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Furor Erupts over Reported Link of Opposition to Contra Aid Effort

May 14, 1987

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Mexico’s leading opposition party is under attack from the ruling party and leftists over reports it was asked to aid Nicaragua’s Contra rebels in exchange for U.S. backing in Mexican elections.

No one has alleged the conservative National Action Party did anything more than hear a proposal, and party leaders deny even doing that.

But the mere hint of a link to the Reagan administration has drawn charges that party members are ″bad Mexicans″ or ″traitors″ who ″give information to the enemies of the country.″

The storm broke this week after The Miami Herald reported on alleged U.S. administration tactics to try to pressure some Latin American governments, including Mexico, to support the Contras against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista leaders.

The PAN, as the party is called for its Spanish initials, denies that conservative fund-raiser Carl R. ″Spitz″ Channell ever asked it to donate $210,000 to a pro-Contra advertising campaign, as the newspaper reported.

PAN leaders also said they would investigate and possibly expel party member Ricardo Villa Escalera, who admits meeting Channell in August 1986 but says Contra aid was never discussed.

Villa Escalera once ran unsuccessfully for governor of Puebla state as the PAN candidate. However, he and the party both deny he is a party official or that he represented himself as such in Washington.

The report nevertheless prompted a renewal of old charges that the PAN, which is strongest in northern Mexico, is a front for U.S. interests in Mexico and that it secretly receives, if not solicits, foreign help in campaigns.

The charges come both from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI, which has held the presidency and all 31 governorships since 1929, and from leftists scattered among tiny opposition parties.

Newspapers were filled Wednesday with denunciations of the PAN.

Alberto Juarez Blancas, head of the PRI-affiliated Revolutionary Workers and Peasants Federation, called a press conference to criticize PAN members as ″bad Mexicans″ and ″traitors.″ He said the PAN should lose its political registration and that its members should consider leaving the country.

Senator Alejandro Sobarzo Loaiza, secretary of foreign relations in the ruling party, called on the PRI-controlled Federal Election Commission to investigate whether the ″supposed link that exists between the PAN and the U.S. government″ violates the Mexican constitution.

The daily El Universal newspaper noted the assertions that Villa Escalera is not a PAN official. But federal deputies from the PRI, it said, believed ″the attitude assumed by one of (the PAN’s) distinguished militants ... is unmistakable proof of the tendencies that political organization has always shown and which has reached the extreme of giving information to the enemies of the country.″

Eduardo Valle, leader of the Mexican Workers Party in the Chamber of Deputies, called for an investigation of the PAN. Another opposition party, the Popular Socialist Party, also recommended that the PAN be stripped of its registration.

Mexico is one of the four members of the Contadora group of nations which has been trying to negotiate a regional peace treaty in Central America. Draft versions of the treaty include calls for removal of foreign military presences in Central America.

According to The Miami Herald, U.S. officials warned Mexico in February 1986 that if Mexican officials lobbied the U.S. Congress to support the Contadora group, the Reagan administration would lobby in Mexico on the PAN’s behalf.

Villa Escalera told the daily newspaper La Jornada that in August 1986 he met ″several times with Channell and his people in Washington. ... We wanted them to be aware of the way freedoms were being trampled on in Mexico.″

Channell pleaded guilty April 29 to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government of taxes on $2 million in contributions for military aid to the Nicaraguan rebels.

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