BEFORE CARLOS SALINAS LEFT OFFICE THERE WERE THREE MAJOR ASSASSINATIONS. MAYBE
YOU COULD DESCRIBE THEM FOR US, AND REFLECT ON WHAT THEY MEAN.
|Dr. John Womack is a professor of
history at Harvard University and a longtime friend of Carlos Salinas.|
Well a high ranking member of the Catholic hierarchy was
assassinated in his car at Guadalajara Airport. The
regime's --but essentially Carlos Salinas's imposed-- selection for
his successor as president, Luis Donaldo Colosio, was
assassinated in March 1994 with the campaign barely underway. And
in September the fellow who was to become the
equivalent of the speaker of the house in the newly elected
congress was assassinated, he being an old in-law of the Salinas
family, and in my opinion the main force holding the Salinas group
together in the new government -- considering that they had lost
their first presidential choice. What is to be said
about it? Well, nobody, some people have been convicted of
murder and put into prison. There are allegations of a
conspiracy in all three cases. Nobody's been able to prove a
conspiracy about any of the assassinations.
Everybody in Mexico, and just about everybody who pays
much attention to Mexico outside the country, has some
conspiratorial ideas about how this happened. I do too. But
conspiracies, of course, are tricky things. The
simple minded view is that X, Y and Z sit down and plot to do A and then
they do it and then it's somebody's job, say B's job to go find
X, Y and Z. But I think in politics as it happens in Mexico, and not
only Mexico, but some other countries whose histories I've
studied in archives, have plots that don't ever happen.
That is, a plot is underway to murder somebody, but before the plot
can actually take effect a single man walks in off the
street and does the murder instead. The people who are carrying out,
who have designed the plot, think terrific this fool's done our work for
us. Now we're innocent and we have everything that we had
wanted anyway. So the thing to do is to move to seize the
opportunity. There may be 4 or 5 plots underway at any one
time to kill people, to obstruct justice and so on.
IN YOUR VIEW WHO BENEFITED FROM THESE ASSASSINATIONS?
The people who were most hostile to Salinas.
AND WHO ARE THOSE PEOPLE?
Well the traditional bosses have been established in the regime
since World War II and they moved as quickly as they could to
restore many of the positions that they had lost and they've been able, with
great skill and much success, to absolutely discredit the leadership for any of
the basic reforms
of the regime.
BUT HAVE THEY DISCREDITED ZEDILLO?
No they don't want to do that. They need a president and it would be very
difficult for them to agree among themselves to a new
president. They'd much rather have a president sitting who can't
do very much while they go about re-establishing their basis.
SO IN YOUR VIEW ZEDILLO'S APPOINTMENT OF ANTONIO LOZANO WAS
SOMETHING THEY WANTED?
No. I think they would have preferred to keep this all within the
PRI and to get a loyal PRI man to make Zedillo entirely their
own. But they weren't going to try to overthrow Zedillo just
because he chose Lozano as attorney general. They could,
however, befuddle and complicate the investigations so much
that nothing could happen. I would say that
despite the initial suspicions broadly across the
country the plot must have come from the old guard
within the regime and despite initial charges that these were the people
obstructing the investigations Lozano never has turned the
investigation in that direction. Practically from the time he
came into office he's focused pretty much on the Salinas
leadership of the group that had been carrying out the reforms. I don't
think he did that because anybody instructed him to or because
he's dishonest or involved in any conspiracies himself, but I
do think that it was simply laid open, that this was the
most promising terrain and that he went where all the
accusations were aimed.
YOU MEAN RAUL?
HOW IMPORTANT WAS THE ARREST OF RAUL SALINAS?
Well, the arrest as such was important but not crucial. The
crucial thing was the decision to bring him to trial. What
everyone who I've talked with in Mexico --people who think Raul ought to
be in jail for whatever reason, and others who take a
fairly objective view of the whole thing-- has said is that what the Special
Prosecutor's office turned up to provide to Lozano, the Attorney General, did
not amount to a case.
YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT THE MURDER CASE?
The murder case. They haven't been able to produce
anything but they continue to go out beating the bushes rather than
test any new hypothesis. They insist that if there is a plot
Raul must be behind it, they just haven't discovered any
evidence for it yet.
BUT LET'S SET ASIDE THE MURDER CASE AGAINST RAUL FOR A MINUTE
BECAUSE THEY SEARCHED RAUL'S HOUSES AND OFFICES AND APPARENTLY BY COINCIDENCE,
IN SWITZERLAND, THEY NOTICED LARGE
DEPOSITS OF MONEY, AND IT WAS REVEALED THAT RAUL IS A VERY WEALTHY GUY.
Yeah. Um hm.
NOW TO SOME PEOPLE THAT APPEARS TO HAVE OPENED A WINDOW INTO MONEY, AND
POLITICS IN MEXICO.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THAT?
Well first I was surprised that it would be a 100 and some
odd, 120, 150 million dollars though as I have reflected
on it since then that's about one thousandths of what it
would take to get you into Forbes as one of Mexico's billionaires. So
for big time political money of the kind that Carlos
Hank Gonzales has, you're still in the minor leagues, if that's
all there is. But what it also indicates, I think, is how
important money is in the politics there, as it is here, as we
read daily on the front page of the American papers.
THE SCALE'S A LITTLE DIFFERENT. ECONOMICS OF THE COUNTRY ARE
You're quite right.
AND THE SCALE IS SOMEWHAT DIFFERENT.
No, you're absolutely right. It seems that the Mexican electorate costs much
more per head for an election than the Americans. It's surprising but there
must be a lot
of services being performed that aren't performed here.
HAVE YOU EVER ASKED CARLOS SALINAS --I KNOW YOU'VE SPOKEN WITH HIM SINCE THEN--
WHAT WAS GOING ON?
Well now I haven't talked to him about that. I've talked . . .
YOU'VE NEVER SAID TO HIM HOW DID YOUR BROTHER WIND UP WITH 100
No. I mean I believe what he said, that he didn't know, that he must
have figured that he was making some money. But my sense is that
all Mexican political groups are continually managing their own
political treasuries and that you get the money however
you can. Some of it is ploughed into investments, some of it
is ploughed into elections, profits from businesses go into elections, you
couldn't find a clear border in those realms between
private enterprise and politicking. And my surmise is
that Raul was on his own or maybe as part of a group basically running
a political treasury. He wasn't doing it just to ride around on yachts
or he wouldn't have been in as much trouble as he is. He's in the
trouble that he is because he's politically dangerous to a lot
of people, not because he's rich.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN POLITICALLY DANGEROUS?
Well he was one of the key figures in the Salinas
group, in these wars with the traditional bosses. He
was probably, he was certainly, seriously engaged in a
sharp contingent with those kinds of guys, and in that sense dangerous
SO HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HIS FUNCTION FOR HIS BROTHER? WE KNOW THEY WERE
I honestly don't know. All I can do is surmise
from my own sense of how Mexican politics work and how things seem to
have shaken down over the last 10 years in Mexico. I think
Raul and a few others were basically the reform
group's muscle and money raisers. Every country has
characters like that in its political scene. They are the
tough guys, the guys who know how to raise 20 million over a
weekend, how to fight with the toughest guys on the other side.
If they hadn't had people like that they may as well stayed in
bed or become college professors.
AND DURING CARLOS SALINAS'S REGIME THERE WERE A NUMBER OF MAJOR ECONOMIC
CHANGES AND PRIVATIZATIONS IN MEXICO. BUT THE OTHER
THING THAT HAPPENED WHICH WAS TO SOME EXTENT OUT OF HIS CONTROL IS THAT MEXICO
BECAME THE PIPELINE FOR DRUGS INTO THE UNITED STATES.
AND A HUGE AMOUNT OF CASH ENTERED TO MEXICAN ECONOMIC POLITICAL STREAM.
NOW WE'RE HEARING THAT THAT MONEY MADE IT TO LOS PINOS WHILE
CARLOS SALINAS WAS IN POWER. IS THAT POSSIBLE? TRUE?
I don't think that's true.
WHAT'S NOT TRUE?
That's it's true that drug money was channeled through Los
Pinos. As the FBI and I suppose the CIA and the
DEA and so on move the drug trade out of the
Caribbean and westward, it came across Mexico and I think
it started going through a lot of political channels. But
after the murder of the DEA agent Camarena in the mid-80s, I think
the Mexican presidency --which is only maybe the biggest cog in a
huge political machine that is often slipping gears very badly-- tried
as much as possible to make sure that it was policing it's own.
It may very well be that X or Y as a fairly subordinate figures running around
the presidential grounds could have been peddling this or that or trying
to, but I don't think that it makes any sense to say that it happened in the
administration or in the previous administration, that it went seriously
through the presidential offices .
IT HAS BEEN ALLEGED THAT RAUL . . .
Yes. I've seen what the newspaper carry lately. It's not really
testimony, it's these declarations that currently
imprisoned people in the United States --who had been involved or
who are in prison because of the drug business-- have evidently said. They say
they know that this took place, that there was a meeting where Raul got
somebody to give somebody else 4 million dollars and there were
12 million in some other case. Those declarations are at least 2 years old.
WHAT'S AT STAKE?
What's at stake politically in Mexico is whether or not this
reform that emerged in the 80s will be entirely destroyed.
And the only possibilities for change will take place between
the traditional bosses or the PRI who will have completely
recaptured it, and the opposition political parties whom the PRI has
now made it clear they're not going to let win very much.
SO YOU'RE SAYING THAT IF THE NARCO TRAFFICKING CONNECTION IS
MADE THAT'S THE END OF THE SALINAS GROUP?
I would say so. If the U.S. government proves in a court
of law in the United States that Raul was involved
in it and that Carlos Salinas was involved in it, I think that that would
historically put an end to the Salinas group.
WE HAVE BEEN ABLE TO CONFIRM THAT IN FACT THE U.S. AMBASSADOR, WENT
TO CARLOS IN 1994 AND SAID HEY, GONZALES CALDERONI, WHO WAS QUOTED IN THE NEW
YORK TIMES, SAYS YOU'RE BROTHER IS INVOLVED WITH
SOUNDS LIKE CARLOS KNEW. BUT KNOWLEDGE DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN INVOLVEMENT .
Well exactly. But if they come and say this is going
on and you have reason to believe that it's not, and you figure this is
actually a political set up to get rid of somebody you badly
need, considering the political circumstances at the time you figure
that --having read Machiavelli and having lived-- you
won't trust somebody. Your second best friend will come and tell you your
first friend is betraying you. You then get rid of your
first best friend only to discover that your second best friend is really
your worst enemy.
WHY DID CARLOS SEND RAUL TO CALIFORNIA IN 93?
I think because of public opinion. The public sense which he was well aware
was that Raul was accused of all sorts of ill gotten gains
and that the best thing to do was to get him out of circulation.
HOW WELL KNOWN WAS IT IN MEXICO IN 1990, 91, 92, 93 LET'S SAY, THAT RAUL WAS
THIS TOUGH GUY, THE MONEY GUY?
Well I think inside politics people knew.
THE WEALTHY KNEW.
Yeah. I mean the job he had was a tremendously
political job because it involved really the transport and
distribution of agricultural products for this vast state agency.
Whoever runs that has countless powerful conflicts every day.
AND SO WHEN WE HEAR STORIES ABOUT DISAPPEARING TRAIN LOADS OF MILK OR PAYOFFS
AND KICK BACKS . . .
That has been happening ever since the PRI came to power
which is about 60 years ago, and it's been happening also
ever since there was a Mexican railroad. The truck load
or the freight load of beans gets lost somewhere along the way
and then turns up in somebody else's warehouse. So these things are the
daily run of Mexican politics but it's a very powerful position.
IN YOUR ARTICLE IN THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS YOU RAISE SERIOUS QUESTIONS
ABOUT THE PROSECUTION OF RAUL SALINAS, WHAT I WOULD CALL SORT OF THE MINORITY
OPINION, AT LEAST IN TERMS OF THE MEDIA.
WHAT IS THAT OPINION AND WHY DO YOU SEEM TO BE FIGHTING THE
Well, my opinion had less to do with that at the time I wrote
that. A couple of years ago. That had less to do specifically with Raul
Salinas than with the prosecutor who'd been appointed to investigate as
a special prosecutor not only the murder that Raul was
eventually charged with plotting, but the murder of the presidential
candidate Colosio and the murder of the cardinal before that.
So here was one guy in charge of three, the three greatest crimes of state in
the last several decades. I wondered who he was. In this
country and most other countries when there's a special prosecutor for
anything nearly that serious the press goes over him with a fine tooth
comb. As far as I could tell neither the Mexican press nor the foreign
press had ever raised any questions about who Pablo Chapa Bezanilla was, and
he came from. So I sat and waited for a couple months in 1995, waiting
to read some interesting story about him in the paper so I could get some
sense of whether to trust what he was doing or not, and found none.
So then I set about trying to find out myself who he was and found, at least
to my mind, that he was a very suspect character. He came
right out of the most rancid part of the Mexican legal and
judicial system. The police detectives in Mexico City where he'd
been pretty successful moving around from one very lucrative
precinct to the next, says that over the years among criminals and then
among opposition politicians on the left, he had gotten the
reputation --as they complained in congress when he was appointed-- of being
a guy who fabricates evidence, invents witnesses, leaks testimony in order
to create scandals, and suggest new testimony. These guys
are the worst of the Mexican legal system and here one of
them was appointed to manage these three cases which surprised me. And I . .
HE WAS APPOINTED BY LOZANO?
BUT EVEN BEFORE LOZANO WASN'T HE ON...
No no. He had been appointed in December under Zedillo
had been in office about 2 weeks and as I remember, it was just about the
time of the devaluation. Chapa was appointed and it struck
me as --from what I could find out about him-- inexplicable why he was
appointed. And moreover he was a guy who had been brought along in
his latest previous successes, where he I think got to be chief of
detectives of a federal district, by a fellow who had been one of
the first PRI politicians accused of obstructing justice. So
a guy who'd been already accused of obstructing justice was in effect
the political patron of the fellow who was appointed to
then pursue the investigation, and the investigation never returned to the
fellow who was accused of obstructing it in the first place.
So I decided I would write something. So I wrote it, and
eventually got it published thanks to the New York Review of books.
Two years have gone by and no light has appeared on any of these cases
and they get crazier and crazier to the point where you'd want
to laugh about it if you didn't care about the country. You find
out that he's dealing with a medium who gets her
son-in-law to dig up his dead father and plant him somewhere else and
this special prosecutor rushes in, has the bones dug up
and claims, or strongly implies, that this is murder proof, and it all
turns out to be a great hoax.