With his elder brother jailed on murder charges and his once-celebrated reputation in tatters, former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari has left Mexico for virtual exile in the United States, senior government officials said Sunday.
The officials said that Salinas, who was president until Dec. 1, 1994, and was considered one of the strongest and most innovative Mexican leaders of this century, was asked Tuesday to leave the country by an emissary of the man he had chosen to succeed him, President Ernesto Zedillo.
Salinas, 46, boarded a plane with his family Saturday afternoon and flew to New York on his way to Boston, an official said. Another senior official said the former president would not be prevented from returning to Mexico but had agreed to stay abroad “for a considerable time.”
A third official calculated that period as “five years, eight months,” or the remainder of Zedillo’s term.
“He was asked to leave,” said one senior official who, like others, would discuss the situation only on condition of anonymity. “Being reasonable, he felt it was appropriate that he go.”
Salinas’ departure removed what some politicians had seen as the threat of a serious political conflict between Zedillo and the man who had led him by the hand into the government’s upper ranks.
Hours after the arrest of Salinas’ brother, Raul, on Feb. 28, the former president broke what had been an unwritten rule for former Mexican leaders by speaking out bitterly against the government.
He then went on a bizarre two-day hunger strike, demanding that the Zedillo government absolve him of blame for the country’s economic crisis and for what it said was the fabrication of evidence in the investigation of the slaying last March of a former governingparty presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio.
Salinas’ exit, however, raised new questions about how Zedillo might face the possibility that Salinas had played a role in what officials describe as an elaborate cover-up of another major political murder last year, that of a former governing-party leader, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu.
Mexican prosecutors say Ruiz Massieu’s own brother, Mario, who had served as a deputy attorney general under Salinas, altered testimony and intimidated witnesses to keep Raul Salinas’ name out of that case. But the government has offered no explanation as to why Mario Ruiz Massieu might have done so.
Based on the testimony of a jailed suspect and other circumstantial evidence, Raul Salinas, 48, was charged with ordering and financing the assassination of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu.
Mario Ruiz Massieu was arrested on a customs charge 10 days ago at Newark International Airport in New Jersey as he prepared to board a plane to Europe. He is being held in the Metropolitan Corrections Center in New York City pending hearings on a Mexican government request for his extradition.
Mexican officials say Ruiz Massieu also will be charged with the embezzlement of some $750,000 in public funds. And after the discovery of more than $10 million in bank accounts in his name, they said he is under investigation both in Mexico and in the United States in connection with a scheme to collect bribes from drug traffickers in exchange for protecting their operations.
Carlos Salinas has said he believes firmly in his brother’s innocence. But he made no public remarks about what, if anything, Mario Ruiz Massieu might have told him about Raul Salinas in connection with the assassination.
Officials have confirmed that Mario Ruiz Massieu briefed Carlos Salinas repeatedly about the case. Given the extreme sensitivity of the case, they say they will proceed against the former president only if they are certain he was involved. Senior officials have insisted, however, that if they have that certainty, they will act.
“There was no deal,” one official said Sunday when asked if Salinas was promised anything in return for agreeing to leave the country.”The law obligates all of us equally,” Zedillo said, “and no one, absolutely no one, can be above it.”