Unsolved Slaying an Issue in Mexico Campaign

Times Staff Writer

Who killed Manuel Buendia, Mexico’s most influential newspaper columnist?

Almost three years after Buendia was gunned down in a Mexico City parking lot, the question is still unanswered. It is being raised again because May 30 will be the third anniversary of his death--and because the lack of progress in finding his killer has become an issue in Mexico’s presidential campaign.

Buendia’s killing, along with the unsolved killings of several other Mexican journalists in recent years, sent shock waves through the country’s newspaper establishment.

“The bullets that killed Manuel Buendia . . . were not directed at one man but at freedom of expression,” the daily newspaper Excelsior said on its front page the day after the killing.


Buendia wrote for Excelsior, a leading Mexico City paper. He made enemies in many places because of his reports on everything from government corruption to the activities of the CIA in Mexico to the violence of extreme right-wing groups. At the time of his death, Buendia was said to be planning to write about ties between drug traffickers and Mexican officials.

The investigation into his killing has gone virtually nowhere. He was shot four times at close range, witnesses said, by a tall, mustachioed man who fled on foot through Mexico City’s entertainment district, the so-called Pink Zone.

Two Candidates

Two men who are now candidates for the presidential nomination have had responsibility for solving the Buendia mystery: Manuel Bartlett Diaz, secretary of the interior, who is considered a strong candidate for the nomination, and federal Atty. Gen. Sergio Garcia Ramirez, who is ranked among the second-tier candidates.


The nominee, who will run under the banner of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), will be designated this fall by President Miguel de la Madrid. The president’s choice is regarded as certain to be elected, given the PRI’s dominance of electoral politics in Mexico. Election Day itself is not until next year.

Any mention of the Buendia case in the press is considered an indirect criticism of the candidacies of Bartlett and Garcia. Sometimes the criticism is direct.

Manuel Moreno, a former PRI leader in the Senate, said in an interview with the magazine Proceso: “I exclude, among the aspirants, all those who have to do with repression. I concede no chance to Bartlett while the question of who killed Manuel Buendia is not resolved. The same goes for Sergio Garcia Ramirez.”

The two candidates avoid the subject. They generally limit their remarks to praise for De la Madrid or to their records as public officials.

Nor do other candidates mention the Buendia case, although some encourage their journalist friends to bring it up.

Publicly, the government has given high priority to the Buendia investigation. After the shooting, De la Madrid told the attorney general’s office to put all its “effort and resources” into finding the killer. It soon became a ritual of incoming police chiefs, Mexico City attorneys general and other law enforcement officials to promise a quick solution.

A year after the shooting, the slow pace of the investigation was underscored when the Mexico City attorney general’s office announced that it had put together an accurate profile--of the victim.

At first, suspicion fell on right-wing groups at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara, groups that Buendia had criticized for terrorizing the campus. But attention has recently turned to drug traffickers and officials alleged to be in league with them. Local press reports have pointed to the Federal Security Directorate in this connection. The directorate, which has the Spanish initials DFS, is an agency of the Interior Ministry. Its mission might be compared with that of the FBI.


Directorate agents were first on the scene of the killing. Later they cleared out Buendia’s office files. Where these files are today, no one will say.

Jose Antonio Zorrilla, who at the time was head of the security directorate, was later identified by U.S. officials as having ties to people involved with drugs, and in May, 1985, he fled the country, reportedly settling in Spain. Since his departure, 400 directorate agents have been dismissed.

Buendia talked with Zorrilla just before he was killed.

There are no charges pending against Zorrilla, Mexican officials say.

Mexican journalists are agitating for action, or at least some public comment, and the pressure is expected to build as the May 30 anniversary draws nearer.