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Who Did What in Mexico? : A courageous attorney general plunges forward

March 05, 1995

Pondering last week's dramatic developments in Mexico's ongoing political crisis--new arrests and allegations of cover-up in two major assassinations--one wonders where it all will end.

Could President Ernesto Zedillo's government wind up accusing former President Carlos Salinas--hailed for the economic reforms achieved in his six-year term--of involvement in the murder of the Institutional Revolutionary Party's presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, or of its secretary-general, Francisco Ruiz Massieu? Things seemed to be moving in that direction last week.

First came accusations that Salinas' government botched its investigations of Colosio's assassination, which occurred in Tijuana last March. Then came the arrest of Salinas' older brother as the alleged mastermind in the Ruiz Massieu murder, which took place six months later in Mexico City and which also was first investigated in a manner that made many Mexicans doubt they were getting the full story.

Most Mexicans are so cynical about their tainted political and legal systems that they might well accept a portrayal of a controversial former president as a powerful villain. They might even take comfort in a neat conspiracy theory--as do many U.S. citizens who see conspiracy in John F. Kennedy's murder. But even if indisputable evidence of a plot indeed appears, all the ends of the matter probably won't be tied up nicely. For example, even if Salinas' brother is found guilty in the Ruiz Massieu murder, the motive may turn out to have been personal rather than political. And if there is no showing that Carlos Salinas was involved, should his reputation suffer any stain? Would he be any more responsible for what his brother did than Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter were for what their brothers did?

As for the Colosio killing, if it was not solely the work of the apparently deranged loner arrested at the scene and now in prison, it may prove to be at worst an internecine killing engineered by PRI activists in Baja California rather than by anyone in Mexico City.

So far the most important link between these two killings is the courageous attorney general, Antonio Lozano, who has been allowed by Zedillo to pursue all the leads in both cases, come what may. That is what a good criminal investigator must do. If at this point Salinas can be called guilty of anything, it is not giving his government's investigations as much leeway and support as Zedillo has given the new investigations. (Lozano's office said Friday it has no evidence that Salinas had tried to impede or misdirect the investigation in the Colosio case.)

For now, the best hope is that these stunning developments diminish the heretofore monolithic power of the PRI, which has dominated Mexican politics for 66 years, stifling democratic progress. Indeed, real good can come of these traumas if they lead to a strengthening of Mexican democracy.

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