In an apparent move to blunt U.S. criticism, the Mexican government announced plans Thursday to set up a special office to coordinate complaints by foreigners who have been victims of crimes in Mexico.
The decision drew immediate applause from U.S. officials. "We think this has been needed for some time," said Lee Johnson, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy here. "We are happy to see it."
At the same time, the U.S. Embassy released overall crime figures compiled by its consular officials showing that 54 Americans have been murdered in Mexico in the last two years. Sixteen of the killings occurred in Tijuana, the most in any city.
The decision to establish an office dealing with foreigners' complaints on crime coincides with stepped-up pressure from the State Department, which has threatened to issue a formal advisory warning U.S. tourists to beware of travel to Guadalajara, one of Mexico's largest cities, and Puerto Vallarta, a major tourist resort on the Pacific Ocean.
Could Hurt Tourism
An advisory would bring damaging publicity to Mexico and hurt its multibillion-dollar tourist industry, one of its principal sources of hard currency, at a time when the country's foreign debt is $96 billion.
Antonio Enriquez Savignac, minister of tourism, forecast recently that 4.8 million foreign tourists will visit Mexico in 1985, spending an estimated $2.2 billion.
Speaking to reporters earlier this week, U.S. Ambassador John Gavin said he hoped that a travel advisory will not have to be issued. He added that he hoped the opening of an office to handle foreigners' complaints "would lead us to what we want--an absence of travel advisories."
Gavin said the office "would be concerned with the questions about investigation and prosecution of crimes committed against foreigners, not just Americans."
Local Police Limited
Foreigners who are the victims of crime in Mexico customarily report their complaints to local police. U.S. Embassy officials say this procedure is often unsatisfactory.
A statement issued by the attorney general's office did not make clear how the new office will function, but its efforts will be coordinated with the Foreign Ministry.
As explained privately by U.S. diplomats, the Mexico City office would serve as a central clearing house for criminal complaints from foreigners. Instead of dealing directly with tourists, the office would be a place for foreign missions to seek information and further investigations of important crimes involving its citizens.
Following are figures showing crime against U.S. citizens in Mexico from Jan. 1, 1983, to Dec. 31, 1984. They were compiled in five categories by U.S. consulates in Mexico.
Murder: Of the 54 murders of Americans during the two-year period, 20 reportedly remain unsolved. Besides the 16 in Tijuana; there were 14 in Mexico City, 6 in Ciudad Juarez and 5 in Guadalajara. The rest were scattered in various parts of the country.
Injury and accidental death: 59 cases reported to the consulates.
Rape, robbery and assault: 1,612 cases reported.
Missing: 24 cases were placed in this category, apparently including the four missing American Jehovah's Witnesses who disappeared in Guadalajara on Dec. 2.
Kidnaping: Five cases, including four in Guadalajara and one in Hermosillo. All five cases were labeled "solved."
U.S. officials said they could not establish any trend from these figures because there are no comparative statistics for earlier years.