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Latin Moves Sour U.S.-Mexico Ties : Nations at Odds Over Contadora Central America Efforts

January 26, 1987|DAN WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Disagreements over Central America are souring relations between Mexico and the United States, and any quick improvement appears unlikely, officials from both countries say.

The conflict surfaced again over the weekend when Elliot Abrams, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, criticized Mexico's position in the Contadora Group's efforts to design a peace treaty for Central America.

The timing of Abrams' remarks pointed up the irritation apparently felt in Washington over Mexico's role in Central America. Bernardo Sepulveda, the Mexican foreign minister, is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State George P. Shultz on Wednesday in Washington.

Abrams criticized Mexico's participation in the Contadora peace process as being leftist-oriented.

Abrams contended that the versions of a draft treaty prepared to date under the Contadora Group's sponsorship failed to press Nicaragua to make its political system democratic.

Pressure on Nicaragua

"Any meaningful treaty will have to put enormous amounts of pressure on Nicaragua, and they're (Mexico) not prepared to do that," Abrams said.

The Foreign Ministry here did not directly respond to Abrams' remarks. Instead, a Mexican senator from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party defended this country's role in the four-nation Contadora Group.

Sen. Hugo Margain contrasted the applause that Mexico has generally received for its Contadora activities to the condemnation of the United States in a ruling by the World Court for Washington's help to the contras fighting Nicaragua's Sandinista regime .

Since January, 1983, the Contadora Group--Mexico, Colombia, Panama and Venezuela--has been trying to resolve Central American conflicts through a regional peace pact. In 1985, four South American nations--Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay--banded together as a support group for Contadora.

No Draft Treaty Approval

So far, however, no treaty draft has gained the necessary approval of all five concerned countries--Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Last week, the foreign ministers of the Contadora Group and its support body, joined by the heads of United Nations and the Organization of American States, toured Central America to try to revive the peace initiative. They ended the trip by urging the United States to take an active role in the peace negotiations.

U.S. officials have long seen Mexico as the guiding hand in the Contadora talks--in favor of Nicaragua and against other points of U.S. policy in Central America.

The suspicion deepened in the closing months of 1986 as Mexico opposed U.S. positions on both Nicaragua and El Salvador in meetings of the Organization of American States and the United Nations.

Mexico, for its part, considers that many of its problems with the United States have their roots in disagreements over Central America.

Mexican officials accused the United States of slandering their government through a series of congressional and other official statements alleging widespread corruption and voting fraud in this country. Such statements, the Mexicans assert, are aimed at putting pressure on Mexico to alter its Central American positions.

As a result, it has become a foreign policy goal of Mexico to try to quiet criticism from the north.

In a year-end report to the Mexican Senate, Sepulveda said: "It is advisable that both governments remove obstructions to trustworthy and permanent dialogue that should exist so that . . . real or potential differences can be resolved. This will serve to banish the use of pressure, unilateral measures, vagabond opinions and slanderous statements."

No Policy Change Indicated

Sepulveda, however, gave no indication that Mexico's policies in Central America would change.

Officials on both sides say they are trying to keep differences over Central America from spilling over into other issues between the two countries. There were some bright spots in U.S.-Mexico relations last year.

Washington actively supported Mexico's bid to gain new foreign loans and easier terms for its $100 million foreign debt. The two countries signed accords settling a lingering dispute over fishing rights in Mexican waters.

U.S. officials were pleased with what they considered a change in Mexican voting practices at the United Nations. During 1986, Mexico abstained on several General Assembly resolutions that condemned the United States by name for its role in southern Africa. Previously, Mexico had voted in favor of similar resolutions.

Anti-Drug Efforts

The U.S. attorney general's office reported some satisfaction with Mexico's efforts at combatting drug traffic. However, suspects in the 1985 torture-murder of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique S. Camarena and last year's beating of DEA agent Victor Cortez have yet to be brought to trial.

On Wednesday, Shultz and Sepulveda are expected to sign an agreement on controlling environmental pollution caused by copper smelters in the two nations' border areas.

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