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DEA Agents at Risk, Mexican Aide Says

August 24, 1986|DAN WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — In published remarks attributed to him Saturday, Mexico's attorney general, the official in charge of this country's investigation into the alleged torture of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent by Mexican police, said that such agents work here at their own risk.

"I don't know them (the agents) personally; they have diplomatic status. But I think that if they come to Mexico to confront a problem of high danger, they have to run the risks," the influential newspaper Excelsior quoted Atty. Gen. Sergio Garcia Ramirez as saying.

The implication was that risks for foreign narcotics control agents include encounters with the local police themselves. On Aug. 14, U.S. officials accused Jalisco state police of beating and torturing Victor Cortez Jr., a DEA agent working in Mexico, after arresting him and a companion on the streets of Guadalajara the day before.

Since the Cortez incident, government attention as perceived from here has focused on whether the DEA should operate at all in Mexico, rather than on the activities of the Jalisco police.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office declined Saturday to confirm or deny Garcia's comments as reported by Excelsior.

The newspaper report included parts of a speech Garcia made to a lawyers' group in the city of Puebla. In the speech, the attorney general said that accords governing the presence of DEA agents in Mexico may have to be modified.

Cortez was allegedly mistreated on the same day that Garcia was in Washington as part of the delegation that accompanied Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid to a meeting with President Reagan.

The next day, when news of the Cortez incident became public, Garcia was meeting with U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III to announce new U.S.-Mexican efforts to combat drug trafficking. Meese said later that Garcia promised a full investigation of the Cortez affair.

Officials Interrogated

No results of the probe have been disclosed, although police officials in Guadalajara have been detained and interrogated.

In Puebla, Garcia appeared to call for an end to the Cortez controversy.

"I understand that, at times, hurt feelings cause us to raise voices," he said. "Those who raise their voices have the right to raise their voices; but we must also, in an honest, laborious and daily exposition, make the analysis of these problems and resolve them together."

The DEA operates in Mexico with the knowledge, and supposedly the blessing, of the Mexican government. Recently, however, a chorus of official protests has thrown into question the DEA's welcome.

Last week, Gen. Jose Arevalo Gardoqui, Mexico's defense minister, said that the DEA is unneeded in Mexico. The Foreign Ministry said that there is no specific U.S.-Mexican agreement that permits DEA agents to work in Mexico. Some Mexican legislators vilified the DEA officers as spies and meddlers.

On Saturday, Mexican Sen. Antonio Riva Palacio, said, "By no means is it accepted that alien people or groups other than Mexican carry out anti-narcotic traffic in Mexico."

U.S officials in Washington say that DEA agents work in Mexico with diplomatic protection, under several accords with the Mexican government.

The American Embassy here has not produced information about any specific written agreement. According to a news bulletin from the embassy, "Some of the agreements are informal and are considered to be projects instead of formal agreements."

Activities of DEA officers in Mexico are principally the gathering and exchanging of information with the Mexican police. These officers, said to number 30 nationwide, are permitted neither to question nor arrest smugglers nor to seize drug caches.

Tensions over the DEA presence in Mexico first arose last year after the torture-slaying in Guadalajara of DEA officer Enrique S. Camarena. U.S. officials charged that Jalisco state police helped abduct Camarena and turn him over to his killers. Other police reportedly helped suspects to escape.

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