Andrew Tahmooressi, the retired Marine who was arrested in Mexico for allegedly trying to smuggle guns across the border, has been released and is now back home in Florida. While his imprisonment never placed U.S.-relations in jeopardy, the incident was nonetheless heavily politicized in the U.S., while Mexican citizens now question the level of influence that Washington has in their nation’s affairs.
Tahmooressi was arrested on March 31stwhen he tried to enter Mexico via the Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego. Upon inspecting his truck, Mexican authorities found three firearms, including an AR-15, as well as ammo. The Marine was subsequently arrested on accusations of attempted weapon smuggling into the country.
His family explained that he was actually driving to San Diego to treat his PTSD (he served two tours in Afghanistan). Meanwhile, Tahmooressi argued that he took a wrong turn when he was driving to San Diego and he did not mean to enter the southern country.
Ultimately, Tahmoressi served a total of214 days in a Mexican prisonuntil a Mexican judge decided to release the veteran based on “humanitarian grounds” on Friday, October 31st. The ruling made no mention of the smuggling charges. Upon his release, he was flown to Florida to be reunited with his family.
Partisan accusations for Tahmooressi’s release
The release of Tahmoressi was negotiated by the former Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat, and two Republican Representatives: Ed Royce (CA) and Matt Salmon (AZ), both of whom are serving members on the House Committee Foreign Affairs. But while this could be regarded as an example of the two parties cooperating towards the same goal, the case has been, unsurprisingly, politicized in Washington.
Naturally, Republican policymakers have critiqued President Obama’s role in this case. For example,Representative Dana Rohrabacher(R-CA) declared that the U.S. leader was “AWOL” during the negotiations to release Tahmoressi, and he “didn’t care about it enough to make a simple phone call.” Such statements are overrated, particularly as Secretary of State John Kerry did discuss Tahmoressi’s situation with Mexican officials on his visit to Mexico.
It’s worth noting that other Americans arrested in Latin American states have recently been freed thanks to negotiations with Washington policymakers. RepresentativeMike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), for example, helped secure the release this past June of six U.S. citizens that had been detained in Honduras.
But while Washington has succeeded in freeing Tahmoressi from Mexico and the Aqua Quest workers from Honduras, the same has not happened in other instances when the U.S. has strained relations with a local government. Case in point is Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen that has been detained in Cuba since 2009.
A bad precedent for Mexico?
A final word must be said in regard to how the Mexican media and the population have reacted to this incident. While several American commentators hail Tahmoressi as a hero because of his military record and welcomed his return, Mexican news outlets were generally silent about the Marine’s release. For example a brief article by therenowned daily Mileniosolely mentions that a judge in Baja California ordered Tahmoressi’s release following a request by the Public Ministry. The article does not mention the negotiations between Washington and Mexico City.
On the other hand, the newspaperEl Sol de Tijuanawas more critical of Tahmoressi’s release as it openly questioned to what extent the U.S. government pressured Mexico into releasing the U.S. citizen.
The article quotes Alejandro Lares Valladares, Tijuana’s Secretary for Public Security, who declares “as a police officer I am upset because I go out to the streets everyday [to fight crime for the good of] your family, for the good of Tijuana,” but there are now concerns about how Mexico’s judicial bureaucracy works.
Mexican users have also posted comments in forums declaring that the Mexican government favors the treatment of Americans in Mexican prisons instead of worrying about other Mexican citizens.
To what extend Washington pressured Mexico City to release Tahmoressi has yet to be fully determined. Governor Richardson may have tried to convince Mexican authorities that Tahmoressi’s actions were accidental, but that would just be the carrot-end of negotiations. The stick may have been Representative Rohrabacher’s alleged intention to draft legislation that would cut remittances that Mexican workers in the U.S. send to their families in Mexico. “Our government wasunable to make demands and threats, that was not something that we could do, but the Mexican government needed to know the consequences of what was going on,” he said.
Washington may not have openly threatened the Mexican government, but the possibility of cutting remittances is a textbook example of a country exercising “soft power” over another.
Sergeant Tahmoressi, his family and supporters are undoubtedly pleased that he is back in Florida. Nevertheless, this case has brought to light both how easily international affairs can be politicized in the U.S. and, more importantly, the seemingly one-sided nature of Washington-Mexico City relations.