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By David Gaddis Smith
The man falsely accused as being a second gunman in the 1994 assassination of Institutional Revolutionary Party presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio attended the annual memorial for the slain politician for the first time Wednesday in Tijuana's poor Lomas Taurinas neighborhood.
Othón Cortez Vazquez, left, who now works for Tijuana's parks department, had long worked as a driver and doing other jobs for the PRI before he was arrested nearly a year after the March 23, 1994 assassination. Although there was no evidence against him, he was imprisoned from Feb. 24, 1995 to Aug. 7, 1996. He was like the accused man in the documentary that has recently captivated Mexico, "Presunto Culpable,"or "Presumed Guilty." The charges against him came out of thin air.
Cortez said Wednesday that he has only seen parts of the movie, but wants to see all of it. He said it is extremely unfortunate that people like him and the falsely accused suspect in "Presunto Culpable" still are being fingered by prosecutors or police seeking to put a "solved" label on their cases.
Cortez was likely charged because although the gunman in the Colosio case, Mario Aburto Martínez, was captured, confessed, was sentenced and remains in prison, most Mexicans were and are convinced that there was a conspiracy in the case. Cortez himself is not convinced that there was not a larger plot, only that he was not a part of it, as he was a strong supporter of the PRI and of Colosio, whom he had driven around Tijuana.
Disappointed, however, in how the PRI and the government treated him after his arrest, Cortez eventually became a National Action Party sympathizer. He now says he is a multi-party person, and that anyway, he cannot vote in elections. He said the Federal Electoral Institute has required him, as part of a process to regain his voting rights, to provide him with the written documentation involving his case. "It's 70,000 pages," he said. He said that would cost him 35,000 pesos in copying costs, or nearly $3,000, money that he does not have to spare.
Update, Jan. 28, 2012: Cortez, eating with his family at a Chinese restaurant where PAN presidential candidate Santiago Creel was holding a rally, said he will get his voting rights back in mid-February and will be able to vote in the July 1 presidential election. He said it was a coincidence that Creel's rally was taking place; he and his family live nearby.
Cortez remained in the background during Wednesday's 17th annual ceremony, which he said was "very nicely done." Many came up to greet him, or shook his hand and hugged him as they happened to walk by, including PRI politicians such as Roberto Alcide Beltrones, (in right photo, wearing purple tie, next to Cortez, left). Beltrones now is a top official in the government of Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante. Cortez said that while in the past people he did not know came up to him and accused him of being involved in the assassination, nothing of the sort happened Wednesday. "Things change with time," he said. He said others who had not stood by him in 1995 and 1996 have since apologized to him.
At right, María de los Angeles Nuño holds a photo of Colosio that she said she owned well before Colosio was slain. She decorated the frame holding the photo with flowers. Nuño said she comes to the ceremony every year.
The ceremony was attended by the PRI mayors of Baja California state's five municipalities. As a result of last year's elections, all the state's mayors are members of the PRI for the first time since 1989. Among those speaking Wednesday were Bustamante and Ensenada Mayor Enrique Pelayo Torres, who gave a strident political speech saying the PRI should win the the presidency again next year and never should have the lost the presidency to Vicente Fox of the National Action Party in 2000. The crowd was relatively large and standing room only, with more than 400 chairs and benches occupied; the Tijuana government's website said more than 1,000 attended, while Frontera newspaper said nearly 1,000 did.
The plaza was painted and fixed up in the week before the ceremony, as usually is the case. In at least one previous year, some of the metal letters announcing the name of the site and spelling Luis Donaldo Colosio were missing, presumably having been taken by vagrants seeking money for them at a recycling center. Such was not the case Wednesday.