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Assassination of PRI Official Heightens Mexico's Instability

By Juanita Darling and Sebastian Rotella
Los Angeles Times

The second major political assassination in six months raised questions Thursday about the continuing effectiveness of the system that has kept this nation stable for six decades.

At the least, the virtual one-party system - which Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has called "a perfect dictatorship" - seemed less so as federal police investigated the killing of yet another prominent figure.

The weapon used to kill Francisco Ruiz Massieu - the second-ranking official in the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has ruled this country for 65 years - has been traced to a town in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, law enforcement sources said Thursday.

With the help of U.S. authorities, investigators have determined that the Intratech 9-mm submachine pistol, a model known as a "Tech 9," was purchased in the unnamed border city, sources said. But it was not immediately clear who made the purchase and when.

As the investigation continued, Mexicans mourned and confronted doubts about their political system, public safety and the seeming impunity of drug dealers, as they conducted a funeral for Ruiz Massieu.

Coming just six months after the assassination of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, Ruiz Massieu's slaying heightens worries that Mexico could be returning to the days of political violence that this nation endured in the 1920s, and which led to the formation of the PRI as a peaceful way to broker power struggles.

Ruiz Massieu was fatally shot Wednesday morning in front of a downtown hotel as he left a breakfast for his party's recently elected federal deputies.

His body lay in state at party headquarters Wednesday evening, later being moved to a funeral home in the south of the capital, where a small group of mourners gathered Thursday morning, until he was taken to the Spanish Cemetery for cremation.

U.S. law enforcement sources said they found plausible the scenario that drug traffickers had killed Ruiz Massieu to send a message to his brother, Deputy Attorney General Mario Ruiz Massieu. "It's a good theory," a U.S. official said. "But that's all it is - a theory. Mario Ruiz has been active in directing (anti-drug) operations and providing manpower to go after the cartels."

Any of Mexico's top drug cartels could have been involved in the murder, the official said.