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Column 032204 Thompson

Monday, March 22, 2004


Mexico assassination attack may have been political theater


By Barnard R. Thompson


Reports of an assassination attempt against José Murat Casab, governor of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, made breaking news headlines worldwide following the March 18 attack.


According to early details, shortly after 8:00 a.m. a group of from three to 13 assailants armed with automatic rifles and 9mm pistols ambushed the vehicle Murat was said to be driving.  The governor, while bruised and shaken was uninjured in consequence of the assault, however two of his bodyguards were wounded, one seriously.


The incident was quickly condemned in Mexico, from President Vicente Fox Quesada on down, and an immediate dragnet was put out to find not only the perpetrators but also who was behind the assassination try.


At the same time Fox was telling bankers at a convention in Acapulco that this was an isolated incident, and that Mexico is a calm and peaceful nation.  Members of his team swiftly declared that in spite of this violence and recent corruption related political scandals Mexico is not moving towards ungovernableness.


And on top of all this, by the next morning commentators nationwide were seriously questioning the authenticity of the alleged assassination attempt on Murat.


José Murat is a cacique — a political boss — in the most classic of Mexican senses.  And he is a super cacique in a state of caciques, an iron willed strongman and aggressive nationalist who has managed to subjugate many others in the often-conflictive Oaxaca, a state of tourist wonders that is also home to various indigenous and ethnic groups, political movements, so-called guerrillas and drug traffickers.


Born in 1949, Murat received his law degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico around the same time he joined the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 1971.  A career politician, Murat served three separate terms in the federal Chamber of Deputies and one in the Senate before he was elected governor of his native Oaxaca in 1998.


Moreover, the controversial Murat now has his eye on the Mexican presidency in 2006, which is why many believe he may have staged his own assassination attempt.


But the altering versions of the incident, as told by Murat and his allies following the Thursday morning gunfire, are full of more holes than the vehicle that was supposedly sprayed by shooters with Kalashnikov assault rifles.


Photographs taken of the SUV-type vehicle immediately following the attack showed but three rather immaculate bullet holes, two in the center and one on the passenger side of an otherwise undamaged windshield.  Four hours later the vehicle appeared with two additional smashing impacts on the driver’s side of the same windshield.  Murat first told reporters that “the windshield came in on top of me,” but both pictures certainly refute that claim.


In an effort to clarify the questions, police chief Ricardo Dorantes said that the glass was further shattered due to rough handling by a tow truck.  Neighborhood onlookers said however that the vehicle was never towed, while a man wearing blue jeans did drive it away from the scene for a period of time.


A deputy state attorney general said the vehicle “was lost for about 15 minutes, during which time the windshield could have been smashed” (Reforma, 03/20/04).  An AP report, of March 20, quotes the official as saying “the crime scene was left unguarded for 15 to 20 minutes, during which time the windshield … was shattered.”


The official version of how Murat escaped the gunfire claims an unidentified passing motorist scooped up the governor and drove him to a social security clinic.  However the governor’s security chief said he was the one who drove his boss to the clinic in an escorted vehicle.


Murat first said that bodyguards pulled him from the SUV and pushed him under a parked car for protection, whereas the attorney general of Oaxaca said that the governor ran from the scene.  The aforementioned AP report quotes Murat as also saying an unidentified motorist picked him up and drove him not to a clinic but to a hotel.


Of course the big question is why would anyone stage something so reprehensible?  And if it was theater, was it a stunt to grab headlines as many suggest?


Or could it likewise be that the PRI standard bearer is running behind in the polls, to a popular (ex-PRI member) coalition candidate, in the run-up to the August 1 gubernatorial elections?  Among other things, Murat might see a first time ever PRI defeat in his Oaxaca fiefdom as an impediment to his own 2006 presidential aspirations.

Thursday, March 18, 2004, at 9:05 a.m.
First pictures of Murat's vehicle (Reforma, Ivan Rendón)

Thursday, March 18, 2004, at 3:15 p.m.
Murat's vehicle 6 hours later (Reforma, Tomás Martínez)

Thursday, March 18, 2004
A bandaged Governor José Murat Casab (Reforma)

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