MEXICO CITY --
Zetina fingers the double eagle claw she wears around her neck, leans back in her kitchen chair and announces that she is the most misunderstood witch in Mexico.
Mexican prosecutors think otherwise. Two armed plainclothes police are permanently camped in front of her modest home in an extremely poor neighborhood at the very limits of the city's urban sprawl, and she has been interrogated dozens of times.
Government authorities are convinced that Francisca Zetina Chavez has more to tell them about the body recently found on the property of Raul Salinas, brother of Carlos Salinas, former president of Mexico.
It is a case that has rocked Mexican politics to its foundations since February 1995, when the country's attorney general ordered the arrest of Raul Salinas on charges of ordering the murder of politician Francisco Ruiz Massieu. Massieu, Salinas' brother-in-law, was the congressional leader of Mexico's ruling party, the PRI. His assassination was thought by many to be rooted in murderous rivalries at the very top of the party.
The finger of suspicion soon pointed toward Raul Salinas, who had massively enriched himself during his brother's presidency. Carlos Salinas, the Harvard-educated technocrat who had been widely praised for attempting to modernize Mexico's economy, now lives in lonely, self-imposed exile in Ireland, his reputation in ruins. Some think he, too, had a hand in Ruiz Massieu's murder.
Adding fuel to the fire was the mysterious disappearance of Raul Salinas' alleged accomplice, PRI congressman Manuel Munoz Rocha. When a body was unearthed on Ruiz's property, Mexico's attorney general, Antonio Lozano Gracia made more headlines when he publicly predicted that the remains would turn out to be those of the missing congressman.
Enter the witch. Zetina was the spiritual advisor to Raul Salinas. They met regularly, she says, and she offered him advice and guidance.
Last October 7, she says, a boy delivered a manila envelope to Zetina's house. The envelope contained what purports to be an eyewitness account of the murder at the ranch. The writer claims to have witnessed Raul Salinas murder Munoz Rocha with a baseball bat and describes where the body was buried. Zetina turned the letter over to the authorities.
No, Zetina says, Raul never confessed to either of the two murders with which he is charged -- and even if he had, the code of her profession would prevent her from discussing it.
But yes, she was at Salinas' ranch when they searched for the body, but only because of an anonymous tip.
And yes, she predicted the body would be unearthed, but only because she had sensed its vibrations.
"People think I know the truth," Zetina says. "But I am least able to say whether [Raul Salinas] did it or not."
Nor is it certain whose body it was that was unearthed on Raul Salinas' ranch. The fingers and lower jaw of the body had been removed, preventing identification. Salinas' attorney alleged that the body had been planted to frame his client -- a charge that took on more weight when the newspaper Excelsior reported that scientists had determined the body is not that of Munoz Rocha.
Zetina says she has tried to help prosecutors all along. She has answered their questions, helped locate a potential witness, and even used her psychic powers to try and locate the missing corpse. "They involved me against my principles in this chaos," she says.
Zetina says she first met Raul during his brother's presidential campaign when she helped arrange the objects in Raul's office in a manner proscribed to bring good fortune.
They met three times a month for several years. "We talked about his doubts, his idealism, his romanticism," Zetina recalled. "With all that he had -- power, money -- it wasn't enough. He had an emptiness inside."
Zetina cut off the relationship with Salinas when she began to sense he had "chosen the wrong path. "I saw that his door was stained with blood and I could not pass through it anymore."
Zetina says she is accustomed to working in the political world -- her own spiritual guide is assassinated U.S. president John F. Kennedy -- but that she resents the way the press has pictured her as a malevolent force. "I am a simple person, a humble person," she insists. "White magic is the only thing I practice."
With the case becoming more bizarre by the day, current Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo dismissed his attorney general and the special prosecutor who led the Salinas investigation. Their forced resignations only added to the suspicions of a high-level government coverup.
Zetina, meanwhile, has grown accustomed to the two cops in front of her house. She asked them if they would be leaving after Lozano was fired. "They said they didn't know what they were doing in front of the house," she says. "Only that they had been sent there."
Joel Simon's book on the Mexican environmental crisis, "Endangered Mexico," will be published by Sierra Club Books next spring.
) Pacific News Service
Publish and perish
"I don't think he'd kill himself. He had a new book coming out."
-- Lynne Coppins-Enz, a clerk at Brent Books in Chicago, on the death of Chicago crime novelist Eugene Izzi, who was found last Saturday dangling from the window of his 14th floor office. (From: "A Mystery Author Dies Mysteriously; Was It Foul Play?" in Thursday's Wall Street Journal)