Yanira Maldonado, the mother from Goodyear who was jailed last week on likely bogus marijuana-smuggling charges in Nogales, Sonora, was released from custody, and photographs show her crossing the border back in the United States.
With that, New Times checked with the U.S. Department of State, to see if they thought it would be appropriate to tell American citizens to be aware that they could be jailed in Mexico, potentially for months or years, because they didn't check under their bus seat to see if anyone hid multiple pounds of marijuana.
The most recent travel warning from the State Department, issued in November, doesn't really mention anything to that effect.
A State Department spokeswoman countered that it "notes that the Sonora region can be extremely dangerous for travelers."
According to press accounts, Maldonado went to Mexico with her husband for a family funeral, and Mexican soldiers found the marijuana on the bus, under her seat, during an inspection on the way back to Nogales. Her husband, who was nearly arrested too, was under the impression that the soldiers wanted a bribe, according to a CNN story earlier this week. Despite witnesses saying there's no way Maldonado carried 12 pounds of weed onto the bus, and later, video surveillance footage showing that there's no way she carried 12 pounds of weed on the bus, she was still jailed in Mexico for a week.
The travel warning doesn't really warn Americans that this is something to look out for. Obviously, the agency may not have known it was a possibility.
"Sonora is a key region in the international drug and human trafficking trades, and can be extremely dangerous for travelers," the advisory says. In some areas, like Puerto Peñasco, the advisory says to "exercise caution" when visiting. For San Carlos, there is "no recommendation against travel" there.
There is one statement in there about police corruption.
"The number of kidnappings and disappearances throughout Mexico is of particular concern," the advisory says. "Both local and expatriate communities have been victimized. In addition, local police have been implicated in some of these incidents. We strongly advise you to lower your profile and avoid displaying any evidence of wealth that might draw attention."
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The spokeswoman at the State Department didn't answer our question about possible revisions to the travel advisory. We were also directed to an additional, very lengthy page about travel to Mexico, which does include some material to that effect:
Harassment/Extortion: In some instances, U.S. citizens have become victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion by alleged Mexican law enforcement and other officials. Mexican authorities have cooperated in investigating such cases, but one must have the officer's name, badge number, and patrol car number to pursue a complaint effectively. Please note this information if you ever have a problem with police or other officials. In addition, tourists should be wary of persons representing themselves as police officers or other officials. When in doubt, ask for identification. Be aware that offering a bribe to a public official to avoid a ticket or other penalty is a crime in Mexico.
So, if that's not clear enough, we'll clear it up for you: Yes, there are corrupt and/or Keystone cops in Mexico. And if you don't have enough vacation time or the desire to spend a week in Mexican jail, that might be something you should consider.