Obituary: Luis Donaldo Colosio

Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta, politician: born Magdalena de Kino, Mexico 1949; married; died Tijuana 23 March 1994.

LUIS DONALDO COLOSIO epitomised the 'new guard' of Mexico's long-ruling Institutional Party (PRI), a group of technocrats in their forties, including President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, a US-educated politician who attempted to cast off the party's dinosaur image after more than six decades of uninterrupted power.

By Mexican standards, Colosio was born well-off, son of a prosperous cattle rancher in the village of Magdalena de Kino in the northern state of Sonora, on the border with the US state of Arizona. Little is known of his childhood until he received a Masters degree in regional and urban development at the University of Pennsylvania in 1977 and did postgraduate studies in Austria.

As with all PRI militants, he linked his fate with one man considered to be on the rise, in his case Salinas. Such loyalty has traditionally been rewarded with senior posts, usually a ministry or other important and lucrative job. After returning from his studies in Europe, Colosio was elected first as a PRI deputy, later as a Senator. Under the long-running system by which the PRI could not lose - fraud was used if the result were in any doubt - mere nomination as PRI candidate ensured his election.

Colosio, like his later rival Manuel Camacho Solis, was a close aide to Salinas when the latter was Minister of Budget and Planning under President Miguel de la Madrid in the mid-Eighties. When de la Madrid 'unveiled' Salinas as his designated successor for the 1988 presidential election, Salinas asked Colosio to organise his campaign.

Salinas won, narrowly and only after a mysterious computer failure at the PRI-controlled National Electoral Commission. The populist opposition candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas claimed he had won and never recognised Salinas's victory.

Salinas then named Colosio president of the party, entrusting him the task of breathing new life in what was beginning to look like an endangered species. Colosio did make changes, bringing in younger faces, but events of recent months had begun to suggest that the changes had come too late in a nation tiring of a 'democracy' that remained largely a facade.

Colosio's big moment came on 28 November when Salinas gave him what is known in Mexico as el dedazo (the big finger), designating him as his would-be successor and candidate for this year's elections, on 21 August. For six decades, the big finger had virtually guaranteed six years' presidency. In Colosio's case, had he won, he would have taken Mexico into the 21st century.

But events, notably in the southern state of Chiapas, Camacho's rising star and reports of party splits within the PRI had already made it clear Colosio's victory was by no means assured. Then, while campaigning in Tijuana, on the Mexican border with California, he was assassinated. He was 44.

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