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Mexico's Ex-Leader Denies His Brother Plotted Killing

March 02, 1995|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — Carlos Salinas de Gortari publicly defended himself and his family Wednesday, continuing to shatter a decades-long Mexican tradition of former presidents keeping silent after leaving office.

His action also signaled to many analysts that this nation's 66-year-old system of authoritarian, one-party rule is rupturing under the weight of a single arrest and of President Ernesto Zedillo's promise of equal justice and reform.

The former president blasted as "absurd" Tuesday's arrest of his older brother, Raul Salinas de Gortari. The elder Salinas is charged with masterminding last year's murder of Francisco Ruiz Massieu, the secretary general of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

"I will only say that the motive appears to me incredible, suggesting that someone from the Salinas family was against the political progressiveness of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu," the former president said in his third telephone call in 24 hours to a national television station.

He noted that he had personally promoted Ruiz Massieu for the PRI's No. 2 spot, and said of the late politician: "He was a modernist within the modernization program that I pushed. Therefore, I repeat, the motive alluded to appears absurd. And finally, I reiterate that I am convinced of the innocence of my brother."

Within hours of his broadcast statement, Mexico's state news agency, Notimex, reported that the former president had formally withdrawn his candidacy to head the new World Trade Organization. After he left office Nov. 31, the Harvard-educated Salinas went on a tour of world capitals, lobbying--with strong American backing--for his dream post as international trade czar.

Meantime, in an apparent response to the former president's remarks, Atty. Gen. Antonio Lozano issued his own statement: a two-line communique underscoring that the motive in Ruiz Massieu's Sept. 28 slaying has yet to be determined but that it will be made clear.

Salinas' defense of himself and his brother, analysts said, was as far out of Mexico's traditional political bounds as was Zedillo's decision to permit the arrest of the elder Salinas.

Although the public evidence for it seems lean at best, Tuesday's arrest was the first such criminal action against a previous government in an unbroken succession of PRI presidents since 1936. In that year, Lazaro Cardenas officially exiled his predecessor, Plutarco Elias Calles, to the United States.

Indeed, events of the last 48 hours here convinced most analysts that the arcane system prevailing in Mexico since the PRI took office in 1929 has begun to crumble--this after weeks of fraying under Zedillo's continuing efforts to fulfill his promises to separate his party from state power and enforce a new rule of equal justice.

The Salinas arrest came on the heels of a bitter PRI election defeat two weeks ago in the strategic state of Jalisco and the allegation by Lozano a week later of a wide conspiracy involving party stalwarts in the assassination of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the PRI presidential candidate, last March.

In that context, the arrest of the former president's brother was seen as a powerful, concrete sign that the PRI's years of ruling with impunity are over.

"The old Mexican regime is being toppled with pick and shovel," political columnist Raymundo Riva Palacio declared.

"Rupture in the system," said the simple headline in the capital's prestigious financial daily, El Financiero.

"Zedillo and Salinas split," concluded the daily newspaper Reforma.

Capitalizing on the apparent rupture, the conservative National Action Party, or PAN--which swept the Jalisco elections and is ahead in two other key state contests that will be held in May--said the Salinas arrest "reflects an important change in the national life of Mexico. The construction of an authentic rule of law in our nation demands decisive actions like these."

The left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, called it the beginning of the end for the PRI.

Declaring the arrest "a very important historical event," prominent Mexican historian Lorenzo Meyer noted the irony that it was Zedillo--whose image has been weakened by the economic and political crisis that marked his first two months in office--who broke tradition. Using a term often employed in connection with the Italian Mafia, he spoke of " omerta, that unwritten (Mexican) rule that says an acting president does not pursue the crimes of the previous administration, mostly so that his own will not be pursued later."

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