TV Movie Sparks Angry Response

NBC miniseries on killing of US drug agent reflects `sheer ignorance,' Mexican officials say. US-MEXICAN RELATIONS

AFTERSHOCKS are rumbling through Mexico and the United States in the wake of a six-hour TV miniseries depicting the kidnapping, torture, and murder of an American drug agent. Mexican officials, fuming about the NBC movie, say they are looking into charges that the American agent - depicted as a hero - was actually in league with drug traffickers in Mexico.

Mexican businessmen, worried about the corrupt image of their nation portrayed on the broadcast, took out full-page ads in three major American newspapers this week to laud Mexico's antidrug campaign.

Gustavo Petricioli, the Mexican ambassador to the US, contends that the NBC miniseries reflected ``sheer ignorance'' of his country. He denounced implications that his countrymen were failing to combat drug traffickers.

The program, ``Drug Wars: The Camarena Story,'' was broadcast Jan. 7, 8, and 9, and was watched by an estimated 23 million Americans. Based on the book ``Desperados'' by reporter Elaine Shannon, the movie described the 1985 murder of Enrique (Kiki) Camarena, an agent of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The program created a great deal of controversy in Mexico. It portrayed collusion between drug criminals, police, and high-ranking government officials in Mexico in the Camarena murder and the subsequent coverup.

Mexican officials, including Ambassador Petricioli, were particularly incensed by news segments at the end of each program. Petricioli called the news commentaries, hosted by NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, ``the product of sheer ignorance, imprecise, unfair, lacking of any evidence, and, maybe, in bad faith.''

The ambassador singled out one statement as ``slanderous.'' It said: ``Mexico is just like Panama.... Drug corruption is deep and pervasive.... In every part of the country there is a local Noriega, a comandante, a general, a governor getting rich by dealing with Colombian cartel drug bosses to bring cocaine to the US through Mexico.''

Petricioli says: ``We strongly reject such [a] statement.'' He demands: Where is the proof?

Lloyd Siegel, executive producer for special broadcasts at NBC News, says: ``We do not accept the charge that there were any inaccuracies or inconsistencies'' in the reporting.

The program portrays an appalling web of government corruption in Mexico. It depicts torture by Mexican police, destruction of evidence by top-level investigators, payoffs to officials in Mexico City, and government sanctions for drug trafficking.

Ironically, Mexico's current president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, is praised by US agents for going after traffickers. His 13-month-old government has seized 36 tons of cocaine - more than was seized in the past 10 years.

Ambassador Petricioli notes that 44 Mexican narcotics agents were killed in the line of duty since Mr. Salinas took office. He says the Mexican attorney general's office devotes 61 percent of its budget to the drug war, and that 25 percent of Mexico's Army is assigned to drug interdiction.

AS for the Camarena murder, Petricioli notes that 25 people were convicted in Mexico for crimes related to his death and that of his Mexican pilot, Alfredo Zavala.

Two prime perpetrators of the murders - Rafael Caro-Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca-Carrillo - were given sentences of 116 years and 144 years in Mexican prisons, Petricioli points out.

But the NBC program charged that serious problems remain. Caro-Quintero, for example, was coddled by Mexican officials with a sumptuous ``prison'' suite that included champagne, designer suits, women, and luxurious furniture until shortly before the broadcast.

At one point during the show, an announcer called Mexico ``a place where the drug lords own all the police and all the power money can buy.'' NBC's Brokaw said: ``Corruption ... is a major factor in the drug trade wherever it is practiced. [Washington] now credits the current administration of President Salinas ... with stepping up the war on drugs. However, some say that he seems unwilling to go all the way when it comes to exposing corruption.''

Petricioli counters: ``We categorically deny statements ... that top Mexican officials are involved in drug trafficking, and that corruption goes to the highest level of the Mexican government.

The ambassador notes that during the brief Salinas presidency, 296 federal policemen and other officials have been fired for evasion of duties, and that 258 drug-trafficking organizations have been dismantled.

The NBC show does not help the war on drugs, Petricioli says. It ``combines speculation, as well as anonymous accusations. Instead of informing the public, it is disinforming; and instead of leading a joint effort to fight international drug trafficking, [it hides] the true essence of the problem.''

While denouncing the program, Mexican officials have kept the miniseries in the limelight. It was the government newspaper El Nacional which published a front-page story last Friday which quoted anonymous sources claiming that Camarena was murdered because he betrayed drug traffickers he worked for.

In Washington, a DEA spokesman said there was ``not a scintilla of evidence whatsoever that Enrique Camarena was involved with the traffickers in any way other than an adversarial role.''

Book author Shannon called the charge against Camarena a ``transparent attempt at slander.''

Counterattacking from Mexico was the private advertising council, Consejo Nacional de la Publicidad. The council ran ads costing a total of $124,340 in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. The advertisements said that Mexico was committed to fighting drugs - ``All the way. At every level. Whatever the cost.''

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