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Drug Cartel Link in Killing of PRI Leader in Mexico Described as Weak by Source : Latin America: Official thinks some in ruling party may be pushing idea so that slaying won't appear to be political.


MEXICO CITY — Links between the notorious Gulf drug cartel and Mexico's second major political assassination in six months may be far more tenuous than some reports have suggested, a source close to the investigation said Tuesday.

The investigation thus far "has not tied the Gulf cartel or any other cartel" to the murder of Francisco Ruiz Massieu, the No. 2 official in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), said the knowledgeable official.

The Gulf cartel certainly has contacts at all levels of the Mexican government, the source said, but narcotics ties to last week's murder are weak.

However, Assistant Atty. Gen. Mario Ruiz Massieu, who is the slain man's brother, told reporters late Tuesday that, "We are working basically on three hypotheses and one has to do with political motives, the other with the possible participation with drug traffickers and the third is a combination."

Leaks from the investigation and official communiques have both emphasized that the attorney general's office is pursuing leads related to narcotics.

PRI leaders have dismissed suggestions of divisions within the party between reformers and the old guard, usually referred to as "dinosaurs."

"They don't want it to look like a political murder," the source said. "So far, all of the people involved are in the PRI. They want to take the heat away from them and put it on the drug traffickers. Nobody likes drug traffickers."

He made the comments shortly before the attorney general's office announced that another suspected conspirator, arrested Tuesday, said the trail to the mastermind of the assassination reaches higher than Congressman Manuel Munoz Rocha, already implicated in the plot.

The suspect, Jose Martin Ramirez Arauz, said that people above Munoz Rocha ordered the slaying, according to the attorney general's statement. The statement did not give any names.

Ramirez Arauz, who said he is a congressional employee, and another suspect arrested Tuesday are both relatives of Fernando Rodriguez Gonzalez, an aide to Munoz Rocha. Rodriguez Gonalez's brother, Jorge, said Fernando planned the slaying at the behest of his boss, according to previous statements from police. Both men arrested Tuesday said they were aware of the plot, according to the announcement.

The only motive Ramirez Arauz mentioned for the murder was that Munoz Rocha said the changes that Ruiz Massieu was making and planned to continue making in the PRI "got in his way," according to the statement. That coincides with a previous statement from Jorge Rodriguez Gonzalez, who police say told them that Munoz Rocha was opposed to Ruiz Massieu's reformist views and did not want him to become Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, as planned.

The ties to drug dealers rest on three weak links, according to the source:

* The minor drug record of a south Texas man who once owned the murder weapon.

* A drug investigation file that names Jorge Rodriguez Gonzalez, the suspect who, according to police, told them he bought the murder weapon and recruited the triggerman for the assassination.

* The relationship by marriage of suspected plotter Abraham Rubio Canales and alleged drug dealer Raul Valladares. Even that relationship has been exaggerated, the source said. Police believe that Rubio Canales' nephew is married to Valladares' stepdaughter, he said. Other sources had said their children were married.

Further, while Valladares is believed to be a major drug dealer, he has not been a member of the Gulf cartel for at least two years and was never particularly close to its suspected leader, the source said.

But the source said that police were questioning Rubio Canales on Tuesday. A former official in the Guerrero state government when Ruiz Massieu was governor, Rubio Canales is serving a 14-year sentence for land fraud. Police said Jorge Rodriguez Gonzalez told them that Rubio Canales conspired to murder Ruiz Massieu.

A statement from the Chamber of Deputies said that a caller claiming to be Munoz Rocha also blamed Rubio Canales. The caller, according to the statement, said he had proof that Rubio Canales had masterminded the killing and that the caller feared for his safety.

Colleagues who knew Rubio Canales early in his career remember him as a well-trained and responsible public official. They said they were shocked at his conviction on land fraud charges, not to mention suggestions that he might be involved in a killing.

Jorge Rodriguez Gonzalez, according to police, told them that Rubio Canales was bent on revenge, blaming Ruiz Massieu for his imprisonment. But PRI officials have played down allegations that the assassination was the result of splits within the party.

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