CLOVIS, CALIF. — If history is a guide, the assassination of Mexican presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio will turn out to be the result of a conspiracy. Indeed, last week, the father of the accused assas sin, Mario Aburto Martinez, implicated two Mexican federal security officials in the slaying. Fearful of reprisals, Aburto's mother and other relatives are seeking political asylum in America. When it comes to political terrorism in Mexico, it seems there is no lone gunman.
The government's investigation is focusing on an alleged link between Aburto, an ordinary citizen from the state of Michoacan who was supposedly motivated by visions of grandeur to save Mexico, and members of the local security detail hired to escort Colosio through the colonias of Tijuana. But these suspects may merely be the fall guys. What has been carefully concealed is that the conspiracy may have its origins within the ranks of the ruling party itself.
The Colosio assassination is rooted in a history of political violence that dates to the founding of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. In fact, it was the assassination of Alvaro Obregon, Mexico's last revolutionary hero, that prompted the party's formation in 1929. Since then, assassination has been a method of choice in eliminating anyone who falls out of step with the party oligarchy.
From its inception, the PRI has relied on local strongmen, known as \o7 caciques\f7 , to carry out its acts of political terrorism. In rural areas of Mexico, \o7 caciques\f7 have long been tolerated, even courted, by the PRI, often becoming power brokers. Although Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the leading opposition candidate, denies it, this structure was inadvertently set up by his father, Lazaro Cardenas, when, as president of Mexico (1934-40), he armed the countryside and created a people's army for national defense. Most historians and political scientists agree it was the elder Cardenas who consolidated the party into the iron-fisted oligarchy it is today.
Other than Colosio, the most recent notable political death involved one of the leading candidates of the opposing National Action Party, who died in a mysterious automobile accident during the 1988 presidential contest. The investigation into the "accident" quickly unraveled, and nothing came of it. In part, this is because commissions appointed to investigate assassinations or electoral fraud have been selected by the PRI-dominated government.
There are rumors and some indications that the Colosio assassination may have been orchestrated by factions within the PRI who felt that the party was moving too rapidly to liberalize the country's electoral process and that the reforms promoted by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari jeopardized their continuing hold on power. In Mexico, they refer to this faction as \o7 Los Dinosaurios\f7 (the dinosaurs) and include among its members former presidents Jose Lopez Portillo and Luis Echeverria Alvarez. Ironically, during his administration, Echeverria portrayed himself as an egalitarian leader with socialist leanings. Portillo wept for Mexico's poor during a televised speech, even as he built himself an estate with public money that included a two-story library.
Together with old school regulars who are entrenched in the party, \o7 Los Dinosaurios\f7 stand as the major obstacle to Mexico's transition to a more democratic and pluralistic form of government. They espouse old revolutionary rhetoric and believe the ideals of the Revolution were placed in PRI hands to be defended against any opposition, even from within the party. They believe that staying in power is a right, not a privilege.
\o7 Los Dinosaurios\f7 cling dogmatically to a form of government known as \o7 presidencialismo\f7 , in which the president is viewed as the all-powerful head of state, as well as party dictator. They refuse even to consider that the nation's Congress, as representative of the people, might have a legitimate say in public policy.
\o7 Los Dinosaurios\f7 are paternalistic, nationalistic and rigid. Educated and trained in Mexico, they principally come from the wealthy families who have controlled the politics and the economy of the country. They promoted and supported a government monopoly in such principal industries as transportation, telecommunications and oil. They stand in marked contrast to the new generation of rising American-educated technocrats who have a more international perspective and who understand that the transition to a more democratic form of government is the only way the PRI will survive.