Mexican president picks first woman to head security ministry

Dave Graham
·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador delivers his second state of the union address at National Palace in Mexico City
FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador delivers his second state of the union address at National Palace in Mexico City

By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's president has chosen a woman to lead the security ministry for the first time, tasking her with bringing to heel heavily armed drug gangs that have fueled chronic violence and caused tens of thousands of deaths.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday he wanted Rosa Icela Rodriguez, a loyal political ally who is currently in charge of Mexico's ports, to become security minister, replacing powerful incumbent Alfonso Durazo.

Rodriguez, a former journalist who cut her teeth in public administration in various posts during successive left-leaning Mexico City governments, is regarded as politically astute, as well as close to Lopez Obrador's wife, Beatriz Gutierrez.

Before taking charge of the ports in July, Rodriguez was Mexico City interior minister under Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, earning plaudits for keeping order when the capital had to cope with unparalleled curbs against the coronavirus this spring.

"She did a good job in charge of the Mexico City interior ministry," said Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, praising her appointment.

Rodriguez is largely untested at a national level, and few jobs have proven more taxing than improving security.

Announcing his decision during a regular news conference, Lopez Obrador said he did not yet know whether Rodriguez would accept the post, because she was still recovering from COVID-19.

She faces a daunting task, with homicides reaching record levels on Lopez Obrador's watch in spite of his pledge when he took office in December 2018 to reduce violence.

Benitez said he hoped Rodriguez would be less prone to trying to put a positive spin on crime statistics, and believed that having a woman in charge could give her more clout in tackling rising femicides, or gender-based murders of women.

Outgoing minister Durazo is stepping down to run for the governorship of the northern state of Sonora in 2021.

Rodriguez's nomination comes just a few days after a scandal engulfed the armed forces with the arrest in Los Angeles of former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos on drugs charges.

Putting Rodriguez in charge of security should act as useful check on the military, which had threatened to accumulate more and more power until Cienfuegos' arrest, security expert Benitez said.

How she fared would depend heavily on her relations with intelligence chiefs and the National Guard, the militarized police force Lopez Obrador created to tackle the cartels, he added.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; writing by Laura Gottesdiener; editing by Jonathan Oatis)