Florida resident Jon Hammar is an ex-marine veteran having served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He and a friend decided to take a motor trip through Mexico to Costo Rica for a hunting and surfing vacation. When Hammar was exiting the U.S., he asked about transporting his great-grandfather's shotgun. U.S. Customs provided paperwork for him to fill out. When Hammar crossed the border, he went into Mexican customs with the paperwork and declared his shotgun. Both men were immediately arrested. After determining the shotgun belonged to Hammar, the other man was eventually released.
Hammar sat in the drug cartel-controlled Mexican prison for nearly five months in solitary confinement to protect him from the various threats made against his life. Hammar was chained to his bed. He would be beaten. His family received demands for ransom money to be sent to a western union account to prevent the murder of their son. The drug cartel controlling this prison has a western union account for extortion funds. Five months he sat in that prison without having a day in court. His parents hired four sets of attorneys to try to procure their son's freedom. Through all this the State Department remained mum.
"Mexico has had very stringent gun-control laws in place for many years, and have reinforced their application as a result of the flow of weapons illicitly purchased in the U.S. and then trafficked into Mexico and into the hands of transnational criminal organizations," Mexico's Ambassador to Washington, Arturo Sarukhan, stated in a letter to Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Civilian ownership of weapons not purchased from a specific shop run by the Mexican Department of Defense is illegal. A special permit will allow an individual to bring a weapon into Mexico for rare hunting occasions but must be obtained before crossing the border. Lehtinen was determined to get him out.
The family kept the story out of the news in fear for his life. The Hammar family released their son's story to the news recently to gain public support and force the State Department to intercede. Why did the American public have to cry out before the government stepped in on his behalf?
Hammar was released on Friday by court order excluding the evidence after his constitutional rights under Mexican law were violated. He sat in prison without any due process for five months. The U.S. State Department was un-involved in Hammar's release until his story recently took national interest. Americans were outraged that they turned a blind eye on a veteran. Hammar did not try to hide the gun nor had evil or malicious intent. Military are warned against going into Mexico. The American Consulate website for Mexico explicitly warns against bringing any gun, knife, or ammunition into the country. Being a veteran does not excuse one's responsibilities. If anything it should have made him more aware of foreign law differences. A simple check with a consulate on transporting a weapon across international borders would have provided the required needed steps.
Hammar's family is overjoyed with his release. They flew to Brownsville, Texas, to greet him. His mother said she looked forward to telling her son about the support he received while he was in jail. "It's been awesome to watch Americans get on board to help get him out," she said. "It's like a miracle; that's the only way I can express it," said his mother, Olivia Hammar, who lives in Florida. "It's our little Christmas miracle."
Is this a Christmas miracle story, a forgotten veteran story, or just plain dumb things to take into Mexico story? Individual agendas will paint it with their brushes in the color that shows best. Hammar was a marine. Following procedures is ingrained. He needlessly put himself in that position but had every right to expect the U.S. government would come to his immediate aid. In the end, Jon Hammar is back home, but it begs the question how many other Americans are in foreign judicial systems not receiving help.
Photo source: screengrab/GlobalPost