Sunday, December 16, 2012

México: Former US Marine Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison for Firearm Possession

There has been considerable media coverage in recent weeks concerning former US Marine Lance Corporal Jon Hammar, 27, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, who was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2007, and who has been battling post-traumatic distress disorder (PTSD).

On August 13, while driving  through the US-Mexican border crossing at Brownsville-Matamoros in an RV with friends and destined for Costa Rica, Mr. Hammar was INCORRECTLY told by a US border agent that the .410-gauge shotgun he was transporting in his vehicle should be registered with Mexican authorities in Matamoros.

Subsequently, Jon was arrested and imprisoned for up to 12 years when Mexican authorities found the shotgun.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, US border agents do not control what happens in México, Mexicans authorities do. Nor do they control the unprecedented institutional corruption that prevails throughout México's criminal justice system. I say this having worked for both Mexican and US clients for  many  years. 

If Mr. Hammar had accessed either of the below websites, he would either be in Costa Rica enjoying a trip with his friends or he would already be home with his family, preparing for the holidays:

I discovered these websites within minutes after hearing of Mr. Hammar's arrest, imprisonment and treatment. 

As the US Consulate in Tijuana advises, US citizens should not only bring NO firearms to México, but no ammunition as well. Even possession of a pocket knife can be a basis for arrest and imprisonment.

It is so tragic that Mr. Hammar did not seek proper advice BEFORE he packed the shotgun into his RV.

Had he flown to Costa Rica, thereby by-passing México, and obtained Costa Rican governmental clearance to transport the shotgun to San José, he would not be facing the results that he is today.

Sadly, Mr. Hammar is by no means the first American that has been arrested and jailed for weapons possession and he certainly will not be the last. In fact, I have reported countless cases of Americans being arrested in México in recent years.

Although the Fox News Network's Bill O'Reilly has described Jon Hammar's plight as a bogus charge, it is obviously not bogus in the eyes of the Mexican government.

Currently, Mr. Hammar has been imprisoned for 12 years in one of México's most notorious prisons, just miles from where he was arrested, at Centro de Ejecucion de Sanciones (CEDES), which also is controlled to a large degree by  drug traffickers. 

Already, Jon Hammar parents in Palmetto Bay, FL have received numerous extortion demands from traffickers, which has resulted in the former Marine being relocated to a segregated part of the prison, although he is chained to his bed for fear that he might escape.

Hammar's family has even encountered obstacles in getting US consular officers to visit him in prison. Although the officers are now visiting Mr. Hammar, they are not frequent.

As I have told so many Americans in the past, "you don't know how much diplomatic help you'll get, until you need it. Unfortunately, expectations  are often incompatible with reality."

Despite the rhetoric and "mumbo-jumpo," even when American inmates are mistreated or threatened, there is very little that embassies and consulates can do to prevent it, other than report on it.

Although Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has attempted to intercede on Mr. Hammar's behalf, to date, both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have said nothing about Jon Hammar or what efforts they are pursuing to gain his release.

Even though Hammar's next hearing is scheduled for January 17, I am not encouraged that even newly installed President Enrique Peña Nieto of the centrist Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) has the political will or "juice" to release the former Marine.

Sadly, the political relationship between the US and México has always been described as "love-hate," with incarcerated Americans being treated equally badly.

Even if Peña Nieto were inclined to release Hammar, what about the large number of American citizens who have also been charged with weapons violations and are languishing in Mexican prisons? Will they be released on a case-by-case basis?

If President Peña Nieto is unwilling to release Hammar or other Americans who are serving prison terms for "trumped-up weapons charges," the only recourse the US has is to:

1. Reduce foreign assistance funding levels to México, which I personally believe the State Department is unwilling to do, because of its political stake in helping México against the drug cartels; and/or

2. Disseminating a travel warning to American citizens advising them not to travel to México...period. This possibility is also very unlikely due to the trade relationships between Washington and Mexico City.