US and Mexico step up antidrug effort. Joint commission could smooth relations between both countries
Colorado Springs, Colo.
US-Mexico relations, chilled by recent allegations in Washington of drug-related corruption among Mexican officials, have received a splash of antifreeze. At the close of a weekend interparliamentary conference here, legislators from both countries agreed to step up binational antidrug efforts. The two delegations called for creation of a joint commission on narcotics.
Although issues such as the Mexican economy, immigration, tourism, and border pollution were also discussed, the growing problem of Mexican drug trafficking to the US never retreated from center stage.
A further thaw in relations is likely when the Mexican delegation meets with President Reagan on Tuesday. Perhaps as a prelude to that visit, the White House on Friday released a statement praising Mexico's efforts to combat the drug trade.
A proposal for a binational narcotics commission -- to be made up of federal legislators and administration officials from both countries -- might not seem like much of an accomplishment. Given the tension among the Mexican delegates upon their arrival in Colorado, however, some Americans at the conference said they were surprised there was any agreement on the topic.
The Mexicans were still smarting from charges made by US Customs Commissioner William von Raab before a Senate subcommittee last month about purported drug-related corruption among Mexican police and government officials.
In his opening remarks, the Mexican delegation's chairman, Sen. Antonio Riva Palacio Lopez, condemned the subcommittee proceedings as ``a posture with a clear interventionist color.'' Reflecting Mexico's strong sensitivity about matters it interprets as infringing on its sovereignty, he said the testimony ``reveals the intention to paralyze and destroy [our] fraternal relations.''
Senator Palacio called on the two delegations to send a message to Washington and Mexico City by delivering a joint statement refuting the allegations, but he did not get it. While the 24 Mexican legislators appeared to line up unanimously behind Senator Palacio's viewpoint, the 20-member American delegation was divided on the subject.
Sen. Phil Gramm (R) of Texas, who led the Senate's six-member delegation, refused to criticize the allegations, saying ``we should never be shocked that corruption exists'' in a high-dollar activity like drug trading. But he added that he considered US-Mexico relations a ``proven marriage,'' and not a ``springtime love affair that a misspoken word or gesture could undo.''
But Sen. Cristopher J. Dodd (D) of Connecticut, calling many of the specific allegations ``clearly false,'' condemned the subcommittee testimony as a ``circus environment'' that had the tacit approval of the Reagan administration. He accused the administration of seeking to discredit the Mexican government because of its support for negotiations in Central America.
In his public statements, Senator Gramm paid much attention to the drug issue, announcing that commissioner von Raab was prepared to provide Mexican officials with the evidence he claims to have of corruption, and calling for joint manning of new antismuggling aircraft the US is buying for the border region.
Still, he attempted at several points to redirect the conference toward the topic of Mexico's faltering economy and its mounting debt. But his method revealed little appreciation for Mexico's preoccupation with US interventionism, and caused one Mexican delegate to label the senator ``paternalistic.''
Gramm compared American economic success to a cake, and said the US was ready to ``share the recipe:'' private ownership and free enterprise. But in the closing Mexican statement, Deputy Juan Jose Bremer Martino said Mexico would stick to its ``mixed economy.'' ``We cannot extrapolate economic recipes from one country to another economic reality.''
Throughout the meeting -- the 26th annual -- the Mexicans went to great lengths to convince the Americans they are serious about their antidrug campaign. They presented a 15-minute English-language video that revealed, for example, that 42 percent of the Mexican attorney general's budget goes to fight drug traffic.
But they also questioned US efforts to stem demand among Americans for illegal drugs. One Mexican journalist asked Sen. Pete Wilson (R) of California, why the US government tolerates local decriminalization of marijuana possession, marijuana plantations across the country, and magazines that explain how to acquire and use illegal drugs.