Exposing Cardinal Posadas’ killers

Questions remain on the prelate’s 1993 murder

It is to be wondered that if Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo had met his violent end in any other country, would his high profile murder have remained unresolved for the last 21 years.

According to the official record, when no fewer than 20 gunmen opened up around him on May 24, 1993 – in broad daylight – as he sat with his chauffer at Mexico’s Guadalajara International Airport, the cardinal was struck 14 times, with some of the fatal bullets fired from just three feet away (apparently by a gunman who held the car door closed to prevent the cardinal jumping from the vehicle). When the shooting finally subsided, seven people lay dead around the airport car park.

Sadly, the fact that the crime scene was located in Mexico is a feature that has come to muddy the waters on the cardinal’s slaying, with its attendant crime levels and corruption in high places serving to undermine subsequent investigations of the murder.

The word ‘unresolved’ in opening this report was deliberately chosen in the light of such Mexican realities. Officially, the crime, described as a shootout between rival drug factions, was ‘solved’ in 2008 when Alfredo Araujo Avila was arrested after years on the run in the shooting aftermath.

A sicario (assassin) for the Arellano Felix drug cartel (better known as the Tijuana cartel), Avila was directly implicated in the airport shooting and subsequently charged in relation to the crime.

Pursuit of justice

One arrest, however, was never going to fully satisfy the pursuit of justice on Cardinal Posadas’ case, or silence the whispered conspiracy theories that have swirled about his name ever since that fateful day in 1993. Neither has an official inquiry silenced the doubting voices.

Now, in a new twist, attention has turned on former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, during whose term of office, 1988-1994, the shooting occurred.

Following a longtime reinvestigation of the case, and in conjunction with one of the original members of the state’s own commission which examined the case, lawyer for the Archdiocese of Guadalajara, Jesus Becerra Pedrote, has published a new book on the killing, bringing politicians into the murky mix.

Dramatically, Becerra’s book insists that while there is no hard evidence to suggest that Mr Salinas was in any way involved in matters, “there is evidence that the president’s men committed the assassination” and the murder “involved people of the inner circle of the president” angered by the cardinal’s outspoken criticisms of links between serving politicians and organised crime figures to the detriment of ordinary Mexicans.

Easy claims to make in a society as corrupt and paranoid as Mexico, and all the better for sales of a book offering a glimpse into the world of crime and political double dealing.

Such a cynical perspective aside, however, Mr Becerra’s book is an important publication, not from the claims it makes against individual personalities, but in the further questions it raises about the handling of the investigation into the criminal case.

As early as the night of the shooting, The New York Times reported on the official line being taken by police investigators, quoting a Lieutenant Francisco Corona Garcia that this was a case of rival drugs gangs clashing and the cardinal was an unfortunate victim caught in the crossfire. The newspaper felt compelled to add of the lieutenant’s words, however: “Neither he nor other officials made it clear how they had arrived at that conclusion.”

Perhaps the fact that two of the dead in the car park were later linked to notorious drugs kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, head of the Sinaloa cartel led to the assessment. But how so the ‘innocent victim of crossfire’ assertion when it was confirmed by the coroner that at least one gunman was barely three feet away as the fatal shots were fired? If one looks at the crime scene photographs immediately after the shooting, Cardinal Posadas is clearly wearing both clerical garb and a thick-chained pectoral cross.

Added to this, Becerra reveals that 10 individual witnesses have stated to him that 10 gunmen surrounded the cardinal’s car and fired on it (the car itself showed 26 bullet strikes).

Pause for thought

If that does not give pause for thought, and some might still wish to cling to the crossfire ‘theory’ over events exaggerated in the minds of terrified witnesses, Becerra points to a further troublesome element.

Having reason to believe that cameras situated about Guadalajara airport that day captured part or all of the shooting, Becerra and his team applied for their release through legal channels, only to be told that no such video exists.

Now, however, the lawyer claims that his investigation has led to the conclusion that video footage was gained at the crucial moment, and is now missing.

“We have never found the video recording, but we are certain that the video had been filmed,” Becerra insists.

The result of Becerra’s investigation was unveiled at the Vatican at the end of May when the current Archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega launched Los Chacales (The Jackals), the book detailing the lawyer’s interviews of individuals linked to events in 1993, including the drug chief Guzmán.

Acknowledging that question still remain in the case, hidden perhaps by those with much to lose in being linked to such a high profile killing, Cardinal Robles insisted that the Church will not be intimidated in its search for the truth.

“We have a right to know the truth,” he said. “With someone executed with such cruelty, we have a right to know who killed him and why.”