“We set up house and I embarked on the torturous path of maintaining a double life. I could do it. I was a man of power, no? … It seemed perfect… We were Mr. and Mrs. Gómez Gutiérrez.”
The Mr. Gómez Gutiérrez in question is none other than Raúl Salinas de Gortari, a recently convicted murderer staring at a fifty-year sentence for the death of Francisco Ruíz Massieu, a leading party official and former Salinas brother-in-law. The quote comes from the Mexico City daily El Financiero, leaking what are purported to be pages from Raúl’s unedited memoirs. Raúl portrays himself as suffering from a case of Donjuanismo, the thrills of a double life – false passports, casas chicas (little houses) for the mistresses. It was the “vertigo of power,” that led him astray, after his life changed dramatically when his younger brother Carlos became the presidential candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (P.R.I.) on November 4, 1987.
Purported, of course, is the operative word here. During the four-year investigation there has been a constant flow of leaks to the press, many of them involving babes, bones, and brujas (witches), proving once again that some of the most innovative fiction in Latin America is written in the office of Mexico’s Attorney General. From what we’ve seen so far, Raúl’s written a snoozer. But then, how to compete with the original political telenovela? To recap briefly: José Francisco Ruíz Massieu was once married to Adriana Salinas, the sister of Raúl and the now-disgraced former President Carlos Salinas. He was also a former governor of Guerrero, and a top party leader in the PRI, who was cast as a reformer – despite a few literal skeletons in a closet too small to hide the many truths he lived with. His 1979 divorce was always described as “messy” or “bitter” – for reasons made obvious when he was posthumously outed. The man originally in charge of investigating Francisco’s murder was his own brother, Assistant Attorney General Mario Ruíz Massieu. Mario, too, was cast as a crusading prosecutor out to avenge his brother’s death, warning ominously that “the devils were on the loose.” He was later arrested trying to enter the United States with undeclared excess cash, and it now appears that he had been paid off to keep the Salinas family name out of the investigation of his brother’s murder. Enter Pablo Chapa Bezanilla, another energetic crusader. Chapa Bezanilla looked like a “tough New York cop,” and the beleaguered presidency of Ernesto Zedillo received a much-needed boost in 1995, when the President backed a Chapa Bezanilla order to arrest Raúl Salinas.
There’s still one missing link – Manuel Muñoz Rocha, a Tamaulipas congressman and Raúl Salinas crony, whose legislative district lies just across the border from the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Muñoz Rocha is believed to have organized the hit, and hadn’t been seen since the day after Francisco Ruíz Massieu was killed. And now, things get really loopy – beginning with María Bernál, one of Raúl’s former girlfriends, whose first public appearance was in a photo (leaked to a Mexico City newspaper) of her straddling Raúl on the prow of a yacht. María is an acquaintance of Doña Francisca, a.k.a. “La Paca,” a chunky clairvoyant who led investigators to an unmarked grave on one of Raúl’s estates, where La Paca had divined that the body of Senator Muñoz Rocha was buried. The bones turned out to belong to a relative of La Paca; rather than collecting a reward, she went to jail for her part in the hoax. Chapa Bezanilla fled the country, was extradited from Spain, and eventually was acquitted for his role in the highjinks. Manuel Muñoz Rocha is still missing.
And so it came to pass that just hours before the Pope’s plane was scheduled to touch down in Mexico City last month, a small crowd of reporters gathered outside the high-security Almoloya Prison to await the decision of Judge Ricardo Ojeda Bohorquez. Paulina Castanón, Raúl’s Catherine Deneuve look-alike wife (who also had a run-in with the law after trying to withdraw $84 million from Swiss banks), clutched at an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. But alas, a miracle was not to be. At least not yet. Raúl was convicted and once again, the U.S. media strained to portray yet another Mexican president as a reformer, describing Ernesto Zedillo as a statesman leading an “unprecedented and historic transition to democracy.” Is it okay to convict someone just because they are scum? Was this a decision based on law or politics, aimed at keeping the self-exiled former president at bay and appeasing a much-maligned citizenry? Was it likely to launch another round of bloody power struggles?
Raúl may or may not have killed his former brother-in-law Francisco Ruíz Massieu. But there is just one more thing, and as the late great Cantinflas would say, alli está el detalle.
The Raúl Salinas case is not about babes, bones, brujas, and brothers. It’s about banks. Citibank funneled Raúl’s millions to Switzerland, through the offices of “private banker” Amy Elliott in New York. A Swiss investigation has charged Raúl with money laundering; a G.A.O. report issued last fall has come down hard on Citibank. There has been an on-again, off-again U.S. Justice Department investigation into Citibank. Charles Intriago, a former prosecutor and publisher of Money Laundering Alert, warns that the statute of limitations is about to run out. Nevertheless, last year the Justice Department and Federal Reserve gave their blessings to the merger of Citibank and Travelers Insurance, creating “Citigroup” – the kind of institution that, in economic parlance, is “too big to fail” (i.e., too big to get nailed). A U. S. congressional committee is supposed to be looking into the activities of Citibank and the whole business of “private banking.” But committee members are too busy right now. Too preoccupied with babes, Donjuanismo, and the high crimes and misdemeanors of the “vertigo of power.”
Barbara Belejack is a writer living in Mexico City.