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Still They Ask: ‘Why Were Bad Guys Guarding Colosio?’

April 18, 1994

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) _ From the police chief to the illegal immigrant to the waiter, all Mexico is asking: Why were has-been police agents with shady pasts guarding the man widely expected to become Mexico’s next president?

Some of the guards hired for Luis Donaldo Colosio’s security detail at his last campaign stop had been fired from Tijuana’s police force for misconduct. The local police chief said ruling-party officials requested only two officers at the airport and four motorcycle cops at the scene of the candidate’s speech.

The guards’ questionable backgrounds have helped nourish a tangled web of conspiracy plots spreading outward from Tijuana, the border city where Colosio was killed by a gunman during a March 23 rally.

Government officials have largely been silent, often evasive and sometimes misleading. Some Mexicans believe the truth may remain hidden forever.

″Why should we believe the government?″ said Andres Garcia, sitting atop a sand dune while waiting for nightfall to cross illegally into California. ″They’ve lied to us all our lives.″

Waiter Jesus Velazquez agreed. ″Everyone is fed up with police, the government, with corruption, with drug traffickers. No one believes anything anymore.″

Theories on who is responsible abound. They range from a lone gunman to many co-conspirators, from high echelons of the government to warring drug cartels and feuding elements within Colosio’s governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

″It would take a sum of all interests and groups to plan something like this,″ said Jose Perez Canchola, the attorney general for human rights.

He was present when the suspected gunman, Mario Aburto, a 23-year-old factory worker, was first questioned by authorities two hours after the assassination.

When a videotape of the shooting turned up days later, authorities brought in lip readers to examine it.

The footage appeared to show several guards talking to each other just before and during the killing, said a high-ranking government official in Mexico City, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Several guards were then arrested.

Among those detained was Rodolfo Rivapalacio, a former Tijuana police detective who headed Colosio’s security detail for the campaign stop. Originally charged with conspiracy in the killing, he was freed Sunday for lack of evidence.

In 1987, his former wife was stabbed with an ice pick 17 times and her boyfriend was shot by an apparent hit-man in nearby San Diego, Calif. According to detective Joe Navarro of the San Diego police department, Rivapalacio was a suspect in that case, which remains open.

″At this point all we have is that he made threats against his wife,″ Navarro said in a telephone interview, noting no charges were ever filed.

The detective said he asked Tijuana’s judicial police force to help but they stonewalled his investigation. He also asked Rivapalacio to come in for questioning but to no avail.

And when an Associated Press reporter and other journalists went to Rivapalacio’s home on Wednesday, a woman came out, yelled at the group and said he would have no comment.

Hours before Colosio arrived in the Tijuana shantytown of Lomas Taurinas, Rivapalacio and two other local party functionaries met with municipal police director Federico Benitez.

″They asked that there be no police presence anywhere near or around the candidate,″ said Benitez in an interview. ″They said they would be in charge, the PRI, of Colosio’s security.″

Tijuana has 1,720 officers, but the PRI requested only two officers at the airport and four motorcycle officers at the scene, said Benitez. ″They said Colosio didn’t want a lot of visible police presence,″ he added.

Colosio was killed while conducting a populist campaign marked by attempts to mingle with the people and avoid appearances of heavy security.

Still, many police officials, speaking off the record for fear of dismissal, thought the PRI request unusual.

″We can’t do anything different than what the party wants,″ said Benitez, adding that he had considered Lomas Taurinas unsafe for such a rally.

Besides Aburto, three others were charged as co-participants in murder: ex- police agent Vicente Mayoral; his son Rodolfo, a security guard; and Tranquilino Sanchez, another former police officer hired for crowd control.

But charges of ″criminal association″ bolstering the conspiracy theory were recently dropped against all four.

The private guard force of 45 retired and fired police officers was called the Tucan Group, Spanish for All United Against National Action. The National Action Party won the state’s 1989 gubernatorial election.

″A great majority of the Tucans had police records, criminal pasts and were fired,″ said Victor Clark, director of the Binational Center for Human Rights, which monitors police agencies.

Baja California was the first state to defeat the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, since 1929.

″The presidential secret service has a direct responsibility to go over the list of security people, to review the routes and schedule of the candidate,″ he said. ″But they approved the list.″

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