Film critical of Mexico's PRI packs theaters ahead of presidential election

That a movie about a political assassination and suspected state interference could even be made is a testament to how far Mexico has come from the days of government censorship.

A movie rehashing one of the most controversial events in Mexico’s modern election history – likened to the country's equivalent of JFK's assassination in the US – debuted here to packed theaters just three weeks ahead of presidential elections.

Colosio, the Assassination tells the story of the March 1994 killing of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the presidential candidate of the semi-authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. It’s a fictional account of real events that all but confirms what Mexicans have long believed.

“It’s the same story: that it had to have been a crime of the state,” said Rafael Muñez after seeing the movie.

On the campaign trail in a tough Tijuana neighborhood, Colosio was shot twice – once in the head, once in the side – while making his way through a crowd of supporters. The authorities presented a man, Mario Aburto, as the shooter. A federal investigation determined he acted alone.

But the Aburto presented to media as the culprit bore little resemblance to the man captured at the scene of the crime, whose face had been caught on television. And the questions and conspiracy theories began to fly.

Directed by Carlos Bolado and based on official documents declassified in 2000, the movie makes no direct accusations of guilt but details how evidence was tampered with or disappeared, how key suspects were inexplicably let free, and how witnesses or potential informants – at least 15 of them – were methodically killed in the wake of the assassination.

Colosio, the Assassination reveals the deep fissures that divided the long-governing PRI in 1994 and pitted the standing president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, against the candidate whom he had chosen as his successor. Just days before his death, Colosio gave a speech in Mexico City denouncing official corruption and promising to push the country toward a more open democracy. Had he threatened official interests?

That this movie could even be made is a testament to how far Mexico has come from the days of government censorship, wrote Carlos Bonfil in Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper.

“One of the most perceptible effects of the downfall of political authoritarianism in Mexico has been the disappearance or total inefficacy of cinematographic censorship,” Mr. Bonfil said.

Movies including Herod’s Law (Luis Estrada, 1999) and The Crime of Father Amaro (Carlos Carrera, 2002) have explored previously untouchable topics: the corruptibility of Mexican politicians in the first, and the clergy in the second.

The debut of Colosio, the Assassination coincided this weekend with another morbid historical memory: the halconazo of June 10, 1971, when an iron-fisted PRI sent in armed paramilitaries to attack students demanding the liberation of political prisoners. Dozens of students were killed, but no official count of the dead and missing was ever released. This past weekend, thousands of students marched in the capital to commemorate the massacre and demand justice.

Many of the marchers carried the placards of the #YoSoy132 student movement, which largely opposes the return of the PRI to power.

PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto holds onto a substantial lead in the polls leading up to the July 1 election.

As the credits rolled at the movie’s end, a woman leaned into the man to her right and asked, “After seeing this movie, who can vote for the PRI?”

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