Mexico Hails Acquittal in US Murder Case

INNOCENT!" shouted banner newspaper headlines in Mexico.

Mexican officials are praising the acquittal Dec. 14 of a doctor kidnapped by the United States to stand trial for participating in the slaying of a US federal drug agent.

"The return to the path of reason and justice will permit the gradual recovery of trust in bilateral cooperation in the fight against narco-trafficking," Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Fernando Solana said in a statement.

The release of Humberto Alvarez Machain closes another chapter in the murder saga of US Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena. The case has been a source of ongoing tension between the US and Mexican governments since Camarena's killing in 1985.

Dr. Alvarez was abducted in April 1990 by Mexican bounty hunters hired by the US government. Standing trial in the US, he was accused of administering drugs to Camarena to keep him conscious while he was interrogated and tortured by Mexican drug traffickers.

A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that US prosecutors had failed to produce sufficient evidence that Alvarez should stand trial before a jury.

Calling the government case "wild speculation," US District Judge Edward Rafeedie said that while witnesses placed Alvarez at the ranch where the murder occurred, there was no physical evidence - fingerprints or residual drugs in the body - to link Alvarez with the crime.

Alvarez became something of a cause cbre here in June when a decision by the US Supreme Court upheld the legality of his kidnapping. This caused a furor in Mexico and throughout Latin America and is still seen as an affront to sovereignty and a violation of international law. The freeing of Alvarez "does not resolve the principle problem created in our bilateral relations with the US as a result of the Supreme Court decision," Mr. Solana said.

Some two dozen people have been convicted in US and Mexican courts for involvement in Camarena's death. Rafael Caro Quintero, the drug boss believed to have ordered Camarena killed, is currently serving a 40-year prison sentence in Mexico.

But the final chapter in this case has not been written. The trial of Alvarez's codefendant, Ruben Zuno Arce, continues. Mr. Zuno is the brother-in-law of former President Luis Echeverria and the owner of the ranch where Camarena was killed. Paid informants have testified that Zuno was at meetings between top Mexican officials and drug barons who planned Camarena's murder.

Those officials - including Pueblo state Governor-elect Manuel Bartlett Diaz, former Mexican Attorney General Enrique Alvarez del Castillo, and former Minister of Defense Juan Arevalo Gardoqui - have publicly denied the accusations made by witnesses at the US trial.

The case could yet cause a political storm in Mexico if the government here decides to act on these accusations.

So far, the Mexican government has taken the line of denouncing the witnesses. But opposition politicians and critics are agitating for an investigation.

"The only way to save things is if the Mexican government decides to reopen in Mexico the investigation into the Camarena case and to perfectly define the limits of responsibility of the officials repeatedly accused," writes Carlos Ramirez, a columnist for El Financiero, a respected Mexico City daily.

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