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Cardinal killed `in police plot'


Latin America Correspondent

Mexico's best-known Catholic churchman, Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas, was shot at Guadalajara airport two years ago in an elaborate plot set up by corrupt policemen, and not by mistake, as previously reported by prosecutors.

That is the view of his successor, the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal Juan Sandoval, and it is likely to be confirmed by prosecutors appointed by the Mexican President, Ernesto Zedillo.

Previous investigators, appointed by the former president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, had found that Posadas was killed in crossfire between rival drug barons, or because he was mistaken for a drug baron.

But questions remain. Who ordered the killing of the cardinal and why?

Finding the answers has taken on added importance, as his death was the first of a series of high-level killings that have turned Mexico from a model of political and economic stability into a nation in turmoil.

The link, many Mexicans believe, may have been just that - to create turmoil and prevent the traditional hierarchy from losing power and wealth, in the face of the country's economic and political opening up.

The cardinal, who was wearing his cassock and a large crucifix, was hit by 14 automatic-rifle shots in his car outside the terminal building. Pressure is growing for the papal nuncio in Mexico City, Girolamo Prigione, to testify to the special prosecutor.

Mgr Prigione, although he has diplomatic immunity, has offered to do so informally. "There is nothing to hide," he said. The nuncio was arriving at Guadalajara airport by plane when Posadas was shot: the two men were known to have had strained relations.

Last summer it emerged that Mexico's two biggest heroin-cartel barons, the Arellano Felix brothers, wanted in connection with the killing of the cardinal, had secretly visited Mgr Prigione at his Mexico City home around New Year 1994.

He has refused to reveal details of their conversations, other than to say they had wanted to "give their version of the events to the Holy Father".

"Whether or not it was deliberate, the killing of Cardinal Posadas was the first signal of maximum alert that drug lords had become a state within a state," said Eduardo Valle, a former special adviser to the Mexican Attorney-General.

"The other two [1994] assassinations, of [presidential candidate] Luis Donaldo Colossio and [ruling-party secretary-general] Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, were undoubtedly the result of the narco-politics of the Los Pinos gang, leading all the way up to the capo di tutti capi, Carlos Salinas de Gortari." Los Pinos (the Pines) is the name of the Mexican President's official residence in Mexico City.

Mr Salinas left Mexico earlier this month after his brother, Raul, was arrested and charged with ordering the murder of Ruiz Massieu. "Mexico has long become a narco-democracy, a state within a state," said Mr Valle.

"Whether or not Ernesto Zedillo was directly involved, he is trapped within it. If he doesn't get out, he won't be able to govern even his chauffeur."