On Sunday January 8, 2012, I met Florence Cassez, the French women who has been sentenced to serve sixty years in prison by the
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:
twitter : Florence_Casse1
twitter (esp) : MXporFCassez