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Posts Tagged ‘Florence Cassez’

Photo The Innocence Project

Photo The Innocence Project

There are some stories, that once you become aware of, you have to do something about it. Like Mumia Abou Jamal’s, or Florence Cassez’s; they just haunt you. Even if you don’t do much, you have to do something.  In the case of Herman Wallace, that’s too late for me. Herbert Wallace died on October 5 of this year of liver cancer.

Herman Wallace spent 41 years in jail for a crime he claimed he did not commit. Adding to the abomination, he served his sentence in solitary confinement: 41 years in 6 by 9 feet cell. One can find perhaps a superior level of horror in Louis XI (1423-1483)’s justice: the famously mean king of France is known for locking up political enemies in cells so small they could not stretch.

That Herman Wallace was able to live 41 years in such conditions is an hymn to life. Amnesty International, Democracy Now among others have denounced Herman Wallace’s detention conditions. The Louisiana justice system kept tottering until the end: on October 1, Wallace’s conviction was overturned, on the 4th, he was re-indicted.

One cannot but wonder if the best thing that can happen to Louisiana is a government shutdown that would prevent the justice system from functioning at all.  Or let’s dream: a UN mandate over the Louisiana justice system, until reforms are implemented, from top to bottom.

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Until 2:00 pm yesterday, I was glued to the live transmission of the Mexican Supreme

Florence's painting

One of Florence’s paintings

Court last examination of Florence Cassez’ case; Trying to make sense with my flimsy Spanish of what was going on.  I had to leave when Justice Zaldivar was eloquently making the case that the Mexican High Court was a Constitutional Court, not a Court of Appeal; and hence arguing- I believe- that the Court was not in the business of redoing another Florence’s trial all over again.

Later on, I would learn that the verdict was 3-2 for Olga Sanchez Cordero’s proposal and that Florence was to be freed immediately.

I visited Florence on December 29 of last year for the second time in the Centro de Readaptación Femenil de Tepepan in Mexico City.  She knew a review of her case by the Supreme Court was pending but did not know when at this time. We talked about her projects if…. Yet she was evasive, even tense, while talking about herself.  She has developed a real talent for painting in jail and was about to give painting classes – along with aerobic classes- to her fellow inmates; What struck me was that she was much more eloquent about what she wanted to do for women who like her, were in jail for reasons as shaky as those for which she was incarcerated. I could not help but think that if I were in her shoes – innocent and in jail for seven years- I would be devoured by bitterness and anger and not necessarily think of the fate of my brethren…

The Supreme Court’s decision is real good news  for Florence; it is also real good news for justice in Mexico.  Televisa’s apology for having staged Florence’s arrest (finally) on December 2005 , is a sign that things may change. Also, Mexico has to be a better place to get justice now that former Presidente Felipe Calderón is not around. He himself  may touch on that in his lectures at Harvard…

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Montes Famliy (LA Times)

Mexico has a kidnapping problem. I am not talking about the “internal” Mexican kidnapping problem, which the Calderón administration has failed to keep at bay on all account. Making a scapegoat of Florence Cassez has just been a way to hide its failure from the Mexican public.  I am talking here of Mexico’s “external” kidnapping problem, the kidnapping of Mexican children by the US family court system: children whose parents are undocumented workers sent back to their country, and are given for adoption to US families on the grounds it is in their best interest.

First Alfonso Mejia and Margarita Almaraz, Encarnacíon Bail Romero and  Cirila Balthazar Cruz. Enters Felipe Montes.  Felipe Montes comes to the US illegally in 2003, starts working in North Carolina and gets married to Marie with whom he has three children. Unfortunately he gets deported and his wife is declared unfit to raise the children. They are placed with foster parents, who wish to adopt the children.  From that point on, Felipe Montes has to play Sparta family court (Allegheny County, North Carolina)’s lose-lose game, that is demonstrating he is worth the children. Although he has no criminal record and has taken care of the children, social workers did wonder if sending the children to Mexico was in their best interest. Felipe is living in a rural area around Tamaulipas in a house with no running water. These brillant social engineers are asking themselves if poverty should prevent parenting.

Sparta family court is supposed to render a sentence tomorrow.  Too late to suggest to social workers there how they would feel if, after venturing in a foreign country, marrying somebody there, being kicked out of there without their children, they would be denied parenting on the ground that, let say, children are better off  there because, you know, the North Carolina hamburger-based diet is not the healthiest for children, and children are better off be shielded from North Carolina gun violence.

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On Sunday January 8, 2012, I met Florence Cassez, the French women who has been sentenced to serve sixty years in prison by the

Florence (filou.fr)

Mexican justice for the crimes of  kidnapping and organized crime she did not commit.  As I was carrying the  grilled chicken Florence had asked me to bring for lunch, heading toward the Centro Feminil de Readaptacion Social de Tepepan (South of Mexico City) where she is incarcerated, I was still struggling with the thought that had started to bug me since Florence had accepted my request to visit her, three days before: I am no journalist, no lawyer, and therefore I could not be of much help to her.

I know I will not sleep much until she is set free, but I also know now she does not need my help that much. The first thing I found out last Sunday is that she has been helping herself amazingly well given what she has gone through. Before meeting her, I had in mind the image of Florence in shock during the AFI (Agencia Federal de Investigacíon, the Mexican FBI) ‘s remake of her arrestation for the Mexican TV, on December 9 2005. The Florence Cassez I see after passing security, as I step into the large room where a crowd of inmates is meeting and eating with its visitors, has nothing to do with that.  She is a rather tall women with an intense and reflective gaze. She graciously introduces me to her two other visitors, among whom David Bertet, who manages the Canadian Committee in Support of Florence. I quickly discover she has guts. Indeed, as I am telling her I did not understand why the Mexican government  (Mexico is a signatory of the 1983 Strasbourg convention on the transfer of sentenced persons) has been dragging its feet to repatriate Florence to France while invoking the incompatibility of the French thirty-year maximum jail sentence with Florence’s, she brushes away this option. Repatriation? No Sir. She did not want that. Doing time in France meant acknowledging she was guilty. She is innocent. Florence wants the Cassez’s case to be cleared in Mexico. She is fully aware that if it were to happen, it would have wide implications for the working of the Mexican justice system, and for the lot of those Mexican whose rights are violated and who, like her, rot in jail thanks to flawed or made-up accusations of kidnapping.

As the discussion unfolds around lunch, I cannot but notice with immense pleasure that it is interrupted many times. Florence is not at all ostracized as I was fearing. On the contrary, she is a popular figure here. Folks want to chat with her. She keeps getting up, keeps leaving the table to shake hands or hug people. David Bertet told me aside that her humility, her acceptance of the rules of the jail, have earned her the respect of the inmates and that of the prison’s authorities. According to Florence, it has not always been like that; President Sarkozy’s intervention with the Senate and the Mexican government was key to the inmates’change of mind about her. As they saw the French President himself pulling up his sleeves for Florence, people started to question the way most of the Mexican media had depicted her, as the secuestradora, the Francesa diabolica. I gladly admit I was off the mark in an earlier criticism of Sarkozy’s intervention on this blog. Yet I think that Florence is perhaps too modest. Her audacious resilience in claiming her innocence must have something to do with people’s empathy for her.

Also, Florence Cassez is beautiful. She is a beautiful woman, but what I mean here, she is beautiful on the inside.  For instance, when I asked her how come she did not know anything about Israel Vallarta (he ex)’s deeds, she first pauses and slowly, simply, refraining from crying, she states she has so often reproached herself for and been haunted by not having seen anything suspicious with Vallarta; It just never was a serious relation for her. At this moment, I feel like a total idiot for having asked this question. When you are unfairly accused of something, you feel there must be something wrong with you, and people too think that there must be something wrong with you that justifies your situation. I have been there, and I have never been sentenced to jail. As upon my return from the visit, I was moving ahead in my reading of Florence’s book –  A La Sombra de Mi Vida- her answer would appear blatantly true.  Florence only lived two months with Vallarta and then, their relation had ended.  After all, Rosemarie Fritzl, the cellar monster’s wife, lived her life next to Joseph Fritzl and she did not no have a clue about what he was doing in his bunker under his house.

The next step? The decision of the Mexican Supreme Court that Florence’s lawyer has appealed to. It should come in the first half of 2012. I used to think that the best thing for the Mexican democracy was a Lopes Obrador’s victory in 2006. There was one, but it was stolen from him. Florence’s story made me think that out of the three pillars of a democracy, the judiciary – a sound and independent one- is the most important. Clearing Florence Cassez from the accusations that were brought against her would put an end to a six-year violation of her basic human rights. But also, it would prompt the beginning of the end of “la ley de Herodes” (“o te chingas o te jodes”) that has marked the Mexican political life since the Mexican revolution.

A few links and addresses to learn more about Florence Cassez:

comite_florence_cassez_montreal@live.com
twitter :  Florence_Casse1
twitter (esp) : MXporFCassez

www.mexicoporflorencecassez.wordpress.com (Mx)

www.liberezflorencecassez.com (Fr)

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It must have to do with my sour commerce with the New York State family court system, I have gotten an epidermic sensitivity for lives broken by justice.  Also I sense in Florence Cassez’ sixty-year jail sentence in Mexico the heavy hand of motives that have nothing to do with justice.

Is she guilty? That’s really not clear. As the girlfriend of  the Mexican group’s leader of kidnappers los Zodiacos, she might have known about some of what was going on.  Yet there has been so many irregularities in her trial – starting with a staged second arrest aimed at showing that the Mexican government was tough on crime- that in many countries, a case like Cassez’s would end up with a mistrial. Mexicans themselves don’t seem to have much faith in the way the Mexican justice system dealt with the Cassez’s case. Check out 2009 Aristegui’s interview on CNN in Spanish:

Let us assume now that you are the French government and want to help Florence Cassez do her time in France –  as international conventions might allow her- where she would be able to see her family more easily than in Mexico. If you are the French president, you keep a low profile.  After all, France has also a colonial past with Mexico, that’s even what Cinco de Mayo is about.  You let not-that-visible emissaries conduct the negotiations with the Mexican government. You don’t trumpet your claim to see a compatriot doing time in France in front of the whole Mexican Senate – after an appeal in the Mexican Supreme Court and months of international media attention focusing on the pitfalls of the Mexican justice system. Because if you do so, you are vulnerable to the accusation of arrogance and you have no fallback position, beside canceling the year of Mexico in France (which was supposed to take place in 2011) which has nothing to do with the Cassez’s case, and  against Florence Cassez’s very view.

It will certainly take another new French government to repair the damage of this Mexican -French saga and improve Florence Cassez’s lot.

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