21 April 2010

Court opts against investigating cardinal's 1993 death

The Mexican Supreme Court decided April 20 against launching an investigation into the murder of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, who was shot dead outside the Guadalajara airport while wearing his clerical robes and heading to greet Archbishop Giralamo Prigione, papal nuncio to Mexico.

Gov. Emilio González Marquez of Jalisco state -- which is served by the Archdiocese of Guadalajara -- had asked for an investigation, but the 11-member court unanimously voted "no."

Gonzalez argued the court should have launched its own investigation due to irregularities in the original criminal investigation, which said Cardinal Posadas Ocampo was a victim of circumstances and caught in the crossfire of a shootout between rival narcotics-trafficking cartels.

The court decided after 40 minutes of deliberations it would not launch an investigation. The court has the authority to investigate matters involving alleged human rights abuses and it generally refrains from delving into criminal matters -- although it has in a few recent cases such as the June 2009 daycare fire in Hermosillo that claimed 49 young lives. That investigation determined that prominent figures in the IMSS, Hermosillo municipal government and Sonora state government - including then Gov. Eduardo Bours of the PRI - had some responsibility in the matter.

Church officials have long rejected the findings of the official investigation into Cardinal Posadas Ocampo's death and consider his slaying on May 24, 1993, to be a state crime. The then-President Carlos Salinas has denied any involvement and, according to a 2007 church report leaked to the media, sought the Vatican’s intervention to have the slaying not considered a state crime.

None of the authors of the crime have been convicted. A cartel hitman, Alfredo Araujo Avila, “El Popeye,” was found to be in possession of weapons used in the Cardinal Posadas Ocampo slaying, but was convicted last year of unrelated firearms charges. Church officials said the conviction meant "nothing."

Not everyone in the church has bought into the state crime theory. The late Luis Reynoso, a lawyer and the former bishop of Cuernavaca, rejected talk of speculation with his investigations in the late 1990s, which came to the conclusion that the cardinal was in the wrong place at the wrong time and no proof of premeditated murder exists.

Veteran church observer and religious studies professor Victor Ramos Cortés of the University of Guadalajara says the Catholic Church, with its history of bickering with the federal government and coming out on the losing end of many anti-clerical measures, has been wedded to the state crime theory because it allows for the creation of a martyr. The church already has beatified martyrs from the Cristero Rebellion, a 1920s uprising in Western Mexico against anti-clerical measures imposed by the federal government. The Archdiocese of Guadalajara also is building a massive new house of worship known as the Sanctuary of the Mexican Martyrs, although the project became polemic in 2008 when Gov. Gonzalez donated 90 million pesos of taxpayer money to the project. (The money was returned by the group responsible for the construction and came after widespread outrage flared in Jalisco and the governor let loose with a profanity laced tirade against critics and the media.)

Columnist Raymundo Rivera Palacio speculated in his most recent La Razón article that the shootout targeted the cardinal - and that the slaying was not a state crime.

"Posadas Ocampo had been bishop of Tijuana, where the dividing line between the cartels and the local church hierarchy always has been very tenuous," he wrote.

The furniture factory the nuncio had come bless, Rivera added, belonged to a lieutenant of a main rival of the Tijuana Cartel.

Church officials deny the late cardinal had any untoward relations with narcotics traffickers.

Whatever the truth, the slaying of a popular prelate ushered in vast political changes in Jalisco, one of the country's most populous and conservative states. Dissatisfaction over the cardinal's slaying compounded the already immense dissatisfaction in Jalisco in regards to the government response to the April 1992 sewer line explosions that flattened a long stretch of working-class neighbourhoods in Guadalajara.

The conservative PAN won the 1994 gubernatorial election and has held power ever since.

In May 2008 comments to The News, Jorge Zepeda Patterson, now the editor of El Universal and the former editor of the independent Guadalajara daily Siglo 21, compared the sewer explosions and cardinal's murder to the 1985 Mexico City earthquake as events that changed different parts of Mexico - but in vastly different ways.

"The 1985 earthquake generated the formation of a civil society with distinct [left-wing] ideologies, while in Guadalajara, it was essentially a turn to the right."

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