UPDATE 1-Mexicans wary of choice for new interior minister

* Baja California official fourth pick in under four years

* Critics question Blake’s experience for major post

* Role includes advancing Calderon’s stalled agenda

(Adds quote from ruling party senator, paragraphs 7-8)

By Tim Gaynor

MEXICO CITY, July 15 (BestGrowthStock) – Mexican opposition
politicians key to passing economic reforms reacted warily to
President Felipe Calderon’s little-known pick for interior
minister, saying his lack of experience could be an obstacle.

Calderon appointed Jose Francisco Blake, an official from
northern Mexico, on Wednesday to replace the unpopular Fernando
Gomez Mont, who angered political allies and upset Mexicans for
playing down the death toll in the country’s raging drug war.
[ID:nN14169673]

Blake, 44, Calderon’s fourth interior minister in under
four years, was plucked from regional government in northern
Baja California state and is barely known at the national
level.

“For the good of the country, let’s hope he’s up to it,”
said Francisco Rojas, the leader of the opposition
Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in the lower house
of Congress. Without a majority in Congress, Calderon will need
Blake to woo the PRI, push through Calderon’s economic reforms,
and shore up support for the president’s drug war.

In a statement following Blake’s appointment, the PRI’s
official line was diplomatic, saying his experience in state
government “could be useful in building a fruitful
relationship.”

Calderon, a conservative who took office in December 2006,
has staked his presidency on beating back drug cartels fighting
over U.S. smuggling routes. He is also trying to push key
economic reforms through Congress, but has had little success
so far.

Commentators have frequently criticized Calderon for
appointing close friends and allies from his ruling National
Action Party, or PAN, to the cabinet even if they were not the
most qualified, and Wednesday’s pick appeared to follow that
trend. Members of Calderon’s own party also expressed doubts.

Asked if Blake was up to the job, Alejandro Gonzalez, a PAN
senator and former Baja California governor, told Reforma
newspaper: “That is something I wouldn’t dare to say.”

Columnists questioned Blake’s experience and readiness to
take up the No. 2 post in government at a time when Calderon’s
party faces waning support and no clear candidate for the 2012
presidential elections. “The president remains faithful to his
formula of naming close allies (and) low-profile PAN
activists,” wrote Diodoro Carrasco, a former PRI governor of
the southern state of Oaxaca in a column in the daily Milenio
newspaper.

SURPRISE PICK

Even in Baja California state, across the border from San
Diego, many were surprised by the choice for such a senior
position.

“I don’t think Blake is going to get results; he doesn’t
have any of the qualities you look for in an interior minister.
You may as well offer the job to your neighbor’s son,” said
Victor Clark-Alfaro, a political analyst at San Diego State
University.

Mexicans are desperate to see an end to the drug violence
that has killed more than 26,000 people since Calderon took
office and dispatched troops across Mexico to try to crush drug
cartels. Most were happy to see Gomez Mont go, but few
celebrated Blake’s arrival.

“He has appointed another close friend,” said rights worker
Emilia Gonzalez in Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas.

Drug killings in that border city are nearing the grim
milestone of 6,000 since Calderon took office. “Calderon is
more interested in feeling secure in his circle than in
resolving the situation in Ciudad Juarez,” she added.

Calderon also wants to regain momentum on reforms to boost
Mexico’s low tax revenue, relax labor laws and allow more
foreign investment in the state-controlled oil sector.

Calderon looked nimble on the legislation front early in
his term, passing moderate pension, fiscal and energy bills.
But since his party lost mid-term elections last year, the
president has struggled to push anything substantial through
the opposition-led Congress.

Blake told local radio on Thursday he would make a priority
of seeking dialogue with rival parties.

“We are going to seek the frank dialogue that is needed …
to look for common ground,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Julian Cardona in Ciudad Juarez and
Miguel Angel Gutierrez in Mexico City; Editing by Eric Walsh)

UPDATE 1-Mexicans wary of choice for new interior minister