By:Maria Elena Salinas
Mexico has not been the same since March 23, 1994. That was the day - 17 years ago today - that Luis Donaldo Colosio was gunned down in the poor neighborhood of Lomas Taurinas in the border city of Tijuana, Baja California.
Colosio was the presidential candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI. His message of hope and change was beginning to resonate with voters who were fed up with a political system mired in corruption and abuse of power. Colosio's death shocked a nation that had not seen a political assassination in almost seven decades.
For many Mexicans, the assassination of Colosio remains an unsolved mystery. There is a man serving time for the crime, but the theories of a possible conspiracy - as in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy - just won't go away. People refuse to believe that Mario Aburto, a factory worker from Tijuana, acted alone when he put a bullet through the candidate's head while standing inches away from him at a political rally attended by thousands of people.
If you pose the question "Who killed Colosio?" to a group of Mexicans, you will get a variety of answers. I did just that during a trip south of the border, during which I spoke with more than a dozen people who were there on that tragic Wednesday evening. "It was the system," said Yolanda Lazaro, a PRI party loyalist who was one of the speakers in the rally. Mrs. Lazaro swears she saw Aburto before the rally with a security band on his arm, trying to control the cheering crowd. She viewed him as part of the system.
Dr. Juan Parcero Lopez, who claims to have been standing a few feet away from the crime scene, says that Aburto, the man convicted of the murder, is not the same man he saw being held by security forces seconds after the shooting. "I have the image engraved in my mind, I saw him standing half a meter away from me, and it is not the same person," he said.
Yet Jesus Blancornelas, publisher of the prestigious ZETA weekly newspaper in Tijuana, has come to the conclusion that not only did Aburto kill Colosio, but he acted alone. Blancornelas spent three years investigating the murder for a book he co-wrote, and he is the only journalist to have interviewed the convicted murderer in jail, face to face. He claims Aburto admitted that he was, in fact, the shooter and that he acted alone, but he says the fatal shot was accidental.
One of the many factors that have complicated the case is that Colosio was shot twice. One bullet crossed his head, coming in from the left. Two and a half seconds later, the other perforated his stomach, coming in from the right. Eduardo Valle, a former Mexican drug czar who authored a book called "El Segundo Disparo" ("The Second Shot"), has spent hundreds of hours examining the different videos of the scene. "There is a breakdown in security that is unexplainable," he says. "It seems as if a group of men who volunteered as security personnel for the PRI are clearing the path to allow Aburto to get close to the candidate."
Theories abound: everything from a narco-political conspiracy to a state execution. Former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari has denied allegations that he ordered the killing because Colosio was breaking ranks with the party's old guard. There are those who say that Aburto was framed and the real gunman is 6 feet under. Some swear to have seen two, three, up to seven Aburto look-alikes at the scene.
The fact is that the case against Mario Aburto was based on circumstantial evidence. The crime scene was completely transformed within weeks, the gun was lost, the bullets are nowhere to be found, and no one actually saw him pull the trigger. But years of investigation and four special prosecutors have not been able to come up with any hard evidence to support any of the conspiracy theories.