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Cassiz and Hammar… not the same

27 January 2013

I saw where one of my facebook friends (and a regular reader of these posts) opined (one assumes with a good dose of snark):

I’m just going to say that, as a foreigner in Mexico, I’m generally okay with foreigners in Mexico getting out of jail just because they’re foreigners. If Mexico had a fair, efficient, transparent and impartial justice system, I might feel differently.

Justice and the law are different things.

I was involved in a extremely minor way with those seeking Hammar’s release (helping a small veterans organization with some translations, and finding Mexican contacts for them) .  He was the U.S. Marine veteran who entered Mexico with an illegal shotgun, believing U.S. Customs could “authorize” the weapon’s entry.  Hammar was jailed  … but taking into consideration  Hammar’s emotional and mental health, and his naivete… justice was served through a speedy trial and deportation.

It was unfortunate that the incident was politicized — mostly based on the assumption that a rich country foreigner like Hammar deserved special rights, or that the law didn’t apply to people like him, but also because it fed into U.S. stereotypes about Mexico and Mexicans (and played nicely into the whole U.S. gun control “debate”) .  In some sense, Hammar’s status as a foreigner worked to his advantage:  I’m under no illusion that emotionally or mentally damaged Mexicans sitting in jail awaiting trial are not likely to receive special treatment, nor have their cases adjudicated in a timely manner.

I wonder though, if  the speedy resolution of his release, hasn’t allowed us to forget the bigger justice issue.  Alas, other than a one-day news story in the United States on his release, the Hammar incident  has been not led to any consideration of how mentally and emotionally ill prisoners are treated here, or any serious discussion of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the United States.

Florence Cassiz has also hadher sentence reduced to time served and expelled from the country.  Cassiz, like Hammar, is from a politically well connected family and during her stay in a Mexican prison received positive media attention in her home country.  But, for Florence Cassiz to claim her arrest came about because of naivete or a misunderstanding of the law is ridiculous.

She was a gangster moll, and she was, by most accounts, an active participant in activities that would be criminal anywhere… i.e., kidnapping.   While gun-running (which is what Hammar was accused of) is also a serious crime,  it was understood relatively quickly that he was not intentionally committing a crime, but the law is the law… and to NOT investigate would have been, in a very real sense, an injustice to the Mexican people who have been the victims of U.S. gun runners for the last several decades now.

For complex cultural reasons (that I don’t completely understand), kidnapping is popularly regarded as a more serious offense than murder.  Although both the death penalty and life imprisonment are considered barbaric in this country, there is support for both when it comes to kidnappers.   Yeah, Cassiz is THAT low.  That Cassiz was involved with kidnappers is not in doubt, and to not have investigated would again be an injustice.

While anything but a sympathetic figure, it was the perversion of the law — not of justice — that led to Cassiz’ release only seven years into a well-deserved sixty year stretch in the slammer.

The Calderón Administration’s search for a telegenic anti-crime victory for the much criticized Procurador General de la Republica (“Attorney General”) Genaro García Luna … coupled with the PAN administration’s abiding interest in presenting the Federal Government as the one competent to resolve problems in the PRD-controlled Federal District, and the Administration’s close ties to Televisa,  led to a “re-actment” of the take-down of the Zodiaco gang (including Mlle. Cassiz) and to rather shoddy investigative work (allegedly including torture, though there are plenty of perfectly civilized people in this country who wouldn’t have objected to “enhanced interrogation” in such cases).

That the Calderón Administration chose to make Cassiz a TV star (or rather, villain) and the ham-handed PR spin around the arrest, unfortunately makes a fair trial impossible at this late date.  That Cassiz was released was not a victory for justice, but for the on-going reforms of the legal system (ironically, a legal system adopted from Cassiz’ own France).  For Cassiz to have said in Paris that her release proved she was “innocent” is nonsense.  I’m not familiar enough with Mexican law to know if there are rules against “double jeopardy” but — being unlikely to return to Mexico — any discussion of a  retrial for Florence Cassiz would be  purely theoretical at best.

Of course, legal technicalities are meant to insure justice, and in that sense, Cassiz’ release was “just”.  But this was “just-us” not “justice”.  With  former French President Nicolas Sarkozy having used the threat of cancelling sales of French aircraft to Mexico, “convinced” the Calderón Administration to pressure the Supreme Court to review Cassiz’ original conviction, and to shave 30 years off the original 90 year sentence, and the general tenor of French reportage on Cassiz, there was more than a whiff of racism and elitism in the claims that the Frenchwoman was treated with undo harshness by the Mexicans.

Although there were the unfortunate elitist “first worlder” remarks verging on racism surrounding the Hammar incident (notably, from Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly… who we expect that sort of thing from anyway), and it’s understandable that prisoners who have become media darlings are cheered in their home country when they are released, to see Florence Cassiz’ expulsion as some sort of moral victory over Mexico  is missing the mark…  while it highlights a need for certain changes in the system, it does no more to bring about real justice than Hammar’s release is likely to lead to better treatment for the mentally ill.

However, and it’s not the French who deserve credit for this, Cassiz’ release — and the outrage it has caused in this country — has at least begun the conversation on the need for the law, and the agents of the law, to work towards justice.


SDP Noticias:

Aplaudo la liberación de Floance Cassiz

Víctima de Cassez envía carta a EPN: “Me daba a escoger dedo u oreja”


Autoridades del más alto nivel, detrás de mi encarcelación, afirma la francesa

USA Today:

Mexico’s legal soul search after Frenchwoman freed

Seattle Times (McClatchy News):

Mexico moves to shore up its justice system

ADN Noticias:

Miguel Carbonell: Florence Cassez… ¿En verdad es culpable?



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