Mexico's President Must Act Carefully

The opinion-page article ``Hold Mexican Military Accountable for Human Rights Abuses,'' July 20, is correct to support Gen. Jose Francisco Gallardo, the imprisoned member of the Mexican military high command who advocates human rights and investigation of military corruption.

However, the statement that President Carlos Salinas de Gartori is responsible for ``this sorry state of affairs'' by his failure to cleanse the high command of corruption and free Mr. Gallardo from Army detention is unfair. Mr. Salinas, in keeping with Mexican political tradition, is a lame-duck president with diminished power who has come under severe criticism by nationalists on both the right and left.

Furthermore, Mexico's tradition of military subordination to civilian authority is under great strain. Salinas does ``need to be careful about stepping on military toes'' at this juncture in Mexican affairs. Defense Minister Gen. Antonio Riviello and the rest of the Mexican high command (with the exception of the imprisoned Gallardo) consider the Chiapas revolt a direct challenge to the Army's credibility as an institution of Mexican society.

The Mexican Army is already champing at the bit. An attempt by Salinas to free Gallardo would tip the scale, causing the Army to usurp political authority. If that happens, freedom-hungry Mexico will revolt, resulting in a blood bath. The Mexican military should be held accountable, but the Gallardo affair is too hot to handle at this time. Gabe Flores, Los Angeles

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