Childhood & Early Life
Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta was born on February 10, 1950, in Magdaleno de Kino, Sonora, Mexico, to Luis Colosio Fernández, a meat packer and self-educated accountant, and Ofelia Murrieta Armida García.
He graduated from the 'Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey' ('Institute of Technology and Higher Studies in Monterrey') and then joined the 'Institutional Revolutionary Party' (PRI) in 1972. He soon began his postgraduate studies at the 'University of Pennsylvania.' Following his graduation, he lived in Vienna for a year.
Colosio completed his PhD from the 'International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis' in Austria and then returned to Mexico.
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In 1979, Colosio joined the office of the 'Ministry of Budget and Planning' under the ‘PRI’ presidential candidate Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
In 1985, as a ‘Congress’ member, he became the federal deputy from Sonora. He served on the PRI 'National Executive Committee' in 1987. The following year, Salinas made him the manager of his presidential campaign and named him the ‘PRI’ party head. Colosio thus served as the official mayor of the ‘PRI.’
Salinas became the president on December 1, 1988. After his brief stint as the Sonora senator, Colosio served as the ‘PRI’ president from 1988 to 1992. In between, he supervised the 1991 congressional elections and several internal party reforms. Additionally, he chaired the ‘PRI National Executive Committee.'
Colosio eventually won the president's confidence and established a strong political relationship with him. In 1992, Salinas named him the head of the newly created national social-welfare program known as the 'Secretariat of Social Development' (SEDESOL), to eradicate poverty. Colosio seemed promising in that capacity, but he failed to prevent Chiapas's anti-government uprising in January 1994.
In November 1993, the ‘PRI’ nominated Colosio as the next candidate for the presidential election scheduled for August 1994.
Colosio's campaign had a slow start because of the then-ongoing negotiations between former foreign minister Manuel Camacho and the ‘E.Z.L.N.’ guerrillas in the state of Chiapas. It also triggered a lot of media sensation, as Camacho was Colosio's main rival for the ‘PRI’ candidacy. Camacho was using his position as the negotiator for his potential independent campaign and also to replace Colosio on the ‘PRI’ ballot.
Camacho turned out to be a threat for the ‘PRI,’ as his actions weakened Colosio's campaign and created the possibility of the party's first presidential loss since 1929. Everyone almost believed that Camacho would replace Colosio.
However, the ‘PRI’ and Salinas backed him as much as possible. The president's favor led to Colosio's famous declaration, ''No se hagan bolas: el candidato es Colosio,'' meaning “Don't get confused: Colosio is the candidate.”
The cold war between Camacho and Colosio ended when Salinas intervened. The ‘PRI’ pressurized Camacho to withdraw his candidature and focus on the Chiapas uprising instead. He finally dropped out of the campaign. As a polite gesture, Colosio supported Camacho for his peace-making efforts in Chiapas.
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Following the withdrawal, Colosio's win was assured. However, his assassination the day after Camacho's withdrawal led to massive political chaos in Mexico. After Colosio's death, Camacho became Salinas's probable successor.
Colosio mostly campaigned without bodyguards and preferred to be close to the public.
On March 23, 1994, he attended a campaign rally in Lomas Taurinas, Tijuana, Baja California. He appeared happy to meet and greet his people. At 5:05 p.m. PST, Colosio was shot with a ‘.38 Special,’ first in the head and then in the abdomen.
He collapsed and was immediately rushed to the city hospital. A few hours later, he was pronounced dead.
Camacho paid his condolences from Chiapas and said the news had shocked him. He also showed his concern about the impact of Colosio’s death on peace-making process.
A factory worker named Mario Aburto Martinez was arrested from the shooting spot. At that point, he was convicted as the sole shooter. Even the Salinas administration claimed he was the only shooter.
The investigation authorities were heavily criticized for mishandling Aburto, the only lead at that point. The authorities supposedly gave Aburto a new look (which included grooming and a new haircut) before presenting him to the media, leading everyone to wonder if he was the same person who had been arrested earlier. Many believed that the authorities had replaced the real shooter with an innocent man.
Additionally, the investigation officers built a case against him, and to make it stronger, they established that Aburto had been suffering from borderline personality disorder and had links to drug-trafficking organizations.
A series of investigations were carried out in the subsequent year, leading to several theories around the assassination. However, none of them could reveal the real culprit. The evidence suggested a political conspiracy with connections to Salinas's office.
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Miguel Montes, one of the first special prosecutors on the case, came up with the theory that Aburto was not the only shooter, as Colosio had been shot twice from two different directions.
Four other men, including former police officer Vicente Mayoral Valenzuela and 'Cisen' intelligence agent Jorge Antonio Sánchez Ortega, were suspected of being associated with the assassination and were thus arrested.
The theory of more than one shooter was eventually rejected after Aburto, too, consistently maintained that he was the only shooter, during his trials.
In 1998, former police commander Guillermo González Calderoni brought in another suspect, Arrellano-Félix Cartel, and held him as the real murderer.
Of the several versions of the incident that the federal attorney general's office had considered, one was that Colombian drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán had funded Colosio's campaign and thus could have had some role to play in his assassination. However, there was no evidence that could establish the organized crime hypotheses.
The journalists covering the campaign later came up with a piece of information that suggested the rally in the poor Tijuana neighborhood was not on Colosio's campaign program for that day.
After a lengthy investigation and Aburto's confession, the federal government closed the case and declared him as the sole culprit. However, the public and the media still believed that there had been two shooters, and the controversy continues to this day. Aburto was imprisoned at the high-security ‘La Palma’ facility in Almoloya de Juárez.
Colosio's wife, Diana Laura Riojas, was also investigating his murder, but she died from pancreatic cancer on November 18, 1994. His father continued the investigation, as he strongly believed that several facts related to his son's murder had been hidden. He also published a book on the incident. He died in 2010.
Colosio's assassination brought in instability in the Mexican political system. The situation worsened after Salinas's brother-in-law and the ‘PRI’ president, José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, was also murdered a few months later.
The ‘PRI’ required a candidate but was restricted by the constitutional law that said no presidential candidate could hold public office in the final 6 months leading to the election. The party feared the entire cabinet would be disqualified. Moreover, the ‘PRI’ leadership was on the verge of getting split, as several supporters had left the party.
Salinas, with no other option, had to declare former education minister Ernesto Zedillo as the candidate. The action stirred a string of rumors and suspicions, as Zedillo, under normal circumstances, had no chance to be nominated.
Zedillo won the presidential campaign and served until 2000. He later reopened the investigation. However, it could produce no proper evidence to prove the different claims that had been made earlier.