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Miscommunication and misunderstanding

22 December 2012

Lynn Brezosky at the Houston Chronicle, quotes Gerardo Acevedo Danache, the vice president of international affairs for the Chambers of Commerce for both Matamoros and the state of Tamaulipas as saying Jon Hammar’s arrest and incarceration was a result of “miscommunication and misunderstanding”.

While I take exception to the implication that Hammar’s release was solely due to concern over possible effects on the tourism industry, and question whether “Hammar was … pressured to enter a guilty plea” (when he was, in fact, guilty of a serious crime),  Brezosky, in quoting Acevedo, gives the clearest and simplest explanation of what happened.

While Hammar thought he’d properly registered the gun, Mexican officials said he hadn’t.


[Acevedo] said the situation begged both an investigation into Hammar’s treatment and a reconsideration of how the country advises foreigners on gun regulations.

Signs at the border say firearms are prohibited, but hunting in Mexico is legal.

“Jon is a victim of miscommunication and misunderstanding,” Acevedo said. “We need to avoid that situation in the future.”

Mr. Hammar is hardly the first, nor will he be the last, gringo to end up in Mexico (or other foreign) jails because he was given wrong information by the wrong people. I would feel better if the Customs (or was it a Border Patrol) officer who allegedly gave Hammar “permission” to take a shotgun into Mexico was identified and questioned publicly about this. Whether it’s a question of improper training (and the officers simply don’t know what is, and is not, permissible to bring into Mexico), or the officers are of the all-too-common mindset that the rest of the world follows U.S. regulations (and U.S. regulations apply to U.S. citizens in other countries) is something that needs to be addressed.

On the latter point, incidentally,  Florida’s U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is quoted in The Associated Press (via The Guardian) as saying “No American should be in a Mexican jail for five months without being able to have his case in front of a judge,”  Brezosky said that Hammar pled guilty to the charges… within 90 days of his arrest, which would be well within the norms of justice.  Perhaps one should ask the Senator if he means foreigners arrested in Florida on felonies should be bailed until they can receive a hearing, too.

Focusing on the mistreatment of one American — and the tacit presumption that U.S. citizens are somehow entitled to special rights deflects consideration of a larger problem… the serious overcrowding and lack of resources in Mexican prisons.  While much of that overcrowding  is due to the fact that Matamoros is (in the journalistic cliche of Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, Fox News and others) “a dangerous area” has more to do with proximity to the United States and its ridiculously lax attitude towards gun runners and  insatiable appetite for narcotics is overlooked.  And, with the overcrowding in Mexican jails in that part of the country (and throughout the country for that matter).

That Mr. Hammar was moved out of the general population shows that some concern was given for his welfare, though — not having a suitable place to isolate prisoners at risk — the conditions under which he was held were appalling (and, incidentally, one of the reasons for his release:  chaining him in his temporary cell violated his civil rights — not as an American, but as a human being in Mexico).  Neither The Houston Chronicle nor the Associated Press mentions that Hammar has suffered from Post Traumatic Stress since 2008.

Certainly, as a combat veteran, Hammar was more likely to have PTSD than the general population, and I was happy I was able to help in a very small way the Silver Stars Families which focuses on that issue as it affects U.S. military veterans.    As Steve Newton of Silver Stars Families wrote in an email:

I believe we should ask why did Lance Corporal Hammar want to make the trip through Mexico?  From news accounts it was made obvious that Hammar was trying to escape from the images and horrors in his own mind.  Post Traumatic Stress is no joke and as we have seen many times it can often lead to making decisions that are not good ones.  PTS can also lead to alcohol and drug abuse in an effort to escape from what they may see as reality in the own minds.

The Silver Star Families of America have been a leading advocate for those who have been wounded with PTS.  The situation with Corporal Hammar should be viewed as a chance to discuss new and innovative ways to treat those so wounded.  Let’s have that debate now.

We in Mexico — victims of U.S. engendered violence that has led to 60 to 80,000 deaths and up to 20,000 disappearances over the last six years — are going to have to come to grips with the problem among our own people, and not just among a subgroup of people, like combat veterans.

And, Mexico has a long way to go in properly offering decent treatment for the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed.  Our prisons, like U.S. prisons, are not equipped to deal with these kinds of problems, nor are they meant to.  What we both need is less recrimination and xenophobia (and violence) and more communication and understanding.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 December 2012 6:23 am

    Does ignorance of the law, excuse breaking it? I don’t know about you, but when I travel to a foreign land, I’m damn sure I know what their local laws are. We have that type of response in our own Judicial system. Ignorance of the law does not protect you from breaking laws.

  2. 22 December 2012 7:32 am

    I gotta say, if I were suffering from combat-related stress and looking to “escape from the images and horrors in my own mind,” I’m not sure Mexico would be the first place I thought of. Though I suppose the weather’s nicer than Canada’s.

    • 22 December 2012 2:35 pm

      Hammar’s hardly the first, and certainly not the last, stressed out gringo to believe his life would be better in Mexico… naive perhaps, but despite the U.S. sponsored violence of the last six years, that is still a particularly attractive notion to U.S. combat veterans, as it has been at least since World War I.

      • 23 December 2012 6:52 am

        Yes, I know – I’ve even visited Mexico once or twice myself. I just meant that if my *particular* stress was caused by an inability to escape the horrific images of violence in my own mind, the ‘US sponsored violence of the last six years’ is the kind of thing I might take into consideration when looking to relocate.

      • 23 December 2012 10:01 am

        No one said this plan was thought out, though, as your own regular doses of snark towards Queretaro’s media coverage of crime demonstrates, foreigners (and foreign residents) don’t see local crimes as anything to particularly stress out over… church bells and schoolchilden singing the Himno Nacional may be the reality, but the mythic sleepy Latin American village by the sea is an enduring stressed-out American dream.

        As it was, these guys said they were headed for Costa Rica which is perceived as non-violent (it also outlaws hunting… which would have made that shotgun problematic, no matter what its length).

  3. 22 December 2012 10:34 am

    The vast majority of Mexicans and Mexican Americans are not treated any better than Hammar by the American judicial system, and nobody and I mean nobody cries wolf for them!!!!! And this applies to the guilty and the not guilty. Due process is an over worked public defender, who assures you more often than not, a guilty verdict—yours!!

  4. 23 December 2012 1:14 am

    If this were a world where the wealthy count their blessings (or even notices) and tries to give back to society at large, perhaps we’ll see Hammar’s parents now lead a national awareness campaign about the traumas and trials of PTSD and demand that the same politicians who supported releasing their son from Mexico to now support increased funding for treatment and research of PTSD and care for veterans.

    Sadly, there are too many who “support our troops” while they’re going to combat, but don’t think it is the nation’s responsibility to care for their injuries – physical and mental, along with psyche – that fighting in the nation’s imperialistic wars cause.

    Will the powerful speak up for the injured? Ooops… cocktail party on the yacht to get to. Toodles.

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