Three Chllenges of a Cadaveer
The great crimes are repeated with impunity. The bands of assassins appear. The super-millionaires keep getting richer. The power of drug trafficking grows. It is urgent to dissolve the marriage between the PRI and the state. How will Mexican society respond to these challenges?
The shouts of protest and pain that Mexican poet Rosario Castellanos wrote before her death more than 20 years ago could well have been written yesterday:
On the front page
as if to assault, this portrait comes,
and then, the eight column news;
So easy to die, it takes so little,
a shot in the back at midnight
and here the cadaver
laid before the jaws
of a cannibalistic public.
Chew the name slowly, the signs,
the secrets guarded by years of silence,
the hidden leper, the never appeased desire.
Nothing is known about the killer:
masked face, gloved hand.
But this body lying open in the canal,
this gut spilled out on the ground
raises the blood of every Abel
who looks around, trembling.
She called the poem "Red Note." It was a protest against street crime. Trembling with anger and anguish because the Cains are loose in the land. A clamor because the assassin, before yesterday ignored, knew and knows he is protected by the impunity that governs us, that protects injustice. A protest against those who trade in images of blood. Disgust and indignation at those who contemplate the spectacle and, with a revived cannibalism, never tire of looking and looking again.
September 28, 1994: television rushed to show the clip, then ran it again and again for lack of newer news: PRI Secretary José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, his tie bathed in blood, both in his car and out, on the stretcher. The next day all the dailies reproduced the photo.
Photography of the absurd, because it was an absurd crime and an absurd presentation. As if death were, above all, free trade merchandise.
Three Agenda ItemsAfter the August 21 elections, the Mexican political scene was marked by the search for a way to satisfactorily explain the victory announced by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and marked by protests of proven fraud. Over the ensuing weeks, debate focused on three issues: taking the step from an electoral challenge to a political dialogue, protests of economic fraud and unexplainable wealth, and the Chiapas challenge. All three are now urgent tasks on Mexico's agenda
The assassination of Ruiz Massieu did not push the three issues to the back page; it made them even more critical. The transition period until December 1, when Carlos Salinas de Gortari turns over power to the anointed Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, will be neither as calm nor as triumphant as both they and the eternal PRI hoped.
Open a Political DialogueSixty five years of omnipotent power have made the PRI the accused or the victor of every event in the country. It is the finger that anoints every governmental candidate every three or six years. It is responsible for the publicized macroeconomic growth and its unequal distribution; for the disappearance of federalism and the autonomy of each state and municipality; for the subordination of senators and representatives to the only existing power, the executive branch; for the creation of the Supreme Court of Justice; for the Federal Electoral Institute's inability to act with liberty; for the lack of public security; for the enriching of the government's buddies big industry and the television, telephone and highway monopolies. The PRI is even involved in the naming or demoting of religious leaders.
In the August elections, the opposition parties challenged all of this in their political and economic platforms. Then after the elections came the protests for provable fraud, and the call by Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas to institute truth commissions throughout the country, which would gather all available information about the electoral abuses. The National Action Party (PAN) made serious challenges as well, especially in the states of Nuevo León and Jalisco, but accepted the results more calmly.
Without abandoning this battle, and energized by the recognition of some wins that had originally been denied, PRD and PAN leaders next demanded an open political dialogue, proposing an in depth reform of the entire system through legislation and equality. The main campaign was to dissolve the PRI state marriage. The government should be by everyone and for everyone, not only as it has been for PRI members and their allies. This had also been a campaign promise of President elect Ernesto Zedillo.
The longing of an emerging civil society for democracy that is a daily reality is taking over all parts of Mexico. But this longing is continually swamped by agendas, issues, ways and means, and participations.
End CorruptionTwo "big" cases were tried in the weeks following the elections.
The first was of a man Carlos Cabal Peniche who suddenly got rich and bought two banks the Cremi and the Unión then bought Del Monte Produce fruit distributors and the Del Monte Produce and Del Monte Carns canneries with money he loaned himself from his banks. Although these businesses were openly known to be on the verge of bankruptcy in the United States, Cabal Peniche spent almost $2 billion in less than two years to buy them. The New York District Attorney was the first to note "something strange" in the operation. Cabal was also a shareholder or owner of 13 other businesses in Mexico and the United States: transport, hotels, electrovision.
On September 5, the Housing Secretariat decreed a managerial intervention of Cremi Unión. Pedro Aspe Armella, who heads the secretariat, had been one of those who, like President Salinas, most praised and supported the financial workings of Cabal Peniche, today a fugitive from justice.
The second, no less noteworthy case was of Guillermo González Calderón, former director of the Attorney General's department of Air, Land and Maritime Interception. Detained in McAllen, Texas, González is now in prison for abuse of authority, torture, contraband and illicit profit. The most serious accusation is that he was protecting drug traffickers.
As a consequence of this case, suspicion fell on Javier Coello Trejo, former assistant prosecutor of the Drug Trafficking Investigation Office. Between 1989 and 1990, one witness stated, Coello allowed Colombian cocaine traders to use Mexico as a bridge to the United States in exchange for millions of dollars. In the midst of all this appeared Juan García Abrego, leader of the powerful Gulf Cartel, one of those implicated in the assassination of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio.
The desire to fight corruption and impunity is gaining favor in the country with these two complementary cases. They have opened the possibility of airing everything, of even touching the untouchables. In both cases, the suspicion and accusations began in the United States, not Mexico. And in both, there are widespread rumors about "higher ups" behind the two suspects.
Respond to ChiapasThe post electoral climate was hotter in Chiapas, where the PRI triumph was denounced as fraud. PRI municipal candidate Eduardo Robledo was declared the victor over PRD candidate Amado Avendaño. Unlikely.
Indigenous and peasants formed the Electoral Prosecutors for the Chiapas People, to investigate and punish those responsible for the fraud. To strengthen the demand, they took over land and radio stations and blocked highways and roads, which sparked an "anonymous" reaction. On September 6 Roberto Hernández Paniagua, a teacher and president of the PRD Municipal Committee, was murdered. Days later, two more PRD activists were killed. The official explanation was "personal problems." "The supreme government doesn't want democracy, it only wants to pretend there's democracy," responded members of the indigenous army.
Everyone anxiously awaited the reaction of the EZLN and Subcomandante Marcos to the electoral results and the crimes in Chiapas. The declarations finally arrived. The Zapatistas remain open to negotiation based on the demands put forward since January 1. They are still seeking solutions through dialogue, rather than once again having to resort to arms. They expressed fear that the National Army is preparing a surprise attack, which the government and high level military officials officially deny.
San Cristóbal de Las Casas bishop Samuel Ruiz, who is willing to continue as mediator, learned through the newspapers that his case is being reopened in the Vatican, that his resignation or demotion is again being proposed. Unconfirmed news. Confirmed news, however, is that he is a proposed candidate for the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. Members of the Mexican Episcopate support the proposal.
Memory from the PastThe assassination of Ruiz Massieu on Wednesday, September 28, a crime that raised indignation and protest in all, revived immediate history and presented a serious threat and a triple challenge.
Wednesdays have become a tragic day. On April 23 of this year, also a Wednesday, Luis Donaldo Colosio, the PRI's first presidential candidate, was assassinated, and his bloodied body was treated with the same exhibitionism. After six months of inconclusive investigation, several questions are still pending: Did confessed killer Mario Aburto, who claims to have shot "by accident," act alone? Since no one believes he did, who masterminded the crime? Who benefits from this equally absurd death? Why the silences and delays by the more feared than respected Attorney General's Office? Was it just Mexican style vengeance by the international drug trafficking industry? Or is this how palace grudges are kept from becoming public knowledge and collapsing the entire system?
Not even the way the assassination was done has been clarified. How many shots were fired? How many firearms were used? And, asked some witnesses with "photographic" memories, why do some facial features of the Aburto filmed at the end of the week look so unlike those of the Aburto filmed the day of the crime?
These same questions were asked on Wednesday, April 25, 1993; the previous day Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, archbishop of Guadalajara, had been shot dead, and his body exhibited bathed in blood.
"Everything will be cleared up in 72 hours," promised President Salinas de Gortari, when he left the cathedral that night. Guadalajara residents had heard a similar promise almost exactly a year earlier On April 22, 1992, nearly four miles of roads exploded and hundreds died due to accumulated gas in the pipelines and drains. Within 72 hours "whoever was responsible" would be punished.
Who is Responsible?Who were they, those responsible? The same ones who continue threatening our streets and our homes. In Colonia Moderna, just under two acres of subsoil contained a million liters of diesel and gasoline. "Serious threat of explosions," alerted the newspapers.
But we sell the world the image that we Mexicans are already super active and prosperous members of the First World. Our billionaires, members of international society, can say that.
We do not even have calm and open elections, with only some "human" error that does not invalidate the democratic process. Haggling over the PRI's "overwhelming" victory is already banned; less than 48% for the PRI, more than 52% split between a divided opposition. After the elections, a breather, and then the crime against the PRI General Secretary: a tragedy for the party, for President Salinas, for President elect Zedillo and for the entire nation. "So easy to die, it takes so little."
Recent history revives the cry. Because "nothing is known about the killer."
Hour of Hired KillersNo one puts on masks like 20 years ago, or waits for midnight. It happens in daylight now. Apparently hidden, a mere name change to create more confusion; Héctor, Joel, Daniel. It's all the same.
It is obvious that behind the assassination of Ruiz Massieu, behind all the earlier ones, the so called "intellectual" authors, who act on their own political or economic interests, remain hidden. They act with the intent to create a culture of violence and to educate us in that culture. They have smiling masks and, of course, "gloved hands." PRI representative Manuel Muñoz Rocha is fingered as responsible is he perhaps already dead as well?
While this is an indicator of serious political decomposition, another aspect is even more serious: the same mechanisms of violence that have destroyed Columbia are now becoming a personal survival alternative in Mexico: hired gangs of assassins. A team willing to kill whomever you want. The only difference the target's political post or social standing makes is the price. If the one who pulls the trigger is imprisoned or killed, so what? "We weren't born from a seed," shrugged one young hired killer in Medellín.
"Why did you get involved in this?" another was asked. "Because," he responded, serene and self satisfied, "I don't want my mother to go on being a prostitute. I don't want my little brothers and sisters to have to do what I'm doing." For 50 thousand new pesos Daniel Aguilar Treviño, or Héctor or Joel Reséndiz Gutiérrez, as the hit man originally claimed was his name, proved he was willing to do anything.
To throw off the mask and kill like that, in broad daylight, is to tear off our mask of arrogant first-worldness, the image we sell to bring foreign investment and enrich a minority. Economic modernization, with positive macroeconomic indicators, helps the wealthy and powerful few, not the millions with nothing. It is a modernization ripe for hired assassins, so mothers will not have to continue working as prostitutes. "The hidden leprosy."
The first challenge: be honest when planning our economy; justice hangs in the balance.
Will Dialogue Be Cut Off?Alongside the challenges of the electoral results, the creation of truth commissions and eventual correction of initial data like that which added a tenth PAN representative in Jalisco, the clamor is growing to end the party state marriage.
This proposal comes from the San Angel Group, from former opposition candidates, from the civic democracy movements, even from Zedillo himself. In this barely sketched out and poorly promoted proposal, Ruiz Massieu seemed determined to support the necessary reform.
Whether or not Abraham Rubio Canales truly hired the assassins, either for a "personal vendetta" or a grudge, the front page picture of the bloody PRI General Secretary comes, "as if to assault" that proposal, which may once more be put aside for quieter times. This would make the assassination "a shot in the back" to the urgently needed democratic modernization.
The second challenge: Get past demagoguery; build civic democracy.
Like Someone with AIDSIt is no longer rumored that Mexico is a bridge and a promoter of the international drug trafficking industry; it is accepted fact. Ever since May 24, 1993, when Cardinal Posadas was assassinated, the responsibility for all these killings has been laid at the feet of drug traffickers. It is periodically announced that some of these people have been captured.
But to the degree that this happens, the filth seems to settle in deeper and pay itself better. Corruption in public service, in those charged with guarding security and order, even at the highest ministerial level.
The newspaper reader, the television viewer, "chews the names slowly, the signs." But nobody believes that the bottom will be reached, no matter how much that is desired, because the system would fall.
A system of corruption and promised impunity. Whoever protests will no longer see their image in the morning mirror. A "cannibalist public" will chew on the cadaver.
Economic modernization is not enough. Political modernization cannot be empty words. Our society, like someone with AIDS, needs more than transfusions. We need a new life, because "this body lying open in the canal, this gut spilled out on the ground, raises the blood of every Abel."
The final challenge: Life.