<!--:es-->Former Mexican interior secretary dead at 59<!--:-->

Former Mexican interior secretary dead at 59

MEXICO CITY – Former Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal, an impassioned proponent of putting Christianity back into Mexican politics, died Tuesday of stomach cancer, his conservative National Action Party said. He was 59. Abascal was a controversial figure in a country with strong anti-clerical traditions.

“A Christian has to transform the world, precisely because he knows how to do it,” a visibly frail Abascal said in a speech at a ceremony honoring him just a week before his death. He called on the audience to “carry out the work of the Evangelists in politics, in the economy, in society, always with happiness.”

That kind of openly religious language from a high-ranking official had seldom been heard in Mexico since the 1860s, when reform President Benito Juarez passed laws aimed at breaking the economic and social domination of the church in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation. Following the 1910-17 revolution, the government passed ever-stricter anti-clerical laws, leading to an armed uprising by militant Catholics in the late 1920s, an event that further widened the breach between politics and religion.

Abascal served as labor secretary under former President Vicente Fox from 2000-05, when he took over the interior department, Mexico’s top national security post, for about a year.

As labor secretary, he was known for his largely unsuccessful attempt to reform Mexico’s antiquated labor laws. His appointment was controversial because he had previously served as a leader of the Mexican Employers’ Confederation, reflecting the conservative and pro-business tenor of Fox’s administration.

Fox and his wife Marta Sahagun issued a joint statement saying “we have lost a great Mexican, a great man who dedicated his life to the service of others and the promotion of authentic spiritual and moral values.”

In his own statement, President Felipe Calderon called Abascal an “exemplary Mexican” who was “committed to the country’s democracy.”

Abascal was fiercely criticized for his efforts to get Carlos Fuentes’ novel “Aura” dropped from a suggested reading list at his daughter’s private junior high school, on the grounds it was too racy. The 2001 incident resulted in a reprimand for the teacher who assigned the list.

The novel contains a brief, stylized account of a romantic encounter beneath a crucifix of the kind commonly hung above beds in Mexico.

At a book fair in Guadalajara on Monday, Fuentes said the attempt to ban “Aura” was the best thing that could have happened to the novel. He did not mention Abascal.

“Thanks to that censorship, sales of the book multiplied, they jumped to 20,000 copies a week,” Fuentes said an event titled, “One thousand young people read Aura.” Abascal is survived by his wife and five children. A memorial service was scheduled for Tuesday.