The PJ Tatler

Another American Freed from Unjust Imprisonment in Mexico

Yanira Maldonado, the 42-year-old Mormon mother of seven who was imprisoned in Mexico on bogus drug charges, is free today.

“I’m free. I’m free, I’m free,” she said after being released. “I was innocent so I was really very happy to be out.”

The 42-year-old was arrested by Mexican military on May 22 after they found nearly 12-pounds of pot under her seat on a commercial bus traveling from Mexico to Arizona.

But court officials – who analysed security footage showing her boarding with only blankets, bottles of water and a purse in her hand – have now concluded the narcotics were not hers.

A cynic might suspect that she’s only free because public attention in the US has been focused on her case.

The same cynic might also point to the case of Jon Hammar. Hammar, a former US Marine, spent four months in a Mexican jail on a bogus gun charge. Once public attention in the US focused on his case, pressure built and he was freed last December.

It was August when Hammar, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, crossed the border on his way to Costa Rica. He was going to go surfing with a fellow veteran and stopped in Matamoros to get gas, his family said.

Along with his surfboards, Hammar took an antique shotgun handed down from his great-grandfather. His parents said that Hammar intended to hunt with it, and that U.S. Customs and Border Protection told him he could bring the gun into Mexico if it was registered and a fee was paid.

But after he drove his Winnebago to the Mexican side, authorities arrested him, saying the weapon did not comply with their gun laws.

Olivia Hammar said her son was charged with possession of a weapon restricted for military use. A branch of the Mexican military said the gun is not on its “forbidden list,” she said, but her son remained incarcerated.

A few nights after Hammar’s arrest, his parents received the first of several threatening calls from behind bars, they said.

“He said: ‘I have your son,’ ” Olivia Hammar recalled, tearing up. “I am going to f— him up. I already have.”

Then she heard her son’s voice.

“He said: ‘Mom, you’ve got to do what they say; they’re really serious.’ ”

The voice at the other end of the line asked for $1,800.

Mexico is corrupt. That’s a given. It’s very, very corrupt. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Mexico ranks 105th in the world alongside Kosovo, Gambia and Armenia, among others. Its clean government score is only 37 out of 100. Here’s a taste of how rampant corruption is in our southern neighbor, from the Latin American Herald Tribune:

MEXICO CITY – Police officers renting their patrol cars and uniforms to criminals, and paying supervisors for a particular beat are some of the common corrupt practices that occur in Mexico, where there is widespread social acceptance of corruption, experts said.

“In Mexico, corruption, understood as the use of public resources for private gain, has wide social acceptance and the police are also a product of this society,” Institute for Safety and Democracy director Ernesto Lopez Portillo told Efe.

“You cannot understand police corruption if you do not understand that corruption is part of life and of the cultural codes accepted by Mexican society,” Lopez Portillo said.

A report prepared by the non-governmental Transparencia Mexicana organization estimated that more than 200 million acts of corruption occurred each year in Mexico, with a value of more than 30 billion pesos (about $2.35 billion).

A cynic might wonder whether Americans like Hammar and Maldonado, and others we never hear about, were captured just for the sake of ransoming them.

If you’re an American walking or busing into many parts of Mexico, you’re taking your freedom and maybe even your life into your hands whether you realize it or not.

So there’s that. Then there’s what actually happens to Americans who are unlucky south of the border. If you end up incarcerated, even through no fault of your own, the Obama government will not lift a finger to help you. It didn’t help Hammar and it didn’t help Maldonado. Both are only free because their families made enough noise to get their stories into the US media, getting stories on the air that made the Mexican government look bad.

Mexico has a strong interest in not looking as corrupt as it really is. The Obama government’s interest is in helping Mexico look like a viable security partner. So it won’t raise a fuss even for American citizens unjustly imprisoned in Mexico.