A Roman Catholic cardinal and six other people were killed Monday afternoon when they were caught in the middle of an apparently drug-related shootout in the parking lot of Guadalajara’s international airport.
Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, the Archbishop of Guadalajara, was hit 11 times by AK-47 automatic gunfire as he arrived to meet the flight of the papal nuncio in Mexico, state officials and reporters said.
The cardinal’s white Grand Marquis was riddled with more than 30 bullets, and his driver, Pedro Gonzalez, was among the dead.
Jalisco Gov. Carlos Rivera Aceves did not rule out that Posadas could have been a target in the attack but seemed to reject the possibility when he said, “Who would want to kill the cardinal?”
President Carlos Salinas de Gortari flew to Guadalajara late Monday to express his condolences for the cardinal. Last year, Mexico re-established diplomatic relations with the Vatican for the first time in more than 100 years.
Salinas’ trip also was meant to demonstrate government control in a country increasingly battered by Colombia-style drug violence. Two top narcotics traffickers and a former Sinaloa state attorney general have been gunned down in public in the last two months.
The airport in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, was shut down immediately after Monday’s shootout and occupied by soldiers. It remained closed to flights for several hours.
The gun battle occurred at about 3:45 p.m. and appears to have been between rival narcotics traffickers, officials and reporters on the scene in Guadalajara said. Helicopters buzzed overhead as police confiscated about 20 bullet-riddled automobiles, including one that contained grenades and high-powered automatic weapons.
“The main information we have is that this was an armed confrontation,” Gov. Rivera Aceves said. “We are investigating in conjunction with the federal attorney general.”
He said two people were detained in connection with the killings.
Witnesses told the Guadalajara newspaper Siglo 21 that one of the gunmen saw Posadas opening the door of his car during the battle, apparently believed the cardinal was another gunman and turned his weapon on the Grand Marquis--a car often favored by drug traffickers.
Posadas and five other people died at the scene. A seventh victim died later.
The papal nuncio, Msgr. Girolamo Prigione, was not caught in the shootout.
Cardinal Posadas, 66, was one of Mexico’s two cardinals. He was elevated to cardinal by Pope John Paul II in June, 1991, and previously served as the bishop of Tijuana and Cuernavaca.
Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, a close friend of Posadas, said late Monday that “it’s just so tragic he died as a result of the two elements he had rallied against for so many years--guns and narcotics.” Mahony and Posadas were appointed cardinals at the same time in 1991.
Guadalajara has long been home to several of Mexico’s competing cocaine and marijuana trafficking organizations, and Mafia-style killings are commonplace.
Salinas has committed his government to fighting narcotics trafficking and has delivered several blows to Mexican cartels. The most important was the 1989 arrest in Guadalajara of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, then Mexico’s biggest drug trafficker and the principal supplier of Colombian cocaine to the West Coast of the United States.
But Salinas’ campaign has not prevented an increase in drug violence.