Marooned in Mexico

by CHET NAGLE December 23, 2012

Ion Perdicaris, a Greek-American, was kidnaped in 1904 in Tangier by Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli and held for $70,000 ransom. Outraged, President Theodore Roosevelt sent warships and Marines to Morocco, along with a message: "This government wants Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead." Perdicaris was freed.

Today, not one, but hundreds of Americans rot in Mexican jails. The State Department stopped reporting numbers years ago, but in 1998 CNN reported 400 U.S. citizens were imprisoned in Mexico, more than in any other nation. The Obama administration response is to create "Beyond Merida," an aid program with appropriations that totaled $1.3 billion by 2010. In exchange for this ransom, how many Americans held without trial have been freed? None.

Consider the dangers if you are foolish enough to visit Mexico.

You can be shot by a drug cartel mobster. Mexico admits to 27,199 murders in 2011. That's 24 killings per 100,000 residents, a rate 600% higher than in the U.S.

You can be kidnapped. The State Department estimated there were 50,000 kidnappings in Mexico in 2008, second only to Venezuela.

You can be robbed. Anywhere. In February, twenty-two Carnival Cruise Lines passengers went ashore in beautiful, safe, Puerto Vallarta. Their valuables and passports were taken at gunpoint.

But the greatest danger to an American tourist or visiting businessman is the corrupt Mexican criminal justice system. It is one thing to commit a crime, and a very different thing to be falsely arrested and sent to a Mexican prison, to be abandoned there by Washington. That happened to U.S. Marine combat veteran and two Florida businessmen. They are all still in jail.

On 23 August, Marine veteran Jon Hammar was driving to a holiday in Costa Rica. He showed his great-grandfather's shotgun to the U.S. Customs Agent at the Mexican border and was told all he had to do was complete a form for Mexican Customs. Hammar showed the shotgun and document to the Mexican border officer and was promptly arrested. Photographs of Hammar, chained to a bed, have surfaced on the web. Marooned for four months in a rat-infested Mexican prison is a Christmas nightmare. How about 14 months?

On 25 October 2011, Florida businessman and yacht-owner Steeven Knight and his boat captain, Walter Stephens, were in Mexico completing the sale of his boat to a Mexican. They already had the down-payment, properly deposited in an American bank after proper U.S. Treasury documents had been filed. Then they went to Mexico, received the balance of $950,000 in cash, completed banking and customs documentation, and prepared to go home. They were arrested at the airport, the money confiscated, and the yacht confiscated. Charged with money-laundering, the two businessmen have been in jail for 14 months awaiting trial and suffering the horrors of a Mexican prison: undrinkable water, inedible food, rats and vermin, exposure to weather, endless danger, and extortion from criminals and officials.

There are two reasons this happens. First, the corrupt Mexican judicial system permits a prosecutor to arrest anyone, and then to require the prisoner to prove he is not guilty. There is no "presumed innocent until proven guilty." There is no trial by jury. In fact, there is no trial at all. A judge makes decisions behind closed doors, when and if he is ready. Meanwhile, fixers promise to "make it go away" if money is paid. Being a Mexican prosecutor must be a lucrative profession.

The second reason Americans are tortured and die in Mexican jails is the absolute silence of the White House, State Department, and Congress. The exception is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) who promised to help Marine Jon Hammar (one hopes she will also remember her fellow Floridians Steeve Knight and Walter Stephens). There are no outraged statesmen in the Obama administration.

Since the White House and State Department refuse to protect Americans abroad, what is to be done? Let's talk money. Instead of aid programs for the world's 14th largest GDP, a touch of pain to Mexico's economy might help get innocent Americans out of its slammers.

The most sensitive pressure point is remittances by immigrant workers. In 2009, Mexican workers in the U.S. sent home $21.2 billion (a 2010 Pew study showed 57% of those immigrant workers are illegal aliens).  The U.S. Post Office wire service to Mexico, Dinero Seguro, allows transfers of up to $2,000 per day. The sender must be a documented worker. So, to put the squeeze on 57% of an untaxed $21.2 billion, Mexico's second biggest source of revenue, Congress can require the Post Office to see real documentation, not just phony Matricula Consular cards handed out to illegal aliens by Mexican consulates.

But instead of hoping Congress might do the right thing, we can all poke Mexico's second pressure point: tourism. Mexico expects over 20 million American tourists in 2013. So help Marine Jon Hammar and Steeve Knight and don't be a tourist. Why risk dying in a Mexican prison for some tequila and a tan?

Stay out of Mexico until another Teddy Roosevelt is president.

Chet Nagle is a Naval Academy graduate, a Georgetown Law School graduate, and Cold War carrier pilot who flew in the Cuban Missile Crisis. After a stint as a Navy research project officer, he joined International Security Affairs as a Pentagon civilian involved in defense and intelligence work. Afterwards, he lived abroad for 12 years working with Aeromaritime, Inc. and as an agent for the CIA, spending time in Iran, Oman, and many other countries. Along the way, he was founding publisher of a geo-political magazine, The Journal of Defense & Diplomacy, read in over 20 countries. At the end of his work in the Middle East, he was awarded the Order of Oman for his role in Oman's victory in a guerilla war fomented by communist Yemen. Nagle's first book is a fact-based novel about Iran's nuclear weapons program, IRAN COVENANT, available on Amazon. His second novel, THE WOOLSORTER'S PLAGUE, was published in 2010 and describes an attack on Washington by terrorists using a biological weapon. He and his wife Dorothy live in Virginia.


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