Ramon Martin Huerta

Mexican minister who was a marked man
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The Independent Online

Ramón Martín Huerta, who, as Minister for Public Security, led Mexico's fight against narcotics trafficking and drugs-related violence, was also the conservative President Vicente Fox's closest political ally and a key figure in pushing Fox from business into politics.

Fox turned to his old friend in August last year to head the key Public Security department, which oversees the uniformed federal police and some special army units, after public disillusionment and street protests over growing insecurity, particularly along the Mexico-US border. Dozens of people were being killed every month, mostly the victims of "turf wars" among Mexican druglords fighting for the lucrative cocaine and marijuana routes into the United States.

Martín Huerta, considered on the far right of his National Action Party (Pan), immediately sent hundreds of police and soldiers to border towns such as Tijuana, Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros - in an operation he called Mexico Seguro ("A Secure Mexico") - but it was like plugging a flooded dyke with his finger as the trafficking, killings and kidnappings not only continued but intensified. Most recently, he was faced with the fact that two of the country's biggest rival druglords, Osiel Cárdenas and Benjamín Arellano Félix, both in jail near Mexico City, had joined forces and were running the narcotics trade from behind bars by computer and mobile phone. Martín Huerta knew this was possible only through the collusion of prison guards, and ordered the latter to undergo drugs tests and lie-detectors, but there was no sign that the druglords were scaling back their activities.

Ramón Martín Huerta was born in 1957, in the town of San Juan de los Lagos in the state of Jalisco. As a young man, he headed the Catholic Association of Mexican Youth but the moved to the city of León, in the state of Guanajuato, at the age of 22, where he got a degree in Business Administration and within five years headed the state's Association of Industrialists. He turned to politics in the late 1980s, first winning a local seat in León, later in the federal parliament in Mexico City. It was in 1987 that he introduced the Pan leader Manuel Clouthier - then heading the opposition - to the businessman Vicente Fox, and both men persuaded Fox he could help overthrow the long stranglehold on power by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Martín Huerta was Fox's campaign director when the latter failed to win the governorship of Guanajuato in 1991, and again in 1995, when Fox did win. When Fox stood down as governor in 1999 to campaign for the presidency of Mexico, he appointed Martín Huerta interim governor of Guanajuato. After Fox's historic victory over the PRI in 2000, he named Martín Huerta under- secretary in the Interior Ministry.

As the violence spiralled last year, the President put his friend at the head of the Public Security ministry, making him one of the country's most marked men. The fact that he was on his way to the maximum security La Palma prison on Wednesday when his helicopter crashed caused obvious speculation that the Bell-412 had been shot down. However, rescue workers reported that the helicopter had slammed into an 11,000ft mountaintop in thick cloud and fog.

Phil Davison