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Killing of Mexican cardinal raises fears for pope's safety.

MEXICO CITY - The murder of Guadalajara Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo has Mexico's Catholic church hierarchy fretting for the safety of Pope John Paul II when he arrives Aug. 11 for a one-day visit to the Yucatan.

Posadas was gunned down May 24 at the Guadalajara airport in what the Mexican government continues to describe as a shootout between rival drug-trafficking gangs, an explanation that has stirred widespread public skepticism. The cardinal's killing came only hours after the Vatican had announced the pope's itinerary for this Mexican stopover - he then flies on to Denver, Colo. Posadas had gone to the airport to meet with papal nuncio Giralamo Prigione to plan for the pope's visit.

Fears for the safety of the pontiff, already the victim of one assassination attempt, have been running high since Posadas was killed. "There is a great preoccupation with security," the Vatican's assistant security planner Alberto Gaspari tells Italian reporters.

One alarming story circulating in the Mexican press suggests that the cardinal's murder was a warning to the pope from organized crime, utilizing Mexican proxies to carry out the killing. The bombing of the Uffizi Museum in Florence was alleged to be part of the plot.

In an effort to demonstrate his determination that the Aug. 11 visit remain on the pope's agenda, Prigione flew into the northern city of Culiacan, keystone of Mexico's narcotics trade, to speak with church and business leaders June 21. More than 150 drug-related killings have been recorded thus far this year in the state of Sinaloa, of which Culiacan is the capital.

Prigione was guarded by 200 federal judicial police as he moved through the provincial city in an armored vehicle.

Under pressure from Prigione, the Mexican Episcopal Conference, which groups together the nation's 106 bishops, has endorsed the government's hypothesis of the cardinal's murder. Nonetheless, at least seven prominent bishops and many laypersons have expressed deep skepticism of Attorney General Jorge Carpizo's repeated explanations of the tragedy. Many consider that the cardinal was deliberately targeted by either Mexico's drug cartel, "Jacobin" elements enraged by the recent church-state reconciliation here, or the federal judicial police.

At least one outspoken church observer reasons that the judiciales were responsible for the cardinal's death. "There were many judicial police at the airport - it was clear that they were expecting fireworks." said Jose Alvarez Icaza, a liberationist writer and activist and director of CENCOS, a Mexico City religious and social think tank.

According to Alvarez Icaza, the fact that the gunmen were allowed to board and escape on a Tijuana-bound flight, despite the closure of the Guadalajara airport, points to direct police involvement.

Since the shooting, the Arrellano Felix brothers, narcotics traffickers, have been tapped by the attorney general as the perpetrators of the cardinal's killing.

Six members of a San Diego inner-city gang were arrested earlier this month for the murder. Authorities say the Calle Triente gang was reportedly recruited about two years ago by the Arrellano drug cartel to sell drugs and commit killings.

Several members of this gang were hired in May by the Arrellano drug lords to assassinate rival Sinaloa cartel head, Joaquin Guzman Loera, according to authorities. A $30,000 bounty was to be awarded to the gunman who fired the fatal shot.

Instead, the cardinal and six others were shot.

"There was a confusion, but it was one of the cars and not the people," Alvarez Icaza conjectures. "The judiciales were told that Guzman would be in that car and opened fire. Now I'm praying that the judicial police will not be assigned to protect the pope.

"If I was pope, I would not come Mexico because my personal security could not be guaranteed," muses the noted liberation church activist, who was often critical of the conservative Posadas. "In fact, I think the pope should not come - if just to protest the criminal murder of a prince of the church."
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Title Annotation:Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo
Author:Ross, John (American tribal leader)
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jul 16, 1993
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