Remembering Assasinations:
Colosio and JFK

George Baker

As any motorist who has traveled the back highways of Mexico will attest,
rural Mexicans have a custom of putting a cross at the side in the road
where a family member died in a car accident.  In keeping with the spirit
of this tradition, one of the steps that the Mexican Government took in the
case of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the PRI presidential candidate from the
border state of Sonora who died on March 23, 1994, was to build a
bigger-than-life statue of the victim at the site of his assassination in
the impoverished Lomas Taurinas barrio located in the back hills of
Tijuana.  For not having yet paid my respects to the Colosio family by
visiting this statue (the Tijuana taxi driver told me it would take too
long), I only imagine the scene: the text engraved on the base of the
statue (a plaque would be recycled for its brass content) gives only his
name and dates; possibly there is some quotation from his political career
which was supposed to have ended in the year 2000 with his completion of
six years as President of Mexico.

One person, Mario Aburto, has been convicted of the crime, sentenced and
imprisoned.  Nevertheless, both the physical and intellectual authorship of
the crime is in doubt.  Most Mexicans who have heard of Colosio view him,
with sympathy, as a victim of what Mexicans call "the System."  Even so, it
is inconceivable that there is an inscription at the site of the Colosio
assassination that would dignify its perpetrator with an historical memory
of his name.

This point of view is not what prevails in Dallas.  In a renovated
neighborhood that once was the warehouse district, a street passes through
that heads toward a nearby freeway.  About 100 yards south from the street
level of the warehouses- turned-botiques and tourist attractions, there is
a functioning railroad line that runs east and west.  The street, flanked
by two grassy knolls, gradually drops beneath the underpass for motorists, 
one of whom, John F. Kennedy, was unconscious and dying by the time his car
reached the bridge on November 22, 1963.

Having parked one's car on the city streets, one approaches the edge of
town looking for a monument, a bust of Kennedy or some architectural
statement commensurate with the shock and grief that the nation experienced
in the days following his assassination. 
At the site itself, however, the visitor finds, at the corner of a red
brick building, only a plaque.  The text, in embossed bronze letters,
informs the visitor that the building was constructed in the 1880s by the
founder of Dallas and was used for certain commercial purposes.  The text
gives additional details of the history of the ownership of the building. 
Suddenly, following this dry recital of information of interest only to
real estate brokers, the text turns and says, "On November 22, 1963, from
the sixth floor of this building Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot and
killed President John F. Kennedy."  The appearance of the word "allegedly"
had captured the attention of visitors to such an extent that hundreds of
them had taken out their car keys and had underscored the word on the
bronze plaque, which, from a distance, appears to have a gash in the
middle.  The meaning now registers to the visitor what was printed on a
small sign seen on the side of the building a moment earlier that reads
"Sixth Floor Museum."  

Before even getting to the building itself, however, the visitor is greeted
by a street vender with his cache of brochures and pamphlets and
characteristic three-foot-square poster with photos of Kennedy and scenes
from the time of the assassination.   The street vender at one corner was
an African-American in his early forties.  He rushes into his version of
the assassination, and, and the end of his pitch, offers the tourist a $5
pamphlet as a souvenir of his visit.  "Up there," he nods, in the direction
of the Sixth Floor Museum, "they give the Warren Commission version of
Kennedy's assassination.  Those of us down here on the street will tell you
the way it really happened."  Further down the sidewalk another street
vender whose poster board of Kennedy photos also displays a sexy one of
Marilyn Monroe.  He tells a slightly different version of the same story: 
he points out the picket fence that borders the top of the grassy area and
states that from behind that fence there were three men with rifles who
also shot at Kennedy.  He explains that the locations of several pieces of
Kennedy's skull constituted incontrovertible proof that bullets were fired
from several directions.

One of the intriguing observations by this second vender took the form of a
question:   Why did the assassin wait until the Presidential car had turned
the corner and had started its path out of town?  Why didn't the assassin
fire when the President was coming directly toward him and was possibly
only 100 feet away in a direct line of fire?  Answer:  his turning the
corner and heading toward the underpass put him into the line of fire of
the three gunmen hiding behind the fence.

Oddly, the vender said that in all his time selling pamphlets about the
assassination, he had never bothered to go up to the Sixth Floor Museum,
admission to which costs $15.

Walking down the knoll to the sidewalk, to the street level that is
gradually sinking as it approaches the underpass to the right, the visitor
finds another small bronze plaque about one foot square placed in the
grass.  The text informs the visitor that an official body--possibly a
state historical commission--had "designated this site as having interest
for the history of the United States of America."  Kennedy's name does not
appear.  (A parallel here exists in Mexico:  at the Hill of the Bells in
the colonial city of Queretaro, the site where Emperor Maximilian and two
of his generals were shot by a government firing squad--the pleas of
President Abraham Lincoln and others to spare their lives were
ignored--there is no public plaque or statute that mentions their names at

What could explain the understatement in Dallas about the Kennedy
assassination?  For some visitors, it was entirely appropriate that
Oswald's name should be connected to the assassination only as a matter of
speculation.  "He was never tried and convicted by a court of law.  Hence,
it can never be said that he was guilty of the assassination."  For others,
the architectural monument known as the Open Tomb in the next block is

Consider the contrast in the Mexican case:   where, in the United States,
the murder of Kennedy provoked tears and widespread mourning, in Mexico the
murder of Colosio provoked fear:  "If they can kill the PRI candidate in
broad daylight, then individual guarntees mean nothing."

One Mexican woman in her forties recalls the days that Kennedy and Colosio
were shot:   "The day Kennedy died my mother and grandmother and I were in
McAllen, Texas.  We were headed back to Mexico when they closed the border.
 "I was just a little girl.  I recall people running, crying.  I remember
Grandmother saying to me, anxiously, 'They just have to let us cross the
border.  I have not  made sopa [lunch] for your abuelito [grandfather].' 
The thought that someone could just go up and kill the president of the
United States seemed inconceivable.  When Colosio died we became fearful. 
I was brought back to my childhood memory of the day Kennedy died:  it was
unheard of--that someone could kill the PRI presidential candidate.  You
could immediately see that his death was the work of the System.  Some of
us thought, 'If the PRI candidate can be  killed, no one is safe.  Now is
the time when we've got to emmigrate from Mexico.'"

As to the authorship of the crime, for most middle- and upper-class
Mexicans the fact that Aburto was tried and convicted of murder proves
nothing.    Speculation arose almost at once as to the existence of other
gunmen.  There was also speculation that Aburto himself was a substitute
figure; the real assassin had either escaped or had been murdered by the
intellectual authors of the crime in order to silence his secrets (Mexicans
regard the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald in this light.)  As in the case of
Kennedy, in the case of Colosio there was speculation that the government
itself was somehow involved in the assassination. In Mexico there were
jokes to this effect, but Americans found no humor in the idea of CIA's
possible complicity in the death of Kennedy.  (One jewel of Mexican black
humor from this period tells of how the president was awakened from his nap
on the afternoon of Colosio's assassination by an agitated staff assistant
who said:  "Mr. President, wake up, Colosio's been shot!"  The president
replies in surprise, "Have I slept that long?" as if the hour of the
assassination had been known by him in advance.)

The way the two assassinations are treated respectively in the United
States and Mexico points to a central difference between the two civil
societies:  In the United States there will always be a subculture that
doubts the truth of the public record; but in Mexico the concept itself of
a public record does not exist.  The real facts of Mexican history are the
ones that are apoken at private dinner parties among friends.  The facts
that are written serve mainly to justify the actions of the State.  The
statue of Colosio in Tijuana serves less to remind citizens of a fallen
leader, one who, allegedly, had a vision of political reform, than it does
to validate the process itself of presidential elections, a process that,
for more than sixty years, uniformly has produced presidents from the same
political party.    After the Colosio assassination, Mexicans expected--and
received--another president-apparent fingered by the incumbent president
and his advisors.  It was little comfort that an official ceremony of
voting would take place on August 23 of that year would be a vote of social
peace, a repudiation of the direct-action philosophy of the Zapatista
uprising in Chiapas that had begun on January 1, the first day of NAFTA.

But aside from his remaining family and friends, no one in Mexico mourns
the death of Colosio (his widow, Diana Laura, died of cancer six months
later).  Certainly no one mourns the death of the Colosio in the sense that
Americans past the age of fifty continue to mourn the death of Kennedy. 
The surprise in Dallas is that the city fathers have not taken steps to
help civic pilgrims to the site of Kennedy's death with their
thirty-year-old grief.  In that sense, for American sensibilities, the
Mexican statues and busts of the smiling, curly-haired Colosio in Tijuana,
Mexico City and elsewhere make good emotional sense, despite the fact that
there is little political reality behind them.


George Baker
1770 St. James Place, Ste 406
Houston, TX 77056-3405
Tel (713) 627-9390
Fax (713) 627-9391