In response to Sally Shelton-Colby's advice -- that Americans should follow the example of Mexico in reducing our budget deficit {"What We Could Learn From Mexico," op-ed, Nov. 21} -- I would like to point out the results of Mexico's achievement. As a graduate student specializing in studies of Mexico, I know that while world bankers might be truly proud and amazed at the alacrity the Mexican government has shown in making payments on its $110 billion foreign debt, it is important to note that in doing so Mexico has guaranteed a life of poverty for over half its citizens.

Economic jargon blurred the reality of the situation. The facts are these. To deal with Mexico's foreign debt, the administration of Miguel de la Madrid -- as part of an International Monetary Fund austerity program -- devalued the peso. While one U.S. dollar equaled 25 pesos in 1982, it now takes 2,500 pesos to make up that same dollar.

The result of this devaluation has been that Mexican workers now have the proud distinction of being one of the lowest-paid work forces in the world. South Koreans make three times as much; workers in Hong Kong, four times as much. It is these rock-bottom poverty wages of Mexican workers that are attracting corporations to Mexico. Mexicans working for these world-class manufacturing operations bring home, on average, $25 for a 48-hour week and live in shacks made of cardboard with no running water or heat.

The sting of the peso devaluation was felt disproportionately by the poor. Between 1975 and 1985, more than $55 billion in assets were sent out of the country by wealthy Mexicans. If this capital flight had not occurred, Mexico would have had to borrow only $12 billion instead of the $110 billion it now owes to banks, according to a study by Morgan Guaranty Trust.

When Sally Shelton-Colby writes that Mexico is "now beginning to enjoy the fruits of those endeavors," she is writing about a country whose government policies have left nearly half the population living in poverty and malnourished.

To bring home poverty wages in order for the balance sheet of the nation to look good to international economists and bankers is not a course of action I would recommend to U.S. citizens.

And Sally Shelton-Colby is wrong in writing that Mexico has "never missed a payment on the debt owed to its external creditors." President Benito Juarez decided to suspend debt payments in 1861, an action that resulted in Napoleon III's sending troops that occupied Mexico for three years. This could go a long way toward explaining the present Mexican government's diligence in never missing a payment.

SARAH SHAW Washington