RCC Honors History Project

The Slain Man Who Haunts Mexico

Posted by mcelynrh on June 2, 2009

Published: Saturday, August 2, 1997

The flowers appear and a few days later they are gone, leaving behind just a few dried blossoms and the shriveled memory of a crime that refuses to let this country rest.

The flowers are brought by well-wishers to a huge bust of Luis Donaldo Colosio in this city’s ancient green heart, Chapultepec Park. Mr. Colosio, the governing party’s candidate, might have been overseeing Mexico’s democratic transition as President today had he not been gunned down after a campaign rally in Tijuana on March 23, 1994.

The flowers are a reminder of the country’s dark history and its taste for violence. The memory is especially painful in these heady days after elections last month in which Mexico is seen by some to be striding bravely toward true democracy.

Less than three weeks after the elections, the Mexican Government reopened the old wound, disclosing its latest findings in the investigation into the killing. The fifth prosecutor to lead the investigation, Luis Raul Gonzalez Perez, declared that after 11 months of work, he had determined that the man who had been grabbed at the scene and thrown in jail was in fact Mr. Colosio’s killer.

In a report was filled with scientific certainty and precise detail, he ruled out the participation of a second gunman and quashed all rumors that the man in jail was a dupe who had replaced the real killer.

It could have been a moment of liberation for a haunted society that sees the Colosio assassination as confirmation of its worst fears about Mexico. But the report appears to have satisfied no one.

”I don’t believe him,” said Jesus Zembrano, an opposition congressman from the Party of the Democratic Revolution and a member of a congressional committee investigating the assassination. ”We’ll see if the people of Mexico believe him.”

The answer, at least among people near Mr. Colosio’s memorial, was no. ”They are only trying to confuse us,” said Carmelo Rojas, 24, a restaurant worker.

Irlanda Rodriguez Rivera, 22, said, ”It’s obvious that his death was the product of a conspiracy and that there are many politicians of then and now who are involved.”

”Who do they think they are kidding?” said Nicolas E. Flores, 34, a commercial sound technician and moonlighting tax driver.

The Colosio case has elements of political conspiracy, police corruption, yellow journalism, internal struggles for power: all the sensational features linked by some to the assassination of John F. Kennedy — except for an Oliver Stone film, and feelers have already gone out.

Like Americans with the Kennedy assassination, most Mexicans seem to have a hard time closing the book on the slaying of Mr. Colosio, uneasy with the notion that a powerful leader could be killed so easily.

”In this strange scripture that is Mexican history, it seems that we seal chapters and begin chapters in this same way — with killings,” said Enrique Krauze, a Mexican historian who has just published a book about Mexico’s leaders called ”Mexico: Biography of Power” (HarperCollins, 1997). ”Mexico is full of heroes that die violently.”

The chapter now beginning tells of a modern Mexico in which the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, after the July 6 election, must share power in a Congress where it no longer has a majority and in the giant crucible of Mexico City, which will be governed by the opposition.

The origin of such monumental changes can be traced back to the killing of Mr. Colosio because he was replaced as the PRI presidential candidate by his campaign manager, Ernesto Zedillo, who has decided to allow the transition to occur.

On the surface, nothing about Mr. Colosio’s killing would seem to warrant the 35,378 pages of testimony by 855 witnesses and 255 experts that the inquiry has so far accumulated.

But each hard fact seems to sprout a new rumor in a country where the Government’s credibility is already tortilla thin. A police videotape shows an old-fashioned .38-caliber pistol placed coolly against the back of Mr. Colosio’s head. Conspiracy theorists ask why the police were taping from that angle at that time.

The tape picks up the noise of the rally, including a band playing the Mexican ranchero ”The Snake.” Conspiracy theorists say the music was so loud to hide the second shot.

The convicted killer, Mario Aburto Martinez, 26, a mechanic who liked to think of himself as an artist, was photographed at the scene, was detained immediately and confessed to firing two shots at the candidate. Conspiracy theorists say the Aburto in custody is a look-alike who replaced the real killer, who they say was killed after firing at Mr. Colosio.

The latest report shows that much of the evidence in the case was originally mishandled and that subsequent lines of investigations were pursued on hunches rather than facts. Many Mexicans now fear that the case will never be solved.

But Mexico’s recent turn toward democracy, and the sharing of power with the opposition — the very goals that Mr. Colosio powerfully enunciated — are reviving hope in some.

”Colosio’s assassination affected me greatly,” said Luis Edmundo Sanchez Rojas, a 35-year-old engineer. Although he did not notice the dried stalks lying near the Colosio bust, he remembered the candidate’s promises about democracy. .

”Colosio’s proposals were the most appropriate for what I want to see Mexico become,” Mr. Sanchez Rojas said. ”Now that there is more sharing of power in the Government, maybe those in charge can be pressured to solve this crime.”



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