Pubdate: Fri, 7 Nov 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Author: Ken Ellingwood, Reporting from Mexico City

Mexico Under Siege


The Government Sees Nothing Nefarious in the Crash That Killed
Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino and 13 Others, but Mexicans Are
Convinced Foul Play Was Involved. The Investigation Continues.

The plane crash that killed Mexican Interior Minister Juan Camilo
Mourino this week made one thing clear: No matter how the government
explains what happened, few Mexicans are likely to believe it.

Authorities insist they have no evidence of foul play in Tuesday's
fiery rush-hour crash, which also killed former top anti-drug
prosecutor Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos and 12 other people. They
have taken pains to portray an open and thorough investigation and
brought in American and British crash specialists to bolster
confidence in the inquiry.

But to many Mexicans, the crash must have been the work of assassins,
possibly drug traffickers, probably aided by turncoats in the government.

On Thursday, the curious continued to gather at the crash site, next
to the famed Paseo de la Reforma. Most seemed certain foul play was
involved -- perhaps, for example, a sliced cable.

"I'm not sure if it was narcos or some politician," said Fausto
Garcia, 46, a taco vendor. "But for sure it was deliberate."

Government efforts to quell the rumors by airing officials' interim
findings seemed to only sow more suspicion.

Agustin Amador Martinez, 25, a law student, urged authorities to
"investigate who it was that ordered them killed and why."

He added: "We want the truth, not, like always, some nonsense that
this was an accident. We're not imbeciles."

The burst of conspiracy-theorizing came from more than the crash
alone: Many Mexicans feel their leaders have lied so many times about
so many things over the years that it's hard to believe them, even
when they might be telling the truth.

Some of the most significant events in Mexico's modern history -- from
the 1968 massacre of demonstrators in Mexico City to the 1994
assassination of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio -- are
synonymous with cover-up or farfetched official conclusions.

The long reach of drug gangs has heightened the public's sense of dark
and powerful forces at work beneath the surface, usually in league
with crooked police or government officials.

President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug gangs when he took
office in December 2006, unleashing a wave of violence that has grown.

Most people suspected drug gangs when assailants lobbed grenades into
a crowd at a Sept. 15 celebration in Calderon's home state, Michoacan.
But there was also broad skepticism when authorities said they had
caught three men who confessed to the fatal attack.

Many Mexicans found the official account hard to swallow: that an
anonymous tip led police to the suspects, alleged members of a feared
gang of hit men known as the Zetas, who had been left beaten and bound
by former colleagues.

"That is one of the worst legacies of recent governments: They never
clear up assassinations, accidents or supposed suicides," columnist
Pablo Hiriart wrote in Thursday's edition of the newspaper Excelsior.
"They end up inoculating the population against official versions."

This time, the official version is that the Learjet 45 carrying
Mourino, Santiago Vasconcelos and seven other people probably went
down by accident. Transportation Minister Luis Tellez said the plane
came down whole, making it unlikely that a bomb had exploded on board.
Five people were killed on the ground.

On Wednesday, transportation officials aired radar images and radio
exchanges between the pilot and air traffic controllers to show that
everything appeared normal until the jet abruptly vanished from the
screen. Officials said it was the first time in the country's history
that such data had been made public.

U.S. and British air crash investigators have also been brought in to
help, a move that could make the conclusions more credible.

On Thursday, the government's news briefing featured a U.S. diplomat
describing the American role in the inquiry.

Investigators have located the plane's flight recorders.

At a memorial service, Calderon, standing before coffins adorned with
photographs of the dead, said he was determined to find out what
caused the crash.

"Nobody," he said, "is more interested than me that the truth emerges
and the causes of this incident are cleared up."