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Tijuana Political Figure Gunned Down at His Home

Violence: The Commerce Ministry official, a prospective candidate for mayor, is the latest victim in a string of killings. Investigators seek motive.

September 01, 2000|MARY BETH SHERIDAN and JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A would-be mayoral candidate was gunned down in front of his home in a fashionable neighborhood of Tijuana, extending the trail of violence that this year has claimed the police chief, a former judge and a trio of anti-drug agents.

Four mysterious visitors waited in a car outside the home of Guillermo Castellanos Martinez Wednesday evening, with one stepping forward to shoot the longtime politico six times.

Death came almost immediately to Castellanos, 40, in his Playas de Tijuana neighborhood in the northwest part of the city, said Enrique Tellaeche, a spokesman for the state prosecutor's office in Tijuana.

Although many of the killings this year have been attributed to Mexico's bloody drug wars, officials said they have no clue why Castellanos was targeted. The victim's father told reporters that he, too, was mystified by the attack.

The gunman and his three companions quickly escaped, authorities said. Federal investigators will handle the case, because Castellanos worked for Mexico's Commerce Ministry.

Many of Castellanos' colleagues in the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and business leaders in Tijuana lashed out at the state government and prosecutors, saying they had done too little to control the violence. A Chamber of Commerce executive called on Baja California Gov. Alejandro Gonzalez Alcocer to step aside.

Castellanos, known popularly as "El Willy," had a long political career that included stints in the state and federal congresses and as secretary-general in Baja California for the PRI, historically Mexico's dominant party.

More recently, in his work for the Commerce Ministry, Castellanos had been part of a campaign to pressure producers into lowering spiraling tortilla prices.

The prices caused a scandal throughout Mexico last year and Castellanos, head of the Ministry's Tijuana office, said he was doing his best to get producers to voluntarily lower prices.

Castellanos had recently been seeking support within his party to run next year for mayor of the border city. He had also expressed interest in the post in 1995, before dropping out of contention.

Castellanos was a top marksman who competed in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He was not armed at the time of his death, authorities said.

There was no reason immediately to connect the murder to the scourge of violence this year in Tijuana.

Most prominent among the dozens killed have been the police chief, former judge and three anti-drug agents, who were tortured before their bodies were dumped into a steep ravine on a highway outside the sprawling city.

Theories about the killings have been rampant in the city. Some said the deaths resulted from a "housecleaning" inside the notoriously bloodthirsty Arellano Felix drug cartel. Others suggested that the cartel was striking back for the federal government's plan to wipe it out this year with a "final offensive."

Still another theory had the bloodshed rooted in a rivalry between the dominant drug ring and an upstart competitor, based in the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa.

*

Sheridan reported from Mexico City, Rainey from Los Angeles. Times special correspondent Dora Elena Cortes contributed to this report.

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