Mexicans swallow bitter pill with release of Cassez
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The release of French accused kidnapper Florence Cassez has dealt a hurtful blow to many Mexicans, who are also outraged by what they see as impunity in their criminal justice system.
While France hailed the release of the presumed kidnapper Florence Cassez from a Mexico City jail on Wednesday, many Mexicans were angered by the news. Although recognising that authorities had denied Cassez a fair trial, journalists and alike remained convinced that a criminal has been allowed to walk free.
Cassez, 38, was sentenced to 60 years in prison after she was arrested in 2005 with her former boyfriend, who led a kidnapping gang called the Zodiacs. In a dramatic turn of events, Mexican judges on Wednesday ordered her release, arguing that her original trial was tainted.
“Let me be clear, I believe Cassez is a kidnapper. However, if prosecutors made mistakes in the way she was detained and how they argued the case, I feel compelled to think she should be freed,” wrote Armando Román Zozaya, a columnist with the Mexico City daily Excelsior.
Writing for the financial daily El Economista, José Fonseca said a majority of people were “angry” with the court’s decision, but that it was now a “done deal”. The reporter suggested that the affair should spur President Enrique Pena Nieto and state officials to implement judicial reforms.
A judge sentenced Cassez in 2008 following a closed-door trial with no jury, typical of most cases in Mexico.
Justice Olga Sanchez, who argued that testimony against Cassez should be discarded, said afterward that Mexicans should feel “proud” because due process had been respected.
The Mexican judges did not say whether or not the Frenchwoman was innocent, only that key evidence against her should be thrown out.
Kidnapping victims and activists were unwilling to accept Wednesday’s ruling. Even before the judges had finished explaining their decision to the court, Ezequiel Elizalde, one of three former captives who testified against Cassez, left the court enraged.
“I am a Mexican, and I don’t care what people will say, but this country is garbage. I don’t want to hear anything else from this court that prosecutes victims,” Elizalde told a local news crew, “What about us? What about our testimony? I was captive for 65 days, while Cassez lives like a queen in prison.”
Mexicans face one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world and express widespread frustration over impunity for criminals. Many felt doubly wronged in the Cassez affair, by kidnappers and authorities.
“Why is she free?” Michelle Valadez sobbed, outside the courtroom, explaining that her husband Ignacio was held for three months in 2005 before being murdered by Cassez’ boyfriend. “We offered our testimony, risking the lives of our other family members, and this is how they pay us back?” Valadez asked, “It’s not fair.”
Anti-crime activist Isabel Miranda de Wallace said the court’s decision had opened the door to impunity for all criminals. “The court has upheld the rights of those accused and thrown the rights of victims under the Arc de Triomphe,” she said in reference to Cassez’ French nationality.
Cassez has maintained she is innocent, claiming she was unaware her kidnapper boyfriend kept people against their will in the ranch they called home near the Mexican capital.
Pena Nieto denies deal-cutting
Government officials rushed to insist that the surprise outcome in the Cassez affair had not been the result of political arrangement to restore strained ties between Mexico and France.
Indeed, Pena Nieto of the PRI party has dodged a years-old diplomatic mess with Cassez’s departure.
He took office less than two months ago, replacing conservative Felipe Calderon, who adopted a hard-line stance against criminals during his tenure.
Despite a personal appeal by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010, Calderon said Cassez would remain behind bars in the Latin American country.
“It was a difficult and complex affair, and I have complete respect for the court’s decision,” said PRI parliamentary leader Emilio Gamboa, echoing similar statements by Pena Nieto.
Lawmakers of the opposition PAN and PRD parties joined the wave of popular discontent, which suggested that the court’s decision could have been handled differently –tainted trial notwithstanding– in order to avoid Cassez’s immediate release and repatriation.
“I don’t know how balanced this decision was. What I do know is that there should be consequences for those who violated the court proceedings,” said Marcos Gutiérrez González, a PAN party officer.