Silent Suspect in Mexico Prompts A Lot of Talk About Conspiracies

Some say the man accused of shooting PRI candidate Colosio acted on behalf of drug-runners or disgrunted hard-liners

LONE gunman or conspirator?

The 23-year-old industrial mechanic who allegedly assassinated Mexico's ruling party presidential candidate in Tijuana last week is saying little.

Mario Aburto Martinez has coolly refused to answer most questions put to him by government investigators. But Mr. Aburto did say he once had contact with ``armed groups'' and often used ``we'' when vaguely describing the plans and act of shooting Luis Donaldo Colosio on March 23, according to Xavier Carvajal Machado, president of the Lawyers College of Tijuana, who was present during initial interrogations.

Mexican authorities say Aburto is a ``fanatic'' who acted alone. ``There will be a very thorough investigation. But as of this moment, there's no indication of links to any group,'' a government spokesman says. A statement released by the attorney general's office quotes Aburto as saying ``nobody ordered me to do these acts.'' Two other men detained moments after the shooting have been cleared by witnesses and released.

Theories abound

Conspiracy theories are multiplying. The most prominent is that ruling party hard-liners, left behind by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's economic and political reform process, hired Aburto to stop the reforms by striking back at President Salinas and his chosen successor.

The Zapatista National Revolutionary Army, which led a New Year's Day uprising by Indian peasants in southern Mexico, was among the first to see a plot against democratic reforms. ``The hard-liners and the militarist option within the government hatched and brought to fruition this provocation to annul all peaceful attempts at democratization of the national political life,'' said a rebel group in a March 24 communique.

Other conspiracy theorists blame narcotraffickers or ``international forces'' - including Ross Perot - for trying to destabilize the country.

There are 250 police and judicial agents working the case in Tijuana. Salinas has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate Colosio's murder. But Sen. Porfirio Munoz Ledo, leader of the Revolutionary Democratic Party, the main opposition party on the left, objected to the appointment of Supreme Court magistrate Miguel Montes Garcia as not being sufficiently independent. Mr. Montes has held federal administrative positions and been a federal and state legislator for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Motive unknown

Aburto's motive for killing Colosio is not clear. A statement from government sources reports that Aburto says he considered ``wounding'' Salinas during the 1988 presidential campaign in order to ``tell the media what was happening in Mexico.'' He did not follow through with his plan, he says, because ``I didn't have the courage,'' and ``I believed that because of my age I was mistaken.''

While living in Los Angeles between 1989 and 1991, Aburto says he wrote a book containing his pacifist views. He says ``press people'' were going to publish it. He indicates the book could have provided ``a solution'' for the country's problems, and for that reason he ``feels responsible for what happened in Chiapas.'' A notebook and papers found in Aburto's Tijuana home include drawings showing ``Aburto's soul entering the body of Colosio, taking Colosio's hand and rising up to heaven, and Colosio in a coffin,'' according to a government official.

The news weekly Proceso reported that federal agents interrogated Aburto's aunt and tried to ``pressure'' her into saying Aburto was a member of the opposition party. ``She always answered that he was a PRI member,'' says Angel Cuadra Pena, an official from the town where Aburto's aunt lives.

Friends say Aburto was a devout Jehovah's Witness. Aburto was a ``problem student'' who was ``disrespectful of the nation's symbols,'' says the director of the junior high school he attended. Jehovah's Witnesses have been publicly criticized by Mexican officials for not saluting the Mexican flag, an act adherents consider worshiping a false god.

Government interrogators quote Aburto as saying he considered studying to becoming a Roman Catholic priest, but changed his mind ``because they were going to send me to Puerto Rico.''

Although there has been no full confession, Mexican officials say there is little doubt about Aburto's guilt. The act was filmed by television news crews. And Aburto was tackled and captured within seconds of the shooting. Tests show traces of gunpowder on his hands and have identified the .38 caliber pistol in his possession when arrested as the murder weapon.

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