Mexican frustration with US rises over perceived meddling in internal affairs

Mexican writers, artists, actors, intellectuals, unionists, economists, and politicians are protesting what they see as unforgivable meddling by the United States in Mexico's internal affairs. Senate subcommittee hearings in Washington last week conducted by Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina shattered the notion here that Mexico's often turbulent relationship with the US was currently good. Mexicans in and out of the government predict it will take years to repair the damage wrought by the hearings.

Witnesses at the hearings testified that corruption and complacency in the Mexican government was allowing drug trafficking to the US to grow. It was alleged that members of Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado's own family were involved in the narcotics trade, a charge denied by Mexico. The overall thrust of the congressional testimony was that the internal political and economic situation in Mexico was deteriorating so rapidly that it would pose a security threat to the US.

Mexican officials at high levels at first dismissed the accusations, thinking that they came from low- and middle-ranking functionaries of an extremely conservative bent without the Reagan adminstration's approval.

By Monday, Mexico had not received what it considered acceptable clarification or correction of the hearings and charges, according to a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. This signaled to government officials here that President Reagan had given his blessing for the public castigation of Mexico.

What remains unclear here is why Washington has suddenly done an about-face in its relations with Mexico. In January, Presidents Reagan and de la Madrid had their third summit meeting. Both sides were pleased that there had been none of the arguments, friction, or tension that had characterized previous meetings.

US Attorney General Edwin Meese met with Mexican Attorney General Sergio Garc'ia Ram'irez last month to discuss drug trafficking and border security. The session went better than any others in recent years.

Thus, what happened in Washington last week left Mexican officials saying they were ``confused.''

US officials close to Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Elliot Abrams said the hearing was meant to do what quiet talks hadn't done.

Some Mexican officials, intellectuals, and political analysts are wondering if the US held the hearing for one or a combination of the following reasons:

To pressure Mexico to conform to the US approach on Central America and specifically decrease its support for Nicaragua.

To vote more often with the US in the UN.

To step up its efforts to stop the drug trade.

To demonstrate that the US can put pressure on Mexico in many ways if Mexico is not seen to be sufficiently cooperative with the International Monetary Fund and US bankers over the question of its nearly $100 billion debt.

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