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Opposition Party Suspends Member Who Met with Contra Contact

June 14, 1987

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The opposition National Action Party, denying a report in The Miami Herald, said Saturday its own investigation had proven the party and its members had not raised funds for Nicaraguan rebels.

But the party also announced it had suspended for two years a member who had met with conservative American fund-raiser Carl R. Channell.

Private donors gave money to a private foundation run by Channell. He and public relations executive Richard R. Miller have pleaded guilty to charges they illegally used the tax-exempt foundation to help arm the Contras, the American-backed rebels fighting the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

The investigation by a special party committee was prompted by a May report in The Miami Herald charging that Channell had asked the party for $210,000 for an advertising campaign to promote the Contra rebels.

The suspended party member, Ricardo Villa Escalera, ran unsuccessfully last year as the party candidate for governor of Puebla state. He has confirmed the newspaper’s report that he met with Channell in Washington in August 1986.

But he has said they did not discuss Contra aid. Villa Escalera, a textile manufacturer, is a prominent party member in the city of Puebla, 70 miles southeast of Mexico City, but he is not a national party official.

The National Action Party’s National Executive Committee said Saturday in a communique that ″it was not proven, nor could it be proven that Villa Escalera, and much less the party, was used to raise funds for a publicity campaign in favor of the Nicaraguan Contras.″

However, it said Villa Escalera violated party discipline by ″assuming faculties reserved for the executive committee in matters of international relations, although he never has acted as a representative″ of the committee.

Gregorio Bello, a party spokesman, said that when The Miami Herald story appeared, Villa Escalera should have turned the matter over to the executive committee rather than make statements to the press.

In May, he told the daily newspaper La Jornada that 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.″

Villa Escalera could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The National Action Party has charged that the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has not lost a presidential or gubernatorial election since it was founded in 1929, uses fraud to deprive it of victories.

From the beginning, the National Action Party has denied that the Reagan administration sought its support for the rebels. But the published report revived old allegations by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party and small leftist parties that the National Action Party is linked to U.S. interests here and receives foreign assistance in its campaigns.

″This matter was manipulated by the Interior Ministry to persist in discrediting the party,″ the National Action Party said in the communique.

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