Assasin Suspect Calm, A Recluse, Friends And Officials Say

By LAWRENCE KOOTNIKOFF

Associated Press Writer

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) - (March 26, 1994) The accused assasin of Mexico's leading presidential candidate was a reclusive factory worker who hoped his crime would win publicity for his political views, family and officials said.

Mario Aburto Martinez, a 23-year-old who worked in a maquiladora factory near the U.S. border, has been formally charged after confessing to gunning down Luis Donaldo Colosio during a campaign stop here Wednesday, officials said. They are still trying to discover why, and find out who the quiet, serious young man with few friends - now sitting in a maximum security prison outside Mexico City - is.

Aburto seemed sane, and told investigators he wanted media attention for his pacifist views, according to the state human rights ombudsman who sat in on his police interogation. ``He seemed relaxed and in full control,'' said Jose Luis Perez Canchola. ``He said he only wanted to injure Candidate Colosio. The only time he seemed nervous, during two hours of questioning, was when he was told that Mr. Colosio had died.''

Since his arrest details are emerging about Aburto's life - on both sides of the border. For the past five weeks he had worked at a plastics moulding factory, earning about $100 a week. Though Aburto inadvertently caused an accident four days before the assasination that cost the family-run company $20,000, ``he worked hard, with a lot of will,'' plant manager Eduardo Oviedo Medina said.

But after working a normal shift Wednesday, he asked directions to Lomas Taurinas, a poor canyon neighborhood where Colosio, 44, was holding a campaign rally that day. Aburto was apparently carrying his .38 calibre pistol, authorities said. When Colosio waded into the crowd after his speech, he shot him twice.

Aburto would occasionally talk politics with fellow workers. ``Sometimes he would ask, `What would you do if you were president?''' Oviedo remembered. ``I couldn't believe it when my wife told me, `It was one of your employees!'''

Aburto was born on Oct.3, 1970 in La Rinconada, a small town outside Zamora, in Michoacan state. His family were devout Jehovah's Witnesses, which set them apart from the rest of the mostly Roman Catholic community. Aburto was an average student who was expelled from school twice for not showing the proper respect for the Mexican flag.

He came to Tijuana at age 15 after graduating from junior high school. Once in this border city he built a small house of unfired brick in Buenos Aires, a poor, hilly neighborhood near the airport of muddy, unpaved streets and ramshackle homes inhabited by low-paid maquiladora workers.

``He's a serious boy,'' said Aburto's aunt, Angelica Martinez Pinoles, who now lives in the house. ``He didn't like to go out.'' Neighbor Alma Gutierrez agreed. ``He was very quiet, very reserved. He had almost no friends.'' Martinez said after the shooting police came and detained her, her two sons and her six-year-old daughter overnight.

Aburto also traveled to southern California where he, his father and brother got jobs at a furniture factory in Torrance, near Los Angeles. And though a non-citizen, the Los Angeles Times reported that he was registered to vote in California and may have voted while residing in San Pedro. He also wrote books about his pacifist views. A year before gunning down Colosio, Aburto was trying to get Spanish-language newspapers in California to publish them, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

``He was looking for an editor,'' Sergio Velazquez, publisher of Santa Ana newspaper Miniondas, told the paper. ``I couldn't help him. Now I wish I had.''

Colosio's death has turned the Mexican political scene, already reeling from a New Year's Day Indian uprising in Chiapas state, on its head. Leaders of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, which hasn't lost an election in 65 years, are scrambling to find a new candidate.

Aburto - who faces 30 to 50 years in prison if convicted - told police he practiced shooting his weapon at a Tijuana firing range. He has refused to answer questions about whether he acted alone. But that hasn't stopped the conspiracy theorists. They point out that Colosio had been a controversial choice since President Carlos Salinas de Gortari handpicked him last November, and accuse his enemies of plotting to remove him. Martinez Pinoles doesn't believe her nephew acted on his own.

``Something is behind this,'' she said. ``He couldn't have done this by himself.''

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