Nearer the Truth in Mexico


Mexico is careening toward a purging and purification of its body politic. The process creates fear and excitement. Good news and bad tumble atop each other. Confidence in the peso and the political system plummet while faith in President Ernesto Zedillo soars.

The Zedillo administration shattered the code of silence. Mexicans call this code by a Sicilian word with Mafia connotations, "omerta." It holds that a president whose family gets filthy rich during his single six-year term is never touched by investigation or criticism afterward, the immunity extending to associates; in turn, the past president never criticizes or inconveniences his successor.

Mr. Zedillo shattered this when his attorney general ordered the arrest of Raul Salinas de Gortari, brother of ex-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, for allegedly masterminding the Sept. 28 assassination of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu. Raul Salinas is connected by association to the plot's alleged organizer, Manuel Munoz Rocha, a former legislator who is now a fugitive and feared dead.

One cannot assume the accusation against Raul Salinas -- which has knocked Carlos Salinas from his pedestal -- will be proven. But now President Zedillo and former President Salinas are publicly blaming each other for the flight of capital and the Dec. 20 peso devaluation.

The probe of the Ruiz Massieu murder involves a possible cover-up. The simultaneous probe of the March 1994 assassination of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, previously blamed on a lone gunman, has led to a conspiracy and a second gunman. All but one of these people are operatives of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has monopolized power for 66 years.

At last, many Mexicans believe PRI secrets may be tumbling out. The outsider is Attorney General Antonio Lozano, whom President Zedillo recruited from the opposition National Action Party (PAN). He represents the possibility of truth.

Mr. Zedillo, Carlos Salinas' second choice for successor, has been described as a weak president who is a puritan about the law and profoundly ignorant of the political system he inherited, "the perfect combination to promote change." The crisis caused an embarrassed Clinton administration to drop support of Carlos Salinas for president of the World Trade Organization, and induced Congress to demand to know what the administration knew about the weakness of the Mexican peso before putting up a $20 billion loan.

As Mexico's partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement, Americans have equal reason to fear instability and hope for reform. Unhappily, these two possibilities are joined. Having gone this far, Mr. Zedillo has no choice but to complete the catharsis -- the purging and purification -- that he began. No matter what came out, Mexico would be healthier for completing the process.

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