MEXICO CITY — A move by Sen. Jesse Helms to prevent U.S. certification of Mexico's performance in combatting drug trafficking drew outrage over the weekend from Mexican officials, who called the North Carolina Republican "an unblushing liar" and "a man sick with power."
Helms asked Congress on Thursday to reject the Bush Administration's certification of Mexico as cooperating fully with the U.S. government in the war against drugs.
The senator accused Mexican law enforcement officials of "protecting drug traffickers" and inserted into the Congressional Record a letter he had written Jan. 26 asking Secretary of State James A. Baker III to check for information in CIA, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration files about 14 allegedly corrupt officials in the government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
"The problem with the Salinas Administration is not that one or two individuals may have dubious connections, but that a significant number of key officials connected with law enforcement is reported allegedly to be tied to criminals, or in fact themselves (are) accused of criminal actions," the letter said.
The letter had been written to urge Baker to withhold approval of a mutual legal assistance treaty that Helms felt would require the United States to provide the Mexican government with confidential information that could fall into the hands of criminals. In the letter, Helms named 14 Mexican officials whom he considered corrupt, based on "specific information which I am not in a position to evaluate, but which comes from sources that have proved reliable in the past."
Some of the people on the list have been accused of criminal activities before, but others, such as Secretary of Fisheries Maria de los Angeles Moreno, were surprising additions. During the administration of immediate past-President Miguel de la Madrid, Moreno worked in the Budget and Planning Ministry under then-Secretary Salinas and has not been publicly accused of wrongdoing.
One Person Resigned
One person on Helms' list, Miguel Nazar Haro, resigned from his post as Mexico City police intelligence chief last month. Nazar was accused of having tortured and caused the disappearances of political prisoners during his tenure at the Federal Security Bureau in the 1970s. He also is a fugitive from justice in the United States, where he was indicted by a federal grand jury in 1982 on car theft and conspiracy charges.
But another man on the list, Deputy Atty. Gen. Javier Coello Trejo, who heads Mexico's anti-drug effort, is generally well-regarded in U.S. and Mexican law enforcement circles. The American ambassador here, Charles J. Pilliod Jr., has called him "a real competent man with a reputation as an honest tough cop."
Infuriated by Helms' allegations that Mexican officials protect drug kingpins, Coello said, "He is a man sick with power, ambitious, a liar; I challenge him to show me that I am a drug dealer."
Atty. Gen. Enrique Alvarez del Castillo--also on the Helms list--called the senator "medieval . . . an individual who, among other things, is racist and fascist. He supported (Chilean strongman Gen. Augusto) Pinochet. . . ."
Concern Was Expressed
U.S. officials previously had expressed concern about Salinas' appointment of Alvarez del Castillo to the nation's top law enforcement post. U.S. and Mexican sources assert that drug trafficking and drug-related violence increased in Jalisco state while Alvarez del Castillo was governor there for the last five years. Among the cases they cite was the 1985 kidnaping and killing by state judicial police of Enrique S. Camarena, a Guadalajara-based agent of the DEA.
When he joined the Salinas administration, Alvarez del Castillo brought with him from Jalisco two other people who were on Helms' list: Deputy Atty. Gen. Hector Castaneda Jimenez and Federal Judicial Police Commander Pablo Aleman Diaz, who was a security adviser to Alvarez del Castillo. U.S. sources suspect both of having ties to traffickers.
U.S. officials had suspected the former defense minister, Gen. Juan Arevalo Gardoqui, of complicity in drug deals. Now, Helms included on his list the new defense minister, Gen. Antonio Riviello Bazan.
Hugo Olivares Ventura, a leader of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, called Helms "an unblushing liar" whose "unfounded accusations stem from his extreme rightist ideology and his interventionist pretentions."
Even Mexicans who routinely criticize corruption in their own country bristled. In an editorial titled "Interventionist Obsession," the leftist newspaper La Jornada wrote that Helms "has converted Mexico into a target for his irrational choler."
Helms is not expected to be successful in overturning the certification, which was made by President Bush on March 1. Under a 1986 law, decertification of a country requires the U.S. government to cut foreign aid and vote against loans by multilateral institutions. Last year, the Senate voted to decertify Mexico, but the House of Representatives killed the move.
Mexico resents the annual hearings, which they view as U.S. interference in their internal affairs, and this year both sides had tried to avoid a confrontation. Ambassador Pilliod publicly lauded Mexico's progress, while Coello held a press conference to publicize advances in its war against narcotics. In the first three months of the Salinas administration, he said, the government seized 2.7 tons of cocaine, 90 pounds of heroin and 106 tons of marijuana. It also destroyed 4,635 acres of heroin poppies and 1,892 acres of marijuana plants.