Wednesday, December 19, 2012

México: Analysis--The Plight of Former US Marine Jon Hammar, and So Many Others

As a follow-up to my posting of December 16, "Former US Marine Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison for Firearm Possession," the sad plight of former US Marine Jon Hammar, 27, and his grieving parents for their son's welfare, particularly after being sentenced for years in a northern México prison, rips at the hearts of all parents.

Mr. Hammar was arrested on August 13, shortly after crossing into Matamoros from Brownsville, TX, after he declared a .410 shotgun to US border agents, where he was subsequently advised to declare the firearm when he crossed into México from Brownsville.

From my experience in working in México, both as a retired US Department of State Regional Security Officer as well as an international security consultant, US border agents should have emphasized the risk of incarceration in México to Mr. Hammar if he crossed into Matamoros, and even helped him return to the US side of the border in Brownsville, if they could.

Despite the efforts of Fox News, which has helped get Mr. Hammar's predicament before the eyes of a global audience, the reality is that the Mexican government takes firearms possession very, very seriously, regardless of ignorance of the law.

As I mentioned in my December 16 posting, the below websites, as well as numerous others, warn travelers in no uncertain terms that bringing a firearm into México is a basis for prompt incarceration:

COMMENT:  As a former Marine and a retired federal agent at the US Department of State, where I served as a senior Regional Security Officer (RSO) at numerous embassies, often helping Americans arrested abroad, I know only too well the emotional cross they must bear when jailed in a foreign country.

To further complicate Mr. Hammar's situation, he has been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since returning from combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which no doubt is not being professionally treated in prison, resulting in his condition worsening.

The down-side of all of this is that Mr. Hammar has become a political pawn in a country that seemingly derives subliminal pleasure in seeing foreigners treated harshly in Mexican prisons.

Even though México derives considerable foreign trade from the US, not to mention roughly $300 million in public-safety related US foreign assistance, it appears that White House spokesman Jay Carney is not well-versed on Mr. Hammar's combat service.

This begs the question as to whether either US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or President Obama himself are aware of Hammar's precarious situation. If they are not, they should be.

Now, let me offer some global perspective by suggesting that our readers review my my posting of December 10, entitled "Iran: US Department of State Urges Citizens to Consider Risk of Travel, But Fails to Go Far Enough."

This posting tragically documents the arrest, conviction and death sentence of former US Marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, who was sentenced to death in January 2012 for alleged spying. 

Additionally, the posting also highlights that retired FBI agent Bob Levinson, 63, disappeared on Iran's Kish Island in 2007, and is reportedly still being held in an undisclosed location.

An unknown number of American citizens are kidnapped, imprisoned, killed, tortured and extorted every year with little to no help from the US Department of State.

As the parents of Jon Hammar have unfortunately experienced, when Americans get into legal trouble abroad, they can expect their condition to be reported on back to Washington, yet in many respects, they on their own and whatever resources they can muster. 

It is also noteworthy to point out that in February 2012, a Tampa, FL-based US businesswoman, Wendy Albano, 51, was murdered in a Bangkok hotel. The prime suspect in her homicide was her boyfriend and business partner, Sang-Hvi Ritesh Nar-Patraj, 26, an Indian national, who was seen on surveillance cameras leaving the Fraser Suites in Bangkok, where the couple had been sharing a room, only to later leave Bangkok Airport for points unknown. He has never been apprehended or arrested, and very likely, never will be. For background, see my previous postings which can be searched by typing in "Wendy Albano."

As a final note, if Secretary of State Clinton or President Obama do not intercede on Mr. Hammar's behalf, what about the so many other American citizens who have been treated equally badly abroad by foreign governments, with little or no consequences?