Now that Yanira Maldonado has been released from prison in the Mexican state of Sonora after spending more than a week incarcerated on bogus drug charges, the 42-year-old Arizona woman appears ready to forgive and forget.
Yanira and her husband, Gary, were on a bus traveling through Mexico on the way back to the United States after attending a relative's funeral when the vehicle stopped at a military checkpoint. Soldiers claimed they found 12? pounds of marijuana in a package underneath Yanira's seat. They arrested the mother of seven and grandmother of two.
Gary Maldonado says that one of the soldiers told him that all he had to do to secure his wife's release was pay a $5,000 fine. He frantically scraped the money together, but he never had the chance to hand it over because the Mexican authorities transferred Yanira to another prison.
Meanwhile, the Maldonado family mobilized — contacting U.S. media, hiring a Mexican attorney and working with the U.S. consulate. Eventually, a video surfaced backing up the Maldonados' contention that they had boarded the bus without any packages. A judge ordered Yanira released.
Obviously, the Mexicans messed with the wrong family.
Now back home, Yanira Maldonado told the CBS affiliate in Phoenix that whoever actually planted the drugs needed to repent and "find a decent job where they can make a living not putting innocent people through a nightmare like they did to me and my family." She said of her ordeal: "It's not Mexico's fault. It's a few people who did this to me, and probably other people."
She's taking the high road. That speaks well of her. Yet, as I consider the tradition of Mexican law enforcement officials treating American tourists like ATMs, I'm still seething.
This nightmare may be over for the Maldonado family. But neither the United States nor Mexico can afford to let this matter drop.
Whoever put the drugs under the bus seat isn't the only person who needs to repent. The real sinners are the soldiers who put Maldonado in handcuffs and those officials in the criminal justice system who later put her in that prison cell. They need to be punished.
U.S. officials must demand that these scoundrels be identified, arrested and tried in Mexico on corruption charges. These people abused their authority and conspired to deny — apparently, for financial profit — a U.S. citizen of due process and deprive her of liberty. If Mexican authorities can't make a criminal case, then at the very least the individuals need to be fired. A statement has to be made that this kind of behavior will no longer be tolerated, not just for the benefit of Americans who visit Mexico but also for the Mexican people who are subjected to this kind of corruption every day of their lives.
This might sound incredibly naive, given that corruption is as much a symbol of Mexico as mariachis or margaritas. But there has been enough winking at the problem, which has only made it worse. That the bad guys be prosecuted should be a perfectly reasonable request — if there's any truth to what Mexican officials have been telling Americans in recent years about how they recognize the problem and are taking steps to fix it.
I've been to Mexico City four or five times in the past 15 years to meet with Mexican officials, and I've heard that speech over and over again.