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Opposition Party Denies White House Asked it for Contra Aid

May 12, 1987

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Mexico’s leading opposition party denied Tuesday that the Reagan administration sought its support for Nicaragua’s Contra rebels in exchange for political support inside Mexico.

The statement by the conservative National Action Party, called PAN for its Spanish initials, came in response to a recent report by The Miami Herald on alleged U.S. administration tactics to try to pressure some Latin American governments to support the Contras.

The newspaper said Ricardo Villa Escalera, whom it identified as a PAN official, met in August 1986 with conservative fund-raiser Carl R. ″Spitz″ Channell at a Washington hotel.

Channell asked the PAN for $210,000 for a pro-Contra advertising campaign, the newspaper said. In exchange, it said, Channell promised that President Reagan would help the party fight the ruling party here.

Villa Escalera, who could not be located in Mexico on Tuesday for comment, was quoted in the Miami newspaper as saying the PAN never contributed to the Contras and that he could not recall meeting Channell.

The Mexico City daily newspaper La Jornada quoted Villa Escalera as saying he met ″several times with Channell and his people in his offices ... in Washington. We didn’t talk about the Contras. We wanted them to be aware of the way freedoms were being trampled on in Mexico.″

In a statement, PAN officials said the party ″has never received any proposition to help the Contras as was reported″ in the newspapers.

The party’s executive secretary, Humberto Rice, acknowledged in a telephone interview that Villa Escalera once ran unsuccessfully for governor of Puebla state as the PAN’s candidate.

However, Villa Escalera holds no position within the party and is not considered by PAN leaders to represent the party in any way, Rice said.

″We have no association with these people,″ Rice said, refering to Villa Escalera and other individuals said in U.S. and Mexican news reports to have visited Channell at some time in Washington.

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.

The issue is especially touchy for PAN because opponents from both the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party and small leftist groups frequently accuse it of being a front for U.S. interests in Mexico.

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