Nightmare in Mexico: Friends, family call for the release of ex-Marine jailed in Mexico after trying to declare an antique shotgunRead the whole thing.
Jon Hammar was en route to Costa Rica for a surfing trip when he cleared the gun with U.S. customs and was told he could do the same in Mexico. Four months later, he's still behind bars in a notorious prison and is 'losing hope.'
An ex-Marine who survived dangerous patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan is now "chained to a bed" in a notorious Mexican prison after a road trip to Costa Rica went terribly wrong, his friends and family say.
A chorus of supporters are calling on the Mexican government to release Jon Hammar, 27, who was jailed in August for carrying an antique shotgun that he believed could be legally registered in Mexico.
Hammar, of Palmetto Bay, Fla., was headed to Costa Rica for a surfing trip to try and recover from post-traumatic stress after four years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The only time Hammar is not losing his mind is when he's on the water," fellow Marine veteran Ian McDonough, who was arrested with Hammar during the August incident but later released by Mexican authorities, told McClatchy newspapers.
Hammar and McDonough had stocked up a used Winnebago with surfboards and camping supplies and had just crossed the border from Brownsville, Texas into Matamoros, Mexico, where they were detained.
Hammar had registered the shotgun, a Sear & Roebuck model that once belonged to his great-grandfather, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on the U.S. side of the border.
After being told by U.S. agents the shotgun posed no problem and could be reigstered in Mexico, Hammar and McDonough crossed the border, tried to declare the weapon, and found themselves separated and behind bars.
"The crux of it is the length of the barrel," his mother, Olivia Hammar, 46, told Reuters. "There's an old law on the books that says it can't be under 25 inches...It's a 2-foot barrel...It's strictly a technicality."
"It's a glorified BB gun," she said.
McDonough, who has Argentine residency in addition to his U.S. citizenship, was freed a few days after the Aug. 13 arrest and walked back to Brownsville.
But the nightmare was just beginning for Hammar, who on Aug. 20 was charged with carrying a deadly weapon and placed in a prison known as CEDES in Matamoros, a notorious facility heavily populated, and run, by Mexico's dangerous drug cartels.
His parents have even received late night phone calls saying he would be killed if they failed to make thousands of dollars in payments into a Western Union account.
"He was housed in a wing controlled by the drug cartel," said Eddie Varon-Levy, a Mexican lawyer hired by the family. He told Reuters the charges in Mexico appear to be an effort to "make an example out of the gringo."
This is what happens when you don't grok that Mexico doesn't allow its law-abiding citizens access too much firepower, and certainly makes it difficult for foreigners to bring in firearms.
In better times the U.S. government would simply inform the Mexican government that unless this Marine was released and returned to the States, a Marine detachment would be dispatched to bring him back, and that detachment would have artillery and close-air support.
UPDATE: It's not a Marine Expeditionary Force, but you can sign a petition urging Jon Hammar's release.
UPDATE: 12/21/12 - Hammar is being released.