at the service.
“Ramon, amigo, colleague. Just a few days ago you told me that people were judged by love, and love was judged by actions,” Abascal said, his voice breaking. “Now that you are no longer with us, we can now say that you passed the test of love.”
Times researchers Carlos Martinez and Cecilia Sanchez contributed to this report.