Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas’s Brother Is Arrested for Murder Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In an unprecedented action, Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo ordered the arrest of Raúl Salinas, the brother of his predecessor and political ally Carlos Salinas, for murdering the Salinas’s brother-in-law. Raúl Salinas was convicted and sentenced but was later acquitted of the murder and released. The ensuing scandal led to breaks in tradition, the exposure of widespread government corruption, political reform, and a shift toward democracy in Mexico.

Summary of Event

Carlos Salinas de Gortari served as president of Mexico from 1988 to 1994, as Mexico’s constitution limits the number of terms for a president to one. However, because the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party), or PRI, had won all of the presidential elections since its founding in 1929, each president traditionally picked the candidate who would succeed him. Luis Donaldo Colosio, who had been Salinas’s campaign manager in 1988 and served as social development secretary in Salinas’s cabinet since 1992, appeared to be the chosen successor. [kw]Salinas’s Brother Is Arrested for Murder, Former Mexican President Carlos (Feb. 28, 1995) [kw]Murder, Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas’s Brother Is Arrested for (Feb. 28, 1995) Zedillo Ponce de Léon, Ernesto Ruiz Massieu, José Francisco Colosio, Luis Donaldo Salinas de Gortari, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Raúl Mexico Zedillo Ponce de Léon, Ernesto Ruiz Massieu, José Francisco Colosio, Luis Donaldo Salinas de Gortari, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Raúl Mexico [g]Central and South America;Feb. 28, 1995: Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas’s Brother Is Arrested for Murder[02710] [g]Mexico;Feb. 28, 1995: Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas’s Brother Is Arrested for Murder[02710] [c]Corruption;Feb. 28, 1995: Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas’s Brother Is Arrested for Murder[02710] [c]Drugs;Feb. 28, 1995: Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas’s Brother Is Arrested for Murder[02710] [c]Government;Feb. 28, 1995: Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas’s Brother Is Arrested for Murder[02710] [c]Politics;Feb. 28, 1995: Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas’s Brother Is Arrested for Murder[02710] [c]Law and the courts;Feb. 28, 1995: Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas’s Brother Is Arrested for Murder[02710] [c]Murder and suicide;Feb. 28, 1995: Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas’s Brother Is Arrested for Murder[02710]

A police mug shot of Raul Salinas de Gortari after his arrest for murder.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Colosio, however, was not having a successful campaign, and there were rumors that he would be replaced by Manuel Camacho, who had attracted public attention for his negotiations with the guerrillas of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberacíon Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation). Salinas publicly stated his support for Colosio, and Camacho declared he would not be a candidate. Then, on March 23, 1994, Colosio was killed at a campaign rally in Tijuana. Camacho was first blamed for the murder; others were then accused, including members of organized crime and, finally, Salinas. Apparently, Colosio had given a speech in which he had angered Salinas by speaking of the leader’s hope for justice and a good future.

The PRI almost was left without a candidate. Any person who had held a public office six months before an election was not eligible to run for the presidency. This requirement eliminated most of the potential replacements. Salinas chose Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Léon, who had some time earlier resigned his office to serve as campaign manager for Colosio, as the candidate.

On September 28, Salinas’s brother-in-law, José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, was shot and killed in downtown Mexico City, about one block from the Paseo de la Reforma. Massieu was slated to become the PRI majority leader in the chamber of deputies at the time he was assassinated. The assassin, Daniel Aguilar, a farmworker hired to kill Ruiz Massieu, was quickly arrested and revealed the names of a number of coconspirators.

The assassination caused pandemonium in Mexico. President Salinas immediately ordered an investigation. Ruiz Massieu’s brother, Mario Ruiz Massieu, was the head prosecutor. On November 15, Ruiz Massieu accused the PRI of hindering the investigation. This caused distrust within Mexico and led major foreign investors to withdraw from the country. On November 23, Ruiz Massieu resigned and left Mexico. It was later discovered that he had seven million dollars deposited in a Texas bank, arousing suspicions that he was hiding the identity of the person responsible for his brother’s death.

Pablo Chapa Bezanilla replaced Ruiz Massieu as head prosecutor. He initiated a series of interviews with José’s family members. He discovered that a bitter feud existed between José and Raúl Salinas de Gortari, President Salinas’s brother, since the time José had divorced Adriana Salinas, their sister, in 1978. Further investigations revealed that all references to Raúl Salinas had been removed from the testimony given by the conspirators.

The investigation continued through the end of Salinas’s term as president and into the term of Zedillo. All of the evidence pointed to Raúl Salinas as the architect of the murder. Zedillo was stunned. He regarded Carlos Salinas as his friend and mentor. Moreover, the Mexican president was protective of his predecessor. However, the law demanded that Raúl Salinas be brought to trial. Zedillo had to make a choice: remain loyal to Carlos Salinas and his family or uphold the law. He chose to obey the law and arrest Raúl Salinas.

On February 28, 1995, Raúl Salinas was arrested for ordering the murder of his former brother-in-law. The investigation further corroborated Raúl Salinas’s involvement. Carlos Salinas strongly objected to the proceedings and insisted that it was a slander campaign against his family. In November, as Raúl Salinas’s trial continued, his wife, Paulina Castañon, and her brother, Antonio, attempted to withdraw about $84 million from an account in a Swiss bank. The account was under a fictitious name. They were arrested. Investigations began in Switzerland and implicated Raúl Salinas in money Money laundering;and Raúl Salinas[Salinas] laundering and drug trafficking. The Swiss accounts were frozen. Meanwhile, Raúl Salinas remained in the maximum-security prison he had been in since his arrest.

In 1998, the prosecution rested its case. On October 16, 1998, the Mexican attorney-general asked that Raúl Salinas receive a maximum sentence of fifty years in prison for the murder of Ruiz Massieu. On January 22, 1999, he received that sentence. He had insisted that he was innocent during the long trial and appealed the sentence. The Mexican appeals court reduced the sentence to twenty-seven and one-half years.

On June 14, 2005, Raúl Salinas was released from prison after being acquitted of the murder. His release, however, also cost him financially. He had to pay a three-million-dollar bond because he was under investigation for corruption, money laundering, and drug trafficking. He was exonerated of all these charges, however. The only misdeed he admitted to was obtaining a false passport, which he used in Switzerland.

Impact

The Salinas scandal was far-reaching—involving murder, corruption, and unethical political practices—and had serious consequences for Mexico and Mexican politics. Political crisis ensued, and even tradition was tarnished when President Zedillo arrested Raúl Salinas.

The arrest and trial of Raúl Salinas fully exposed the opportunities for corruption that were inherent in Mexico’s political system, a strong one-party system that controlled the elections and the government. The power of tradition afforded to an outgoing president—allowed to choose his successor—provided a safe, unquestioned atmosphere for unethical political practices. The public notoriety given to Raúl Salinas for masterminding a murder and for his roles in money Money laundering;and Raú Salinas[Salinas] laundering and drug trafficking played a significant part in bringing about political reform and a shift toward democracy in Mexico.

Furthermore, because the Salinas brothers were known to share a close relationship—Raúl had been part of Carlos’s government, serving as his aide and as a government food distribution officer—Raúl’s arrest for murder threw suspicion on Carlos as well. Rumors already existed that Carlos Salinas was involved in the murder of Colosio. The family scandal, coupled with blame for economic problems in Mexico, led to Carlos Salinas’s self-imposed exile from Mexico. He moved to Ireland, where he remained for several years.

The PRI also lost its hold on the presidency in the next election. Vicente Fox, an opposition party candidate, defeated the PRI candidate, Francisco Labastida, in the 2000 election. For the first time since its founding in 1929, the PRI could not elect its candidate to the presidency. Mexico Zedillo Ponce de Léon, Ernesto Ruiz Massieu, José Francisco Colosio, Luis Donaldo Salinas de Gortari, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Raúl

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Camp, Roderic Ai. Politics in Mexico: The Democratic Transformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Examines the significance of the leadership of Carlos Salinas and Ernesto Zedillo, and the arrest of Raúl Salinas, in pushing Mexico toward democratic government. Also looks at the administration of Zedillo’s successor, Vicente Fox, who received business training in the United States.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fabre, Guilhem. Criminal Prosperity: Drug Trafficking, Money Laundering, and Financial Crises After the Cold War. New York: Routledge-Curzon, 2003. A study of international crime as a means to a nation’s prosperity following the Cold War era. Chapter 5 examines the problem of drug trafficking in Mexico and the possible involvement of Raúl Salinas in that trafficking.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oppenheimer, Andres. Bordering on Chaos: Mexico’s Roller Coaster Journey Toward Prosperity. Boston: Back Bay Press, 1998. Discusses Carlos Salinas’s presidency, Zedillo’s election, and the unrest caused by the arrest of Raúl Salinas in the context of Mexico’s attempts to become a capitalist democracy.

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