BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, 40, the chief suspect named yesterday by the government in the recent assassination of Colombia's most prominent leftist politician, is a drug baron with a reputation for violence and a passion for Mexican mariachi bands.

Although he is the least-known leader of the Medellin drug cartel, Rodriquez Gacha, known as "El Mexicano," serves as a symbol of the fabulously wealthy new social class created by Colombia's cocaine trade. Like most of his associates, he has risen rapidly from humble origins.

Born in the small farming town of Pacho, on the Bogota savanna, Rodriguez Gacha migrated to the capital city and linked up with Veronica Rivera de Vargas, a pioneer drug trafficker who became the first queen of cocaine by murdering the family of her main rival.

Moving on to Medellin, Rodriguez Gacha joined with Pablo Escobar Gaviria and other drug entrepreneurs in putting together the cocaine corporation cartel.

Ever the country boy, Rodriquez Gacha has taken with him to the top a taste for the robust culture of Mexican ranch life. His seven farms have Mexican place names, and nightclubs he owns feature Mexican themes.

When he was an owner of the Bogota soccer team The Millionaires, he hired a Mexican mariachi band to perform for the crowd. This is still remembered by Colombia's conservative social elite, who look down with distaste on the noisy mariachis as the vulgar music of the lower-middle classes.

Although Rodriguez Gacha may not have the ancestry of Colombia's traditional families, he does not lack for power. He is considered an empire-builder who feels hemmed in by the guerrillas and the left.

Authorities say Rodriguez Gacha, who manages the cartel's Bogota business, ordered Jaime Pardo Leal, leader of the leftist Patriotic Union, murdered last month in retaliation for recent guerrilla attacks on drug traffickers in the eastern plains area known as the "llanos orientales."