Despite a strong public plea from the State Department to stay away, two Los Angeles city officials plus the mayor of San Antonio and a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico traveled to Mexico City early Saturday to assess firsthand the needs of the earthquake-ravaged area.
L.A. City Councilman Art Synder, whose district is predominantly Latino, and Deputy Mayor Grace Montanez Davis, Mayor Tom Bradley’s chief Latino aide, flew to the Mexican capital shortly after midnight to determine what heavy equipment and other supplies the City of Los Angeles might send.
While the trip to Los Angeles’ oldest and largest “sister city” had Bradley’s approval, Deputy Mayor Tom Houston said Snyder and Davis did not go as official representatives of city government.
“They’ve gone down to see how their friends are doing,” Houston said.
‘As Private Citizens’
It was not a case of their butting in where they were not wanted, he added. “Not at all. They’re down there as private citizens with long-established relationships with Mexico City residents.”
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, on ABC-TV’s “Nightline” interview show, had harshly criticized San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros for embarking on a similar “people-to-people” mission.
“I appeal to you not to go,” Abrams told Cisneros. “That’s exactly what the Mexicans don’t need. . . . They don’t need somebody taking up their time right now.”
Abrams said that “there does not appear to be a shortage of food, clothing, medical equipment or personnel.” The Mexican government, he said, has asked the United States only for specific help, including earth-moving and demolition equipment. Abrams added that American citizens who wish to help with earthquake relief should funnel their efforts through the American Red Cross.
Traveling With Ex-Envoy
Cisneros, accompanied by former U.S. Ambassador Robert Krueger, left for Mexico a few hours after the angry confrontation with Abrams.
Cisneros and Krueger, who had been asked to make the trip by Texas Gov. Mark White, planned to find out how American churches and other private groups could best channel aid. They expected to return late Saturday.
At a State Department briefing Saturday, Abrams drew a distinction between Cisneros’ venture and the trip planned by First Lady Nancy Reagan to the quake-stricken nation. He said his department had been told by the Mexican government that it “preferred” that Cisneros “not come,” while the First Lady’s trip was being coordinated by Mexican officials and the State Department.
Meantime, in Los Angeles, Snyder said before his departure that his trip was necessary to break down the Mexican government’s political barriers against accepting outside aid.
‘A Personal Relationship’
“You have to have someone down there who has a personal relationship,” Snyder said, noting that Mexico had been reluctant to accept assistance after a natural gas explosion caused heavy damage in a Mexico City suburb and killed nearly 500 people last November.
“But you’ll recall that (after people-to-people negotiations) they did eventually accept about $1 million worth of aid” in November, the councilman said.
Snyder said he is a friend of Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid and many of De la Madrid’s Cabinet ministers.
“All we need to know is what they want from us,” said Snyder, who has announced that he will retire from office in the next few weeks.
Snyder boarded a Mexicana Airlines flight shortly before 12:30 a.m. Saturday and, his wife said, was on his way to the airport at the time Abrams was admonishing Cisneros against the Mexico City trip on the “Nightline” broadcast. Snyder and Davis are scheduled to return tonight.
Appeal for Money
On Friday, Snyder appeared at a press conference to appeal to the people of Los Angeles to contribute money for quake relief through the Red Cross. Snyder said then that his “fact-finding mission” was still appropriate. “This sister city has more potential to do more for Mexico City than any other city, than any other agency apart from the U.S. government,” he said. Snyder added that Los Angeles sent $750,000 worth of second-hand equipment to La Paz, Mexico, after a 1973 earthquake.
Abrams’ assessment that there was no shortage of food, medicine or clothing in Mexico City differed from the situation depicted in a telephone call to a Dallas radio station from a woman in Saltillo, who identified herself as a Mexican Red Cross worker.
Elvita Gonzalez Martinez appealed to Americans to send bandages, antibiotics, baby food, blankets and clothing.