MEXICO CITY — The Museum of Intervention is a repository for old cannons, tattered flags and unhealed wounds to Mexico's self-esteem.
With its exhibits detailing four centuries of foreign plots, invasions and land grabs, the museum is a symbol of Mexico's national frustration. And to discourage any notion that intervention is a thing of the past, there is a bulletin board for "News of the Day" that keeps the museum up to date.
The latest intervention? Displayed on the bulletin board the other day was a newspaper article headlined, "Formal Protest of Mexico against the Interventionism of the U.S. Senate."
The article dealt with hearings on Mexico last month before a Senate subcommittee. Testimony at the hearings, chaired by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., characterized Mexico as infected by widespread corruption, enmeshed in drug traffic and run by a party kept in power through electoral fraud.
As sharply anti-Mexican as the testimony was, Mexican officials have played down the specific criticisms, instead pointing out that the Senate had no right at all to talk about Mexico. In their view, the hearings were a form of intervention, even if only verbal.
The official Mexican protest note sent to the U.S. State Department called the hearings a "clear and inadmissible violation of Mexican sovereignty."
In debate in the Mexican Congress on the hearings, one legislator blurted out: "Is it an act of intervention? Yes or no? (The subcommittee) is an organ of the Senate of the U.S. government, of the juridical structure of the U.S. government. It is a very clear act of intervention."
In response to Mexican complaints, the Reagan administration scrambled to patch up relations.
The State Department sent a soothing diplomatic note to Mexico. Attorney General Edwin Meese III telephoned his Mexican counterpart to express confidence in Mexico's anti-drug effort. And the Department of the Treasury all but retracted accusations by the U.S. Customs commissioner that a Mexican state governor grows opium and marijuana on his ranches.
From the U.S. side, however, came no admission of having interfered in any way in Mexican affairs, an indication of the different viewpoints of the two nations.
Much of official Mexico sees the outside world, and especially U.S.-Mexican relations, through the prism of intervention. Opposition to foreign intervention is considered a matter of principle, and it is emphasized at times when the Mexican government seeks to promote unity in the face of nagging internal problems.
So, when public criticism of Mexico is on the upswing in Washington, talk of U.S. interference increases here.
There is no mystery to why the country is obsessed with intervention. Mexico is a country that was forged from the Spanish invasion of the Aztec empire. After independence, it lost half of its territory to an expanding United States and has been invaded by France and the United States.
In recent years, the main clashes with the United States over foreign policy have centered on the question of intervention, not only here but throughout Latin America. The present government of President Miguel de la Madrid opposes the Reagan administration's policy toward Sandinista-led Nicaragua, in part because of U.S. support for rebels, known as contras, who are fighting the leftist government there.
In Mexican political commentary, the definition of foreign intervention is often rather broad. Foreign invasions can be spearheaded by bankers as well as by Marines, by reporters as well as by gunboats.
For example, debate over Mexico's $96 billion foreign debt sometimes takes place in the context of interference in Mexican affairs. In this case, the invading force is the International Monetary Fund. That body is pressing the Mexican government to reduce its spending as a guarantee to bankers that the value of new loans will not be eroded by inflation or channeled into unproductive projects.
For Mexico, reduced spending is something of a counterrevolutionary notion. The size of the bureaucracy and the level of government spending have increased steadily over the last 15 years as part of an effort to promote social democracy through subsidies and government jobs.
The pressure from the International Monetary Fund has brought warnings from union officials about the imposition on Mexico of "foreign models." In government-organized street protests that followed the Senate hearings, people chanted, "IMF, get the heck out."
Officials here are also wary of indications that Washington may be trying to undermine the long-established rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.
Recently, the party has been challenged in several elections by the conservative National Action Party, and its officials have responded by accusing the National Action Party of being a tool of Washington.
The National Action Party was the only political party in Mexico that did not criticize the Senate hearings in Washington.