One day after U.S. Customs Commissioner William von Raab declared that the governor of Mexico's Sonora State owned ranches growing marijuana and opium, the U.S. Embassy here apologized to the governor and told him it had no information to back up the charge, the embassy reported today.
The message was conveyed to Gov. Rodolfo Felix Valdez in person by Christian Kennedy, the U.S. consul in the Sonora capital of Hermosillo, after Kennedy checked with the State Department through the U.S. Embassy here, an embassy spokeswoman said. His message was backed up by a personal call the same afternoon from then-U.S. ambassador John Gavin, she added.
The incident is an example of what Mexican officials have complained is a series of mixed and sometimes inaccurate signals from the Reagan administration recently on the question of narcotics trafficking and official corruption in Mexico. These complaints, which included an official protest note, have centered on hearings of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee May 12 and 13 called by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).
Von Raab told the subcommittee May 13 that the Sonora governor "owns four ranches in Sonora that are believed to grow opium and marijuana." In the same testimony, von Raab declared that Mexican federal police have protected the ranches, part of what he described as "massive" official corruption "all the way up and down the ladder."
Consul Kennedy, after checking with the U.S. Embassy here, made his call on Felix Valdez the next afternoon, saying the embassy has no evidence of the charges in van Raab's statements and expressing regret, the embassy said. Later he told Mexican reporters in Sonora, "Clearly, there is no information in our possession that gives sustenance in any form to the allegations made against the state governor yesterday."
An embassy spokeswoman here, Caron Garcia, said that comment reflected State Department guidance given to Kennedy. If the Treasury Department has any information incriminating Felix Valdez, the U.S. Embassy here has no knowledge of it, she added.
The Treasury Department released a statement today in Washington stating that "no information exists" that Felix Valdez had "knowledge" of growth of marijuana or opium poppies on ranches he owns "or even of the fact that it is alleged that such growth occurs," Washington Post staff writer Mary Thorton reported.
"The Customs Service, however, does have information that narcotics are grown on ranches and farms in the state of Sonora," the statement said. It did not say the ranches referred to are owned by Felix Valdez.
In a breakfast meeting with reporters yesterday morning, Treasury Secretary James Baker III acknowledged that Attorney General Edwin Meese had said publicly that von Raab's statements "do not represent administration policy, even though they may be true." Baker suggested that the administration should have had a coordinated policy on the issue before von Raab and Meese commented publicy.
Baker made it clear he was not criticizing von Raab. The Treasury Department statement suggested that the administration would not comment further until it has produced a united policy.
It was unclear whether ambassador Gavin checked with the State Department before making his call to Felix Valdez, spokeswoman Garcia said, but the embassy was aware of the guidance from Washington and unaware of any conclusive evidence against Felix Valdez.
Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, also told the subcommittee of U.S. concern over drug-related corruption in Mexico. Along with illegal immigration and economic reform, this is a theme that increasingly has been voiced by administration officials in recent months. But Abrams did not make the same kind of personal charges as von Raab.
Mexican government officials and Felix Valdez have denied that he is involved in drugs. The Mexican Foreign Ministry made a formal protest to the State Department over the testimony. In reply, Secretary of State George P. Shultz wrote a conciliatory letter emphasizing a desire for good relations and cooperation in fighting drug smuggling.
In addition, Meese telephoned Mexican Attorney General Sergio Garcia Ramirez to say the Reagan administration does not believe the entire government of President Miguel de la Madrid is involved in drug-related corruption, an impression some officials said was left by the testimony.