Ex-president of Mexico attempts to clear name

For the first time since he fled Mexico in disgrace nine months ago, the former Mexican president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, is fighting back. He claims he is the victim of a power struggle between hard- line "dinosaurs" of his long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and its younger, US-educated political and economic reformers.

Mr Salinas, who fled in March after his brother Raul was arrested in connection with murder and he himself was blamed for Mexico's financial crisis, faxed a long statement to Mexican media on Monday night.

Said to have been sent from Cuba, where he was last seen, it accused another former president, Luis Echeverria, of a campaign to discredit him and his policies of political and economic opening. Even though Mr Salinas was clearly trying to deflect criticism, his remarks struck a chord among many Mexicans who increasingly see the entire PRI-controlled system as corrupt.

Mr Salinas denied responsibility for the economic crisis andsaid he had been unaware of anycriminal activities by his brother. He attributed the scandal surrounding his family to a "tremendous struggle for power in Mexico" and specifically to a "political offensive" by Mr Echeverria.

Locals are billing it the Battle of the Old Dinosaurs versus the Baby Dinosaurs - the PRI's old guard against its younger technocrats, symbolised byMr Salinas and his successor, President Ernesto Zedillo. Mr Zedillo, close to Mr Salinas throughout his career, has made no comment on his predecessor's statement.

Mr Salinas was praised at home and abroad when he handed over the presidential sash toMr Zedillo on 1 December last year and was on the verge of thecoveted appointment as head of the new World Trade Organisation. His reputation slumped as the peso crashed three weeks later and Mr Zedillo blamed him for deliberately veiling the nation's financial problems.

Then, in February, Raul Salinas was held on suspicion of masterminding the assasination of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, the PRI's secretary-general and former husband of his sister, Adriana Salinas. She, too, is currently under investigation over an alleged banking fraud.

In March, Carlos Salinas fled first to New York, then to Montreal and now, reportedly, to theprotection of his old friend, Fidel Castro.

His flight led many to suspect him of involvement in an earlier assassination, that of the PRI's original presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in Tijuana in March 1994. Others believed PRI hard- liners were behind the killing, fearing Colosio would expand Mr Salinas's political and free-market economic openings and cut into their traditional power base and wealth.

In his statement, Mr Salinas came close to accusing Mr Echeverria, president from 1970-76 of involvement in the Colosio murder. "A few hours after the painful death of my dear friend Luis Donaldo Colosio, former president Luis Echeverria showed up unannounced at my office with great urgency to propose his candidate. Obviously, it was not Dr Ernesto Zedillo," he wrote.

"Nothing that has happened in Mexico this year is unconnected to a tremendous struggle for power. What has been at stake here is what sort of nation will prevail. I am ready to make myself available to any inquiry."

The former president did not comment on the murder charge against his brother, but on the charges that Raul Salinas built up a fortune while working for agovernment food distribution agency with a salary of around pounds 50,000 a year. He wrote: "My brother Raul's deception is unacceptable. Fromthe beginning of my administration, I asked him to abstain from participating in business deals. I never knew of such activities."

Raul Salinas's wife, Paulina, was arrested in Switzerland last month as she tried to withdraw cash from a $84m bank account believed to have been set up by Raul Salinas using an alias. The Swiss had apparently been tipped off by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), who believe the account contained laundered money from drug dealing. Mexican authorities say they have traced 48 bank accounts to Raul Salinas and 44 properties. Scotland Yard is said to be helping the Mexican authorities with inquiries into "a murder and money-laundering," apparently after a $20m bank account was discovered in Londonunder an alias allegedly used byRaul Salinas.

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