MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government Wednesday protested as interventionist slander the charges of a U.S. official who accused Mexican politicians of drug-related corruption.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that testimony Tuesday by Customs Commissioner William von Raab before a U.S. Senate subcommittee was "clearly defamatory in nature."
A formal note of protest is expected to be delivered to the State Department.
"The Mexican government expresses its repudiation of the series of declarations of interventionist stripe . . . which militate against the sovereignty and interests of Mexico," the Foreign Ministry said."
Von Raab, appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, chaired by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), charged that opium poppies and marijuana are being grown on ranches belonging to the governor of the northern Mexican state of Sonora. He also said that such corruption is so widespread that he assumes that any Mexican official is dishonest unless proved otherwise.
Angry Mexican reaction was not unexpected. Authorities here routinely reject criticism by U.S. officials or unfavorable reporting by American journalists as interference in Mexico's internal affairs. But the current incident comes at a time of increasing Mexican sensitivity resulting from U.S. pressure on Mexico on several fronts.
As examples, Washington wants Mexico to make changes in its domestic economy and to take a different stand on Central American affairs, presumably coming down against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
This has brought latent resentment into the open. Mexican officials and Mexican newspapers have charged that there is an organized campaign by the U.S. government and press to discredit Mexico.
After Tuesday's charges by Von Raab, senior Mexican officials say they are trying to keep the hot feelings here from getting out of hand.
"We want to manage this in a serious manner," presidential spokesman Manuel Alonso said. "We do not want relations to deteriorate over this hearing."
Alonso said his government does not think the comments made at the hearings represent the views of the U.S. government but those of "elements whose right-wing leanings are well known."
"We will deliver a protest note and then see what the State Department reply is," he said.
In addition to Von Raab's charge of corruption, there were references at Tuesday's hearing to electoral fraud in Mexico, particularly in northern states where the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party has been fighting against strong political opposition.
Although Mexican citizens often raise similar charges, the government bristles at such accusations when they come from foreign sources.
"The government of Mexico does not accept that foreign officials or legislators, with insufficient qualifications, speak out on internal problems that only concern the Mexican people," the Foreign Ministry said in Wednesday's statement.
"Mexico rejects categorically the accusations and slander, clearly defamatory in nature, issued against our country during the hearings."
Some political observers here said that official sensitivities have been inflamed by what Mexican officials see as a lack of appreciation in the United States for Mexico's efforts to come to grips with its economic problems.
Despite falling oil prices, Mexico's plea for relief from payments on its foreign debt has been met mainly by demands in the United States for cutbacks in government spending. These demands are being made by banks that loaned freely to Mexico when oil prices were high.
Perhaps as a gauge of the quality of resentment here, a columnist in the influential daily newspaper Excelsior charged that the debt pressure is intended to persuade Mexico to cede Baja California to the United States.
Officials here concede that anti-drug campaigns have not been notably successful, but they point out that the United States has done little to curb consumption. The government-owned daily El Nacional topped Wednesday's editions with an article on drug consumption in the United States.
Mexican approval of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas has been muffled lately, and it is widely felt that this should please Washington, which supports the anti-Sandinista rebels known as \o7 contras.
\f7 Yet, in the Mexican view, this seems to have encouraged U.S. officials to press for open alignment of Mexico's foreign policy with Washington's. The thrust of official Mexican policy on Nicaragua, aside from privately expressed annoyance with Washington, has been as a member of the Contadora Group to try to mediate an agreement between the Sandinistas and the United States.
At a meeting in January of President Reagan and Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid in Mexicali, Secretary of State George P. Shultz dressed down his opposite number, Bernardo Sepulveda, for Mexico's voting record in the United Nations, where Mexico's delegates are often at odds with their U.S. counterparts.
There is also growing unhappiness here, reflected in newspapers that take their cue from officials, about the way Mexican affairs are reported in the U.S. press. A long critical article in Newsweek magazine titled "Broken Promises" drew fire from both the Mexican press and Congress.
Not long ago, a Times reporter was criticized by a professor for his reporting of an earthquake in Mexico City. The professor found fault with the reporter for using not only an official Mexican estimate of the force of the quake but also a U.S. estimate. The American figure suggested that the quake had been stronger than Mexican officials were saying, and the professor saw this as yet another effort to discredit the Mexican government.
In another incident, a Mexican academic refused to discuss a paper she was preparing on the ruling party because she did not want to become part of the "international campaign against Mexico."