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LAS AMERICAS Carlos Salinas on Trial BY BARBARA BELEJACK Mexico City TO THOSE OF YOU who turn on CNN and think that you’re watching “The Trial of the Century,” all I can say is, I’m sorry, but it’s just not so. Forget 0.J., the glove, the Bronco and the battery of high-priced lawyers. We all know that The Trial of the Century takes place every Thursday through Saturday night at the Bar Habito on Madrid Street, in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacan. That’s when Jesusa Rodriguez, an elfin, fortyish actress with beady brown eyes, puts on her topcoat and hat \(with dollar ever-so-perfect mustache. Posing next to a lifesized cartoon of the former president of Mexico dressed in prison pinstripes, Jesusa plays the part of the defendant in a farce called “The Trial of Carlos Salinas de Gortari.” A master of mimicry and improvisation, Jesusa is a combination activist/empresario/actress who thrives on controversy and whose theater is regularly picketed by Pro-life militants. During the Salinas administration, her impersonations of the president drew the attention of the Licenciado himself, and reportedly Salinas invited the actress and troupe to Los Pinos, the Mexican White House. But there’s nothing like a tumbling economy and an ex-president on a hunger strike to bring on the sharpest of satire. Which is why, for the past month or so, Jesusa has been holding court on stage, as the uninhibited audience does what it cannot in real lifeinterrogate Licenciado Carlos Salinas. How does it feel to be the number one thief in Mexico? Why did you kill Colosio? Why didn’t you warn the Mexican public about the devaluation? The Licenciado responds that it’s wonderful for Mexico to be Number One in something; that Luis Donaldo himself told him he was going to die one week before he did, and, as a matter of fact, he committed suicide. He later says that he’s now investigating the possibility that there were two gunmen with four pistols, or four gunmen with eight pistols, or maybe everyone in Lomas Barbara Belejack is an editor at the weekly El Financiero International in Mexico City. Taurinas, the Tijuana slum where the Candidato died, was armed to the teeth. As to the devaluation question, he responds that he, the Licenciado Carlos did tell people about the devaluation. As a matter of fact, he told Carlos Hank, Carlos Slim, Emilio Azcharragaamong the richest and most powerful men in Mexicoand told them to tell everybody else. And he is in deed proud that he did his best MICHAEL ALEXANDER to bring Mexico_ into the First World. The problem was you have to do these things one person at a time: “By the end of my administration, we brought 24 people into the First World!” Jesusa/Salinas exults, referring to the 24 Mexican billionaires on the Forbes list, recipients of the bounties of the privatization and neoliberalism that were so heralded during the administration of the real-life Licenciado: “Imagine what we could have done with just a little more time! With just one more term in office, surely we would have produced at least 50 billionaires!” In his Coyoacan trial, The Licenciado is defended by Maria de Los Angeles, Californiaa caricature of Maria de los Angeles Moreno, the PRI leader and Salinas protegewho is played by the Mexican theater’s Number One drag queen, Tito Vasconcelos. Tito/Maria sports a floorlength black veil, and with every mention of the name “Colosio,” lets out a howl. The judge is a wimp in a white wig who, along with Maria de Los Angeles, California, accepts cash from the Licenciado and snorts PRI-packaged coke. The current president of Mexico appears in the form of “El Doctorcito,” a puppet who is the subject of the evening’s most cruel and vulgar jokes. You get the picture, I hope, even if some of it gets lost in the translation. The cultural historians would say that Jesusa and “The Trial of Salinas” is an example of Mexico doing what it does best poking through the slime, the political and economic hard times, and reaping the profits in the form of self-deprecating black humor; Jesusa as a Posadas skeleton with a top hat and mustache and a punch line that corresponds to this morning’s headline. So much of the past administration was high theater that it plays well as farce. The man in the .street would say that Jesusa and company are simply responding to the public drumbeat that Salinas and his shadowy former chief advisor, Joseph-Marie Cordoba, who now reportedly advises current officials from his post at the Interamerican Development Bank in Washington, be called to a public accounting. The crimes they are accused of range from the genericall-around arroganceto what was once unspeakably specifica direct hand in the assassination of Luis Donaldo Colosio, Salinas’ hand-picked successor. In Mexico City’s Zona Rosa, for example, there is a shop that specializes in miniature Posada figures that sometimes features topical political humor. Somehow the major events of 1994 escaped the Casa de las Miniaturas. But last week I discovered that one of the most popular items is the Salinas-in-the-box, or Salinas in the high-security, Almoloya jail. At just 10 devalued pesos, the miniature Salinas is a real steal. At the end of “The Trial of Salinas,” the audience votes. No hung juries here. No drawn-out deliberation. Night after night, the Licenciado is convicted and sent to prison. Night after night, The Prosecutor reminds the audience, just as the stage lights begin to fade, “Remember, this is a work of fiction. It’s up to us to make it real.” Pues, quien sabe? Who Knows? Meanwhile, trial enthusiasts discuss CNN’s Lucia Newmann’s broadcast on the first anniversary of the assassination, when she reported that an unnamed high-level source promised “surprising results” at the end of April. 12 APRIL 7, 1995