Lawmakers assail Mexico, Obama administration over jailed U.S. Marine veteran

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 11, 2012 

— Florida’s senior U.S. senator Tuesday exhorted Mexico to release an imprisoned Marine Corps veteran of campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan who is being held in a Matamoros prison, declaring that “enough is enough.”

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said in a speech on the Senate floor that former Marine Lance Cpl. Jon Hammar “does not deserve the treatment” that Mexico is giving the Miami native, including putting physical restraints on him.

“I’m bringing this to the attention of the Senate so that we can further get through to the Mexican government,” Nelson said. “If it requires me speaking on the Senate floor day in and day out to keep this issue alive, I will do so.”

Hammar, 27, and a fellow Marine Corps veteran, both victims of post-traumatic stress disorder, crossed from Texas into Mexico in mid-August in a motor home, bound for Costa Rica on a surfing trip. Hammar presented to Mexican officials a U.S. registration for a family heirloom, a .410-bore shotgun used for shooting birds.

Mexican authorities arrested him on weapons charges and put him among the general population of a state prison in Matamoros. Fellow inmates purportedly linked to Los Zetas, a feared crime gang, later called Hammar’s parents in South Florida, threatening his death if ransom were not paid.

Hammar’s ordeal first came to public attention last week, when his mother offered details of the case to McClatchy. A subsequent article generated a strong reaction among readers, some 5,675 of whom had signed a petition by late afternoon Tuesday on the White House website under the heading, “Help bring Jon Hammar home.”

Nelson said on the Senate floor that he’d tried to reach Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, but had not received a return phone call. Later in the day, a spokesman said the two talked and Sarukhan assured Nelson that “he’s asking his country’s attorney general for an explanation as to why it’s taken since August to resolve Jon Hammar’s case.”

Another Florida lawmaker, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lashed out Monday at what she said was a failure by the Obama administration to offer details of what it was doing to free Hammar.

“The State Department must do more in this case and work incessantly until Jon is reunited with his family in South Florida,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

She demanded to know why Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, had instructed Hammar at the border to contact Mexican authorities to clear the weapon, leading to his arrest.

“None of these federal agencies should rest until Jon is out of Mexico, out of danger and with his family once again,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Alex Cruz, a spokesman for the congresswoman, said she and the Hammar family would host a news conference on Thursday at her Miami office to press further for Hammar’s release.

A U.S. State Department spokesman, William Ostick, said U.S. diplomats “take the safety and well-being of an incarcerated U.S. citizen very seriously.”

He said Hammar has been separated from the general prison population in close proximity to prison personnel and is no longer chained or restrained to a bed.

“When we learned that physical restraints were being used, we raised the issue with prison authorities who have agreed to stop using those restraints. They have been removed,” Ostick said.

Email: tjohnson@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @timjohnson4

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