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dr. john womack

dr. john womack
Dr. John Womack is a professor of history at Harvard University and a longtime friend of Carlos Salinas.
BEFORE CARLOS SALINAS LEFT OFFICE THERE WERE THREE MAJOR ASSASSINATIONS. MAYBE YOU COULD DESCRIBE THEM FOR US, AND REFLECT ON WHAT THEY MEAN.

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?

Yes exactly.

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.

Right. Right.

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 SOMEWHAT DIFFERENT.

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 MILLION PLUS?

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 to them.

SO HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HIS FUNCTION FOR HIS BROTHER? WE KNOW THEY WERE CLOSE.

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.

Right.

AND A HUGE AMOUNT OF CASH ENTERED TO MEXICAN ECONOMIC POLITICAL STREAM.

Um hm.

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 Salinas 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 that 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 NARCO TRAFFICKING.

Um hm.

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 of 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 PREVAILING OPINION?

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 where 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?

Yes

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.



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