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Border Harassment Is Wrong

February 26, 1985

It is understandable that the Reagan Administration has grown impatient waiting for the Mexican government to do more about the recent kidnaping of an American drug agent. But harassing a good neighbor by slowing border traffic between the two countries is neither an effective nor an appropriate way to express concern.

The kidnaping of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique S. Camarena was a shocking act. It marked the first time since 1982 that an American official working abroad has fallen victim to a foreign drug ring. It may be a sign that drug traffickers in Latin America, true to recent threats, are upping the ante in the war between them and U.S. law-enforcement agencies. The Administration now wants to strike at drug traffickers harder than ever.

The recent two-week crackdown at the border, in which U.S. Customs agents and other border inspectors slowed traffic to a crawl while they methodically inspected every incoming car, was officially said to be part of the investigation of the kidnaping. If so, it apparently turned up nothing.

More than likely, U.S. officials really ordered the crackdown to pressure the Mexicans to move faster. This theory seems even more plausible now that DEA chief Francis M. Mullen Jr. has revealed that Mexican police allowed a prime suspect in the kidnaping to slip through their grasp a few days after Camarena was abducted. Mullen also expressed unhappiness with a Mexican court order that is protecting other suspects from questioning, clearly implying that drug traffickers may have corrupted the courts as well as law-enforcement agencies in Mexico.

A more effective way to get the Mexican system moving on the Camarena case would have been for President Reagan to deal directly with Mexico's President Miguel de la Madrid, asking for help at the first evidence of a problem rather than waiting weeks. White House spokesmen make much of the good relationship between the two men, yet the two presidents discussed the kidnaping and border crackdown only at the end of last week--after relations already had been envenomed.

Dealing with a sovereign nation requires rules that are different from those used in dealing with criminals. Dealing with a friendly neighbor requires full respect, not harassment. That does not preclude directness and candor. But it makes counterproductive the kinds of pressures that Washington sought to bring to bear.

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