I thought it was interesting that this past week the Mexican authorities asked publicly for the US and UK investigative agencies to help investigate the plane crash that killed Mexico's foremost drug trade fighter, acknowledging that they could use the help as the developing world does not have the luxury of expensive investigative bodies, their meager tax dollars are spent on more basic needs (November, 2008: Mexico's Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino dies in a plane crash). This brought to mind this old post of mine, written at the time of the Ianiero's murders near Cancun two years ago, still apropos today...
Toronto, Feb. '06: Canada's RCMP demonstrated some sad naivety back then in suggesting that they could not start an international incident by presuming to jump in and investigate the murders of Nancy and Dominic Ianiero in a resort near Playa del Carmen, Mexico (just south of Cancun), since the local official said he had everything under control. The legitimacy that our "Western" media and governments give the governments of the third world by pretending (or worse, naively believing) that the world can take their actions seriously and at "face value" is extremely damaging to the citizens of third world countries as it legitimizes and empowers their rulers. Further, it confuses the people of the so-called "free world" and puts our citizens at serious risk by keeping them in the dark about what goes on outside of our pleasant little island of wealthy democracies.
The government of Canada and our RCMP have demonstrated gross negligence again through their total complacency in the handling of the throat-slashings of two innocent Canadian tourists vacationing on the Mexican Caribbean. Their cries of "international diplomacy" and "sovereignty" are beginning to wear very, very thin. I am not advocating the American approach of military intervention to protect national interests, I am saying that there are circumstances under which countries can and must get aggressively proactive in protecting their citizens. Is it a thin line? Yes. Is the diplomatic fall-out from such intervention manageable? Certainly, especially when the world stands up and calls the bluff of the corrupt power-mongers shouting "sovereignty!".
Hasn't anyone noticed that the most violent protests that are staged over things like the publishing of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed all take place in countries ruled by totalitarian dictatorships? These are not spontaneous, heart-felt protests by offended believers, they are carefully orchestrated demonstrations of the power of the dictators controlling these nations aimed at warning the rest of the world of the might that they can exercise through the control of their vast and exponentially expanding populations. We do not see these kind of protests in the first world or even fledgling democracies because the burning of first world embassies is instigated by the RULERS, not RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.
Get a clue, folks! Outside of our Western cocoon, NOTHING is what it seems on the face of it, it is all about stuffing pockets with cash and stroking the egos of people who are in charge only because of their connections or ruthlessness.
When I first heard about the murders of Domenic and Nancy Ianiero, two Canadians visiting the Cancun area for their daughter's wedding, I said to my now estranged wife "now the circus is going to begin". One thing is certain, just as the investigation into the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in the summer of 2005 in Aruba went nowhere, this crime will never, ever be solved by the Mexican "authorities" unless the real killers come forward to a first world news service to confess. While the RCMP was sitting on their hands waiting for a polite "request for international assistance" from the Mexicans, those same local 'officials' were busy sweeping all the evidence under the rug.
I find it difficult to put the blame on a foreign system concerned with protecting its largest source of foreign income (Mexico's tourism industry). I believe that our Canadian police forces and diplomatic corps have an obligation to look after the interests of our citizens around the world, something the Americans do conscientiously, but that the overly polite and "culturally sensitive" Canadian officials are not so great at. Our government has a history of turning a blind eye to the fact that third-world judicial and police systems are totally corrupt and do not operate under our first world mandates of fairness, morality and transparency. The attitude seems to be "well, if you got arrested or attacked in X country, then you probably deserved it", versus "we know these countries to be corrupt, so let's assume that these charges are trumped up and politically motivated and try to protect our citizens' interests."
Last year I returned to Toronto from 10 years living abroad, the past five and a half in Cancun, Mexico, and in order to understand what is going on with the police force there a bit of history will be helpful.
Mexico is a ‘developing’ country. Many Canadians and Americans who visit Mexico for one or two week holidays see the country as a North American neighbour and get little exposure to the inner workings of government and public services while there, so they tend to assume that Mexico is not THAT different from home. Not!
Mexico is a country that the Spanish took over in the early 15th century and it "gained independence" in 1821. What that meant was that the incredibly rich Spanish landowners who had been granted tracts of land and/or political power by the Spanish monarchy decided to stop paying tribute taxes to their benefactor in order to keep all the cash they were making by exploiting the natives for themselves. In 1929, following a revolution against the string of dictators who controlled the country since "independence", the party that would become the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) took control and ran the county until the year 2000 when a rival new party, the PRD (Revolutionary Democratic Party) seized power under the leadership of Vicente Fox. (Note that it is debatable how separate and distinct Fox's party is from the PRI as all powerful people in Mexico got where they are by operating within the sphere of the PRI party's influence, and the PRI's policy for their entire 71 year long monopoly on power was to keep of all sources, and potential sources, of profit firmly under their absolute control.)
What this brief historical overview leads up to is that the Mexican police force, at any level, is virtually powerless since the government does not give them any power (with power the police might start keeping tabs on what the government is up to!). They make almost nothing (street cops salaries are about $300 US a month) and no one goes into the police force unless they are prepared, ethically and morally, to supplement their meager incomes with extortion, bribes and "seizing opportunities" whenever they arise. "Fines" for any offense from speeding to drug trafficking are just bribes to be negotiated with the officer in charge. And the "officer in charge" is usually the guy who splits a higher percentage of his take with his boss than his colleagues in order to secure the most lucrative post or section of highway.
On a related note, while living in Poland after the iron curtain fell some years ago, the RCMP was invited to send a delegation over to help analyze how to help stop corruption in the Polish police force. After some days of intensive touring and gathering of information on the problem, the RCMP's principle recommendation was "pay your cops much better salaries and they'll be less likely to demand bribes to feed their families" (back then public service employees did not receive their salaries for months at a time).
The vast majority of the top dogs in any significant post in the third world have won the job not through experience, education, hard work in their area of specialty or for having demonstrated good judgment and intelligence on the job (all of these things have little value outside of the developed world), but through family and friend connections. "State Prosecutor" Bello Melchor Rodriquez is a notary public who won his position by being tight with the State Governor, a member of the PRI party who, in turn, won his position because his party ran a smear campaign against the people's choice, the popular mayor of Cancun nicknamed "Chacho", that saw Chacho get thrown in jail prior to the election on some ridiculous trumped up charges.
Are you beginning to get the picture? Senor Melchor Rodriguez is a "small fish" with no experience as a prosecutor or state politician and has no clue about how to do anything but try to look after the best interests of himself and the people who put him where he is -- and he'll only leapfrog into a cushy federal post by grandstanding in his current position.
To paint the picture a bit more clearly, a few years ago when an ex-patriot American friend in Playa del Carmen had a problem with a local boat seller deciding to "reclaim" his boat after completing a sale due to a payment dispute over malfunctions, the seller paid some off-duty local police to surround the boat in order to prevent the buyer from taking his property back. Hearing that this was going to be the case, the buyer paid the state police to come with him to collect the boat. The state police arrested the local police for illegal possession of firearms while off-duty and carted them off in a paddy wagon, allowing my friend and his burly helpers to hook up the trailer and return home with the boat. Of course the local police were home again a short time later with somewhat lighter wallets.
In the same vein, last year, while driving home from a Friday afternoon and evening at the raucous tavernas below Cancun's bull ring, we were stopped by a police officer who, both hands gripping my car's window frame to keep himself steady, told me with a slur that I was driving under the influence. I said "you've had a lot more to drink than I have, amigo", to which he laughed uproariously and asked what I could do to resolve the situation. I offered a 50 peso solution (~$5 US), which he graciously accepted with a salute and careened off in the direction of the corner store (all stores can sell alcohol in Mexico). The Mexican police are so accommodating that, after catching a neighbour in Playa del Carmen for marijuana possession on a Sunday, one of the officers came back to his house on Monday so they could go down to the bank together to take out the $200 US (negotiated down from $2,000) required to "avoid filling out all the paperwork" needed to file a charge.
There is no judicial system in Mexico as Canadians and Americans know it. Cases are decided by whichever side in the dispute pays the largest bribe to the judge. Period. Judges are appointed based upon how much they promise to share of the incoming bribes with their politician buddies. "So sue me!" is a common joke there. I once was asked to translate a letter of reply to an American woman who was hoping to strike it rich by trying to sue a Mexican hotel owner using her American lawyer because she slipped on the wet tile beside the pool on her vacation and claimed to have bumped her head, diminishing her enjoyment of the remainder of her vacation. The response letter basically said "You seem to be confusing the Mexican judicial system with that of the United States. You cannot win a lawsuit in Mexico. We look forward to hosting you on your next vacation down here. Watch where you are walking in the future."
The culture is different in Mexico as a result of this judicial reality. For example, when a dog bites a child, it is taken for granted that the child did something to antagonize the dog and he/she is patched up and reprimanded for going near dogs. Interestingly this is the same attitude that our Canadian government takes with its own citizens when we travel to other countries, "be careful over there because they are a 'sovereign country' and there's nothing we can do to help you if you get in trouble". Really? Nothing? Just sit on your hands (or wring them) and say "we told you so" to your tortured, murdered, assaulted citizens? I'll let you ponder that for a moment, dear reader, but I do suspect there is something our public authorities can do.
In Mexico the police do not do any "investigating", outside of trying to figure out if there is any money to be made from learning who committed the offense in question. The 2000 movie "Traffic" with Benicio Del Toro was a very accurate portrayal of how things work in Mexico. The highest ranking guy in charge of preventing crime is likely the one controlling and benefiting from the illegal activity. The police do not have any decent level of forensic or other training. There is no money in it. The "powers that be" on the Riviera Maya where the Canadian couple was killed are the hotel owners and the people governing the area, all of whom want to protect their source of income and pay the police extra to look after their interests. Even the government of Vincente Fox's 10 federal investigators are largely powerless since, after 71 years of exclusive control of Mexico, the rival PRI party members (and their friends) own all the assets of the country and control everything (notably the state of Quintana Roo, which conveniently encompasses Mexico's entire Caribbean coast, has never been out of the PRI's control).
This being said, our naive RCMP should have said "international jurisdictions be damned" and quietly got their butts down to Cancun the day the killings came to light, since within 24 hours you could be sure all useful evidence would have been conveniently cleaned up to protect the travel industry. It is not as though the RCMP did not have an example to follow with regard to how to handle this kind of incident -- in January of 2002 the FBI demonstrated the only way to ensure the Mexican police get anything done is to "assist them". They flew down to Cancun and drove down the coast to Tulum to "assist" the local force in arresting Christian Michael Longo for the murders of his wife and children in Oregon, presumably with some money changing hands in order to "encourage" the participation of the local police, as is the normal practice in most countries outside of the first world. That's the way to get things done outside of the first world, if you follow the rules of the local culture, everything is possible (you just have to take a bag full of cash with you).
After seeing that banditos and bad press can hurt tourism badly, the local "authorities" have learned that the best preemptive reaction to a potential PR disaster is to immediately deflect blame, ideally by pinning it on someone who has left the country and can be tied in any way possible (in this case by Canadian-Italian nationality) to the victims. (They actually do the same thing all the time inside Mexico, as well.) Once the lie is constructed and the naive foreign press are eating it up, the idea is to stick to it and threaten extradition proceedings against the poor, bewildered, totally innocent Canadian "soccer mom's" in order to keep attention away from the lack of any search for the Mexican throat slashers living close to the tourist area. The point is not that the state prosecutor, Senor Melchor Rodgriquez, is making up bizarre stories about the murders and saying anything he can to push the blame onto anyone from anywhere, the point is that all the evidence he has revealed makes it clear that the real killers were local Mexicans.
The prosecutor's suggestion that the killers could have been women is patently ridiculous. Any women out to murder someone would never slash the victims' throats. Female killers just don’t do that. Women who are mentally deranged have been know to hack off their children's arms (http://www.kbtx.com/home/headlines/1261702.html) or axe-murder their family (Lizzie Borden), but these cases are very rare and these sick women tend to operate alone.
What type of people might use an inexpensive weapon such as a knife to murder tourists? Well, perhaps male criminals who aren't rich enough to afford guns and live in areas of the world where machismo is the status quo, such as the poor areas of Mexico just across the highway from the Riviera Maya resorts... That kind of petty criminals have been known to carry knives and to use "dramatic" methods to murder their victims when caught in the midst of a robbery.
It likely has nothing to do with this crime, but let's keep in mind just what kind of area and mindset we are dealing with down there. Mexico's Caribbean coast is known to be one of the highest volume transfer points for Columbian drugs being trafficked into the US because it offers a totally corrupt military and police force, thousands of square miles of isolated jungle landing strips and beaches, a network of rarely traveled roads and a convenient jumping-off point on the north shore of the Yucatan Peninsula for flights, truck routes and boat-trips to the US. Nearly pure cocaine is available throughout the area for as little as $10 US a gram because the local "mules" moving the product are paid with chunks of it cut from the load. Converting this cocaine to crack is simple and crack is as addictive as heroin.
Take men from families in the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula with a household income of $100 US a month, transport them to a resort area to do maintenance or to resort construction sites where they see how rich the gringo tourists are while they sleep in hammocks inside mosquito-filled shacks made of sticks and, even without mixing crack into their lives, you get a few thugs amongst them with knives in their belts for "protection" who see nothing wrong with sneaking through the jungle bordering the large resorts and/or along the public beach into the fancy hotel rooms to see what they can steal. And we are not talking about an isolated few poor Mexican workers -- there are shanty villages of hundreds of these construction workers lining the highway near the Barcelo resort where these throat slashings took place. The vast majority of these guys are simply innocent family men out to make much more than they can in their villages far away, but human nature being what it is, there are always a couple of guys who are not completely mentally stable amongst them. The same goes for the thousands of hotel support staff working the entire area.
Oh yes, the prosecutor claims that the motive was not robbery (and has mysteriously completely eliminated resort employees as suspects) as the expert local investigators (who tourists at the resort claim never questioned anyone nor did any sophisticated forensic examination) did not "find any evidence" of theft... And we believe you 100%, Senor Melchor. If they eliminate petty theft, then the Mexicans have eliminated a simple motive, so they also have said that the murders "look like" a premeditated hit -- which is also believable amongst the Mexicans since the victims' last name was of Italian origin... The problem (they quickly learned) with this line of deflection is the Mexicans did not anticipate that in first world countries we have fairly precise methods in place for keeping track of our average citizens' links to organized crime and these victims had none.
The Mexicans did not ask for any Canadian police help (they didn't ask when Christian Longo was hiding nearby, either) for a week -- again long enough for any trail to evaporate (TV shows have taught us that if more than 48 hours go by, most crimes become extremely difficult to solve), so the RCMP have lost any chance that they might have had to help bring to justice the murderers of two innocent Canadians. The Mexicans also held onto the bodies for a week, presumably in order to find a forensic expert in Mexico with sufficient expertise to try to cover up any evidence that might lead Canadian forensic pathologists to find leads back to Mexico, AND apparently also due to standard Canadian regulations that bodies must be embalmed before being allowed back into Canada for burial! Whoops, RCMP, you might have worked on waiving that rule quickly in this case, or sent one of your own forensic pathologists down there the same day you caught wind of this atrocity.
[Addendum, Feb. 2013: In the years following the Ianieros' murders the truth gradually floated to the surface of the Mexican "officials'" bullshit cesspool. The perpetrator was Blas Delgado Fajardo, a former Mexican army paratrooper and bodyguard to the State Governor who was working as a security guard at the resort. He had a fondness for knives, apparently, but was clearly more than a touch psychotic/psychopathic. By making every effort to blame the pair of Canadian soccer moms for the murder, the real killer (who never appeared for work the next day, a pretty simple dead giveaway that would have led to an APB going out that might have led to his immediate capture -- despite their gross incompetence, the prospect of financial reward for capturing anyone would have motivated the cops!) was given every opportunity to escape and is believed to have crossed into the US. According to his own mother in Mexico, he is likely living as an undocumented illegal with family members in the southern US to this day, very likely killing other innocents as, once having 'tasted blood,' it is difficult for a psychopath to resist the thrill of killing again. Some low-level requests from the RCMP to the FBI to trace this murderers' American family could very likely lead to his capture, but that would require some interest on the RCMP's part.]
Be careful out there, and if you get in trouble anywhere in the third world, do not waste a moment calling the Canadian embassy, just stroke the egos of the incompetent local "officials" shamelessly, fill a bag with cash and you'll be able to help yourself.