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US Court Ruling Provokes Heated Mexican Retort

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MEXICO responded angrily to the June 15 United States Supreme Court ruling upholding the legality of a 1990 kidnapping of a Mexican citizen by issuing a blanket ban on activities of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in Mexico.

A statement by the Foreign Ministry blasts the court decision as "trangressing basic principles of international law and [ignoring] the extradition treaty as the only legitimate and legally recognized way to detain someone in a sovereign state."

The ban on DEA activity in Mexico will last, says the statement, until "new criteria of cooperation can be determined which guarantee respect for our judicial order and safeguard our national soveriegnty."

Mexico's move is gauged to get the maximum attention of US officials. It is estimated that at least half of the cocaine sold in the US is transported from South America through Mexico, where planes land and unload large shipments to be split into smaller loads and carried into the US by cars, trucks, or on foot.

During the last two years, Mexican and US drug-enforcement officers have worked closely in a Northern Border Response Force. The force uses US military aircraft and ships to track narcotics-laden planes flying out of Colombia. The drug planes are tracked by hot-pursuit aircraft. When they land, Mexican and US agents set upon them in US-provided helicopters. In an operation June 15, the response force seized a record 3.25 tons of cocaine from a plane it had chased for five hours.

Technically, DEA agents are restricted to information and technology exchange and are not permitted to participate in actual arrests. But the high level of cooperation, which has drawn effusive praise in US State Department annual reports, is a relatively recent phenomenon. This latest rift in US-Mexico relations is just another chapter in a controversy that began in 1985.

The kidnapping in 1990 of Humberto Alvarez-Machain was prompted by what US officials perceived as Mexican foot-dragging. Dr. Alvarez-Machain was among the last of 22 people implicated in the murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena.

Murdered in 1985 by narco-traffickers, Camarena's death seriously strained relations between the two nations by focusing attention on alleged Mexican police corruption. US officials suspected Mexican police of not only complicity in the murder but also of assisting or allowing suspects to escape.

Anxious to bring all participants in the murder to justice, US agents paid Mexican nationals to capture Alvarez-Machain. Mexico saw the abduction as a flagrant violation of its sovereignty and relations between the two countries cooled. Tensions eased in August 1990 when a US Court of Appeals ruled the kidnapping illegal, ordered charges be dropped, and cleared Alvarez-Machain's repatriation.

Mexican officials have said Alvarez-Machain would be tried here for his alleged crimes. But the high court ruling means he now will be re-tried in the US.

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