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Archive for May 31st, 2013|Daily archive page

“MAN ON FIRE” REVISITED

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics on May 31, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Yanira Maldonado has been released from a Mexican jail.

She and her husband, Gary, had traveled from Arizona to Mexico to attend a funeral.

They were returning to Arizona when their bus was stopped and searched.  Mexican soldiers claimed they found 12 pounds of marijuana under her seat.

Gary Maldonado believes the soldiers were seeking a bribe in return for letting his wife go free.

But then the Mormon mother of seven got an unusually lucky break.

On May 30, security camera footage in court showed Maldonado and her husband boarding a bus in Mexico–and carrying a purse, two blankets and two bottles of water.

Her defense attorney, Francisco Benitez, argued that the images proved that nothing they were carrying could hold the amount of marijuana that Maldonado was accused of smuggling.

The Mexican soldiers who arrested Maldonado didn’t appear in court. They were scheduled to appear on May 29  but didn’t show.

Yanira Maldonado said she didn’t think that she was directly targeted: “Someone smuggled those in there, and I probably sat in the wrong seat.”

To anyone who has seen “Man on Fire,” the 2004 Denzel Washington movie, the possibility that Maldonado was framed in an extortion attempt does not seem far-fetched.

In fact, it’s an everyday occurrence in Mexico, where corruption permeates every aspect of that country’s “war on drugs.”

In “Man on Fire,” Washington plays Marcus Creasy, a former Special Forces soldier hired to bodyguard Pita Ramos, the precocious nine-year-old daughter of wealthy parents.

But in a shootout with kidnappers, Creasy is gravely wounded and Pita (Dakota Fanning) is snatched.  Believing her murdered, Creasy sets out to avenge the child he has grown to love as his own.

He draws up a Who’s Who list of criminals engaged in serial kidnapping.  And, in doing so, he learns that the biggest criminal gang of all is the Mexican police.

It’s called “La Hermandad” (The Brotherhood).

Creasy snatches a corrupt cop and tortures him (by cutting off several fingers) into giving up the names of some of his top associates.  Then Creasy shoots him in the head and moves on to his next target.

Watching all this activity is the Mexican version of the FBI: The Agencia Federal de Investigacion (AFI).  Its director, Miguel Manzano, plans to use Creasy to unravel the kidnappers’ network.

While Creasy coolly disposes of one kidnapper or corrupt cop after another, Manzano and his agents keep close tabs on the action.  They will let Creasy do the dirty work and move in when the time is right.

After several grisly action sequences–including one where Creasy ambushes police with a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) launcher–Creasy learns the unthinkable: Pita is actually alive.

He kidnaps the brother of the leader of “La Hermandad”–Daniel Sanchez–and offers him a trade: You give me Pita and I’ll give you your brother.

Just as he has brutally traded on the love of others for the lives of their snatched relatives, so, too, must Sanchez now accept such an arrangement.

The trade-off goes down, with Pita rushing into the arms of her overjoyed mother, and with Creasy surrendering himself to members of the Agencia Federal de Investigacion.

Daniel Sánchez is later killed by Miguel Manzano during an AFI raid.

“Man on Fire” is an unrelentingly brutal portrait of a thoroughly corrupt nation.

  • Pita’s Mexican father sets up his own daughter for a bogus kidnapping to cheat the insurance company out of the money it’s prepared to pay for “kidnapping insurance.”
  • His attorney cheats the kidnappers of the ransome money they had demanded, intending to keep this for himself.
  • Two Mexican policemen make up the kidnapping gang that snatches Pita.
  • A member of the Mexican Attorney General’s office–who’s assigned to its anti-kidnapping squad, no less–is in on the plot to seize Pita.
  • Other members of the Mexican police routinely assist kidnapping gangs in return for a portion of the ransom money.
  • Even the Agencia Federal de Investigacion, while portrayed as incorruptable, llows Creasy to eliminate cops and kidnappers as he leads the AFI closer to the head of the criminal network.

One of the few moments of levity–no doubt unintended–in an otherwise humorless movie comes at the start of its end-credits: “A SPECIAL THANKS TO MEXICO CITY, A VERY SPECIAL PLACE.”

“I love Mexico,” Maldonado told reporters after safely arriving in Nogales, Ariz.  “My family is still there. So Mexico… it’s not Mexico’s fault. It’s a few people who you know did this to me,” she said.

Perhaps a more accurate analysis of the conditions prevailing in Mexico was given by William von Raab, the U.S. Commissioner of Customs from 1981 to 1989.

In 1986, testifying before a Senate committee on the extent of narcotics corruption in Mexico, Raab said: “There is an ingrained corruption in the Mexican law-enforcement establishment.

“Corruption is so pervasive, that one has to assume every Mexican official is corrupt unless proven otherwise.”

Raab’s assessment should be required reading for every American planning to vacation “down Mexico way.”

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