The Central Intelligence Agency may have been blamed for the the death of Mexican president-elect Jose Lopez Portillo under an alleged plot attributed to President Luis Echeverria Alvarez and his supporters, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable.
“Rumors are growing here that President Echeverria may be plotting the assassination of President-elect Lopez Portillo to extend his own term of office,” the document states. “While we continue to regard rumors as merely symptomatic of suspicion with which Mexicans regard the president rather than actual foreknowledge, they have been persistent enough to warrant our speculation in this report on possible scenario and implications for the U.S.”
The Aug. 6, 1976 cable, declassified from its previous secret classification, recently was released by online whistleblower WikiLeaks. It also mentions an article by the late Daniel Cosio Villegas, a historian and political scientist who wrote for the former Plural publication, which Octavio Paz edited and that raised the issue of a possible assassination plot.
“Cosio’s reference is to a fear which we have heard increasingly in recent weeks - that Lopez Portillo might be assassinated before he takes office,” the document states. “The ambassador first heard this shortly after (Portillo’s) nomination, and periodically since then.
“Rumors and fears of this kind are now being whispered more frequently. Two weeks ago, a story that (Portillo) had been shot swept the city in an afternoon. In the last two or three days, we have heard the fears from several sources, one a visiting businessman who may be close to friends of the candidate. This latter story suggested the president and key military officers were forming such a plot and that the ‘accident’ would be blamed on the CIA.
“On August 4, Embassy Legatt (legal attache) obtained exactly the same story from different person,” according to the document, “although the source in the Lopez Portillo camp could be the same. While most of these rumors have come from the private sector - the area most willing to accept that Echeverria would be capable of murder to extend his mandate - we are now picking up similar expressions of concern from the academic community.”
The cable goes on to down play the rumors and concerns as “symptomatic of the political climate, the cynicism and suspicion with which Mexicans regard the president rather than as an indication of what might actually happen. And certainly we are not yet ready to change that judgmentment. But, because similar precedents in modern Mexican history exist ... and because of the consequences for the United State, such a hypothetical eventually are so profound, some discussion is warranted.”
In case such a plot was carried out, the cable states, “The plausible scapegoat for the demise of Lopez Portillo could be the terrorists of the 23 of September Communist League, a group which the president has previously suggested is really controlled by reactionary domestic and foreign forces (Read CIA). If anything should happen to Lopez Portillo the only certainty is that the United State swill somehow get some of the blame.”
The insurgent group 23rd of September Communist League had active members in the state of Chihuahua and other parts of Mexico.
The cable ends with the idea that U.S. embassy officials in Mexico did not put much stock in the assassination rumors.
In another U.S. diplomatic cable, U.S. officials had said that Echeverria, who was viewed by Mexican business leaders as extremely left-leaning, was mistrusted by powerful industrialists based Monterrey, Mexico, who in fact were happy that Portillo got elected to succeed Echeverria.
Portillo served as president from 1976 to 1982, and Echeverria from 1970 to 1976. Both were members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Portillo was remembered in the border region for granting important government concessions (similar to franchises) to business leaders in Juarez, including several to launch media enterprises.