Marooned in Mexico

Ion Perdicaris, a Greek-American, was kidnapped in 1904 in Tangier by Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli and held for $70,000 ransom. Outraged, President Theodore Roosevelt sent warships and Marines to Morocco, along with a message: “This government wants Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.” Perdicaris was freed.

Today, not one, but hundreds of Americans rot in Mexican jails. The State Department stopped reporting numbers years ago, but in 1998 CNN reported 400 U.S. citizens were imprisoned in Mexico, more than in any other nation. The Obama administration response is to create “Beyond Merida,” an aid program with appropriations that totaled $1.3 billion by 2010. In exchange for this ransom, how many Americans held without trial have been freed? None.

Consider the dangers if you are foolish enough to visit Mexico.

You can be shot by a drug cartel mobster. Mexico admits to 27,199 murders in 2011. That’s 24 killings per 100,000 residents, a murder rate 600% higher than America’s.

You can be kidnapped. The State Department estimated there were 50,000 kidnappings in Mexico in 2008, second only to Venezuela.

You can be robbed. Anywhere. In February, 22 Carnival Cruise Lines passengers went ashore in beautiful, safe Puerto Vallarta. Their valuables and passports were taken at gunpoint.

But the greatest danger to an American tourist or visiting businessman is the corrupt Mexican criminal justice system. It is one thing to commit a crime, and a very different thing to be falsely arrested and sent to a Mexican prison, and then be abandoned there by Washington. That happened to a U.S. Marine combat veteran and two Florida businessmen. They are all still in jail.

On August 23, Marine veteran Jon Hammar was driving to a holiday in Costa Rica. He showed his great-grandfather’s shotgun to the U.S. Customs agent at the Mexican border and was told all he had to do was complete a form for Mexican customs. Hammar showed the shotgun and document to the Mexican border officer and was promptly arrested. Photographs of Hammar, chained to a bed, have surfaced on the Web. Being marooned for four months in a rat-infested Mexican prison is a Christmas nightmare.

Even worse is being stuck in a Mexican prison for 14 months.

On October 25, 2011, Florida businessman and yacht-owner Steeven Knight and his boat captain, Walter Stephens, were in Mexico completing the sale of his boat to a Mexican. They already had the down-payment, properly deposited in an American bank after proper U.S. Treasury documents had been filed. Then they went to Mexico, received the balance of $950,000 in cash, completed banking and customs documentation, and prepared to go home. They were arrested at the airport, and the money and yacht were confiscated. Charged with money-laundering, the two businessmen have been in jail for 14 months awaiting trial and suffering the horrors of a Mexican prison: undrinkable water, inedible food, rats and vermin, exposure to weather, endless danger, and extortion from criminals and officials.