An American woman, and mother of seven, was released today May 31, 2013 from a jail in Mexico after being accused of trying smuggle twelve pounds of marijuana on a Mexican bus. Yanira Maldonado and her husband Gary were returning to the United States after a family funeral in Mexico when the bus they were traveling on was stopped at a military check point. The couple exited the bus while it was searched. The soldiers claimed that they found the marijuana under her seat and arrested her on the spot. Her husband was briefly detained, but released shortly thereafter. Maldonado was arrested on May 22, 2013 and released on May 31, 2013.
Her ordeal with the Mexican justice system was quite harrowing. Maldonado explained that she was told that if she wanted to leave jail she should consider bribing the judge. She was also told that she should plead guilty and try for a lesser sentence. The soldiers that detained her did not show up to her hearing on Friday. It appears that her arrest and incarceration could possibly have been a set up. Video used at her hearing showed that it would be impossible for the Maldonados to have put the marijuana on the bus as it was too big and the video clearly shows them boarding the bus without the marijuana. Either another bus patron, the bus company or possibly even the military tried to use Maldonado to extract money. It was noted that they were the only Americans on the bus giving more weight to the argument that it was a money making scam. Maldonado strenuously proclaimed her innocence while her family desperately made the rounds on American television to bring awareness to her case.
The United States has used aid money as leverage in the past with the Mexican government. In 2010, the Obama administration withheld $26 million in aid to Mexico, recommending that the government give more power to its human rights commission and crack down on abusive soldiers. After some progress the United States gave some of the aid to Mexico, but did withhold 15 percent of newly authorized funds until the Mexican government met several requirements: enhancing authority of the National Human Rights Commission, limiting authority of military courts in cases involving abuse of civilians, and improving communication with human rights organizations in Mexico.
A State Department report in 2010 sent to the Senate commended the Mexican government for cracking down on torture, improving transparency and listening to human rights groups’ allegations that about military abuses. But the report, which has not been publicly released, said the government needs to be more public and aggressive when investigating and prosecuting allegations of abuse by security forces.
The imprisonment of Yanira Maldonado, if only for a little over a week, is an outrage. It is clear that there was no evidence and the Mexican court was correct in releasing her. Her story was on the United States national news and rightfully so. It is troubling, though, that this type of event happens to ordinary Mexicans on a routine basis. Amnesty International has documented numerous accounts of soldiers committing similar acts against the Mexican population. The culture of military impunity reigns in Mexico. Without the international pressure on the Mexican legal system, Yanira Maldonado could have easily faced serious jail time or could have been extorted in to having to pay for her freedom.
The United States government cannot waver when it comes to aid money to Mexico. The Mexican government has to show solid proof of making real strides forward in terms of human rights abuses, extortion and other crimes committed by the military. Considering that thousands of Americans head south to Mexico every year, the United States has a vested interest in keeping those Americans safe. The United States also needs to have a commitment to the average citizen in Mexico as many of them do not have access to the national media when they are unjustly arrested and extorted in Mexico.