Candidate's murder throws Mexico into crisis: The Zapatistas or a political rival could be behind Luis Colosio's assassination, writes Phil Davison

Had it happened before the new year, when the North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, the United States and Canada, came into force, it would have been a political bombshell. The fact that the Mexican ruling party's presidential candidate, 44-year-old Luis Donaldo Colosio, was assassinated on Wednesday made it immeasurably worse.

In the wake of January's Indian peasant uprising in the southern state of Chiapas, the murder of the country's most-likely next president threatens the entire Mexican political system.

Colosio was gunned down as he campaigned in Tijuana, on the US border. The US now faces turmoil across the Rio Grande.

'Now we face the possibility of having a kind of cadaverous Nafta,' said Larry Birns of the private Council on Hemispheric Affairs. 'If Mexico is not considered a reliable investment environment, then investors are going to say, 'Why go to Mexico? We go to Bangladesh'.'

Mexico has been plunged into its worst crisis since the 1920s, the turbulent period after the 1910-17 revolution which led to the foundation in 1929 of the National Revolutionary Party, later to become the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which has ruled ever since.

Whether August's six-yearly presidential elections will be held on schedule must now be in doubt. All opposition parties have ceased campaigning out of respect for the murdered politician. A question mark also hangs over the attitude of a military still smarting from President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's order to hold back from crushing the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in the south.

A 23-year-old mechanic called Mario Aburto Martinez allegedly shot Colosio. It is said that Mr Martinez shouted 'I saved Mexico', as he was beaten and detained by an angry crowd. Some officials said Mr Martinez was 'crazy' and that it was 'an isolated incident'. Few in Mexico are likely to believe this. There have been too many coincidences recently.

Those under suspicion included the EZLN or its northern sympath isers; Colosio's former rival for the PRI candidacy, Manuel Camacho Solis, or his sympathisers; old- guard PRI factions unhappy with Colosio's plans to continue Mr Salinas's reforms; the military, worried that the PRI's slipping popularity would lead to a left-wing, populist president; the opposition National Action Party (PAN), strong in Tijuana and across the north; the main opposition populist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) of part-Indian Cuauhtemoc Cardenas; drugs mafias wishing to create unrest; even the Catholic Church, which was strongly identified with the Chiapas Zapatistas and blamed by many for backing the rebellion.

A stunned President Salinas, who handpicked his friend Colosio as the PRI's presidential candidate, moved quickly to quell rumours of a state of emergency. 'We will keep in place our regime of liberty and of constitutional order,' he said in a nation-wide television broadcast.

But liberty in Mexico is relative. In a country of more than 80 million, some 90 per cent of the country's wealth is in the hands of a few hundred thousand. Despite Mr Salinas' promises of greater democracy, little had changed until the EZLN, under 'Subcomandante Marcos', jolted the system with its armed rebellion.

Nothing in Mexico has been quite the same since. Even before Colosio's murder, things were threatening to change rapidly. Manuel Camacho Solis, a PRI militant and close friend of Mr Salinas, was openly upset at being passed over as the party's presidential candidate last November. Mr Salinas quickly named Mr Camacho Foreign Minister as a sweetener.

After the Zapatista uprising, Mr Camacho was pulled out of that job and sent to Chiapas to negotiate with the guerrillas. His efforts eclipsed the opening of Colosio's campaign, whose first speech was relegated to a few paragraphs in a press which is largely beholden to the PRI.

Mr Camacho was daily front-page news, smiling and posing with Sub comandante Marcos and the church mediator Samuel Cruz, Bishop of the Chiapas town of San Cristobal de las Casas. Mr Camacho appeared to grant the Zapatistas almost everything they had demanded. They are currently poring over the peace deal but Subcomandante Marcos recently said that they would not lay down their arms until after the elections. Mr Camacho was suspected of electioneering and hinted he might run for president. Then, only a day before Colosio was shot, Mr Camacho said he would not run. 'I want to be president of Mexico, but not at any cost,' he said.

It is not clear how Mr Salinas or the PRI will pick a new candidate.

Leading article, page 17

Obituary, page 30

(Photograph and map omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
The Aviva Premiership trophy
rugby unionLive: All the latest from Twickenham for the Premiership final against Bath
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood
footballDanny Higginbotham: Tim Sherwood must play game of two halves to cause major upset
News
Caber is trained to help child victims of serious crimes testify
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor