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Mexicans find bitter humor in Iran-contra affair

For many Mexicans, the Iran-contra affair has only confirmed their darkest suspicions about how the United States conducts foreign policy. Caught geographically between the political turmoil in Washington and the five-year rebel war in Nicaragua, Mexican observers can find nothing but bitter humor in the bungled plans of Lt. Col. Oliver North and his core of supporters.

The added doubts about American motives come at a time when the new US ambassador here, Charles Pilliod Jr., is bent on removing distrust from the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.

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According to a survey of Mexicans, the Iran-contra hearings have had a small but corrosive effect on that effort. One finds no support for Oliver North here.

Instead, thousands of Mexicans gathered in the heart of Mexico City on Sunday to celebrate the eighth anniversary of the Nicaragua revolution.

Marking the anniversary of the Sandinista National Liberation Front's eighth year in power, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra said Sunday in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, that the US congressional hearings on the Iran-contra affair have exposed the ``true immorality, hypocrisy, and decomposition of the so-called American democracy.''

President Ortega added that President Reagan probably lied when he said he did not know about the use of profits from arms sales to Iran for the contras.

``If he was unaware,'' Mr. Ortega said, ``then that shows the incompetence of a leader of a world power who did not know what was happening in the [inner] offices, basements, halls, and offices of the White House.''

With memories of losing half their territory to the US in 1848 still strongly imprinted in their minds, textbooks, and political speeches, most Mexicans oppose US support of the Nicaraguan contra rebels.

Their feeling was clearly demonstrated by Mexican reaction to last week's unexpected, and largely unwelcome, visit by Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, and a figure heavily implicated in the Iran-contra affair.

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Some columnists suspected that the ``discredited'' official had come to block the Central American summit meeting among five of the region's leaders, which is scheduled for Aug. 6-7 in Guatemala. Others suspected that Mr. Abrams only wanted to prevent Mexico from selling oil to Nicaragua.

But few - if any - conjectured that he had come to better relations between Mexico and the US.

One left-leaning newspaper, La Jornada, even called for the resignation of President Reagan and his Cabinet last week: ``It would be the only way to tell the world that in US politics there are still ethical values.''

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