A new appeal and the endorsement of an anchor border city raises fresh hope for two Americans who say the Mexican army planted marijuana in their truck and then arrested them. The incident plunged the El Paso men into what they say is a saga of abuse and negligence, corruption and impunity in the notorious Mexican judicial system.
For US citizens and El Paso natives Shohn Huckabee, 23, and Carlos Quijas Ruiz, 36, the nightmare began in the early evening of December 18, 2009 when Mexican army soldiers ran them off the road, then illegally and violently detained them. Soldiers pulled the two out of their truck near the international bridge as they were leaving Juarez. Since that moment, they've been imprisoned in Juarez, a city sometimes called the most dangerous on earth.
Now Huckabee's attorney Gustavo de la Rosa, respected Ombudsman for Human Rights of the State of Chihuahua, will file a special appeal in Mexican courts--an Amparo--hoping to restore freedom and clear Huckabee's name of false charges. Huckabee claims that his criminal assault and detention by those soldiers made him another victim of human rights violations at the hands of the Mexican Army, a group that has garnered over 5,000 human rights violations case claims.
Huckabee, a newlywed and small construction business owner, had taken a vehicle to Juarez to save some money on needed repairs. Quijas, one of his employees, caught a ride with him to visit an ailing grandfather.
In his own words, Huckabee recounts the terror of their apprehension by the army:
"...the Army stopped us and jerked us out of the truck. Then my first thought was that I was going to become another horror story, like the ones you hear on the news, where people disappear.
"I knew at that point to get ready and prepare myself to be killed...My wife had been concerned about me going [to Juarez]. Lying in the back of the truck, blinded by the shirt over my head and with my arms tied up, I really just wished I could tell my family good bye."
What happened next was worse: "When they arrived at the military base, they say, they were blindfolded, tied up, hit with rifle butts, shocked with electricity and threatened with death" during their interrogation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The two men were charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell. While neither has any record of involvement with drugs, they now are serving a five year sentence for the crime. The option of transferring back to the US to serve their sentence is available. However, that would leave a felony conviction on their record.
The men provided three witnesses to back their allegation that the army placed the marijuana in their truck. One witness has since been killed and the other two witnesses have gone into hiding.
De la Rosa suggested to the Wall Street Journal that the arrest was a case of mistaken identity. A Mexican relative of Quijas, whose name is similar, is thought to be involved in the drug trade. Quijas says he doesn't know his relative well, but when he arrived at the jail, other inmates confused him with that man. If the soldiers also confused the two, they would not be apt to free Quijas once they discovered his true identity. However, in a statement to the Journal, the military said there was no confusion over the men's identities.
Last week a review of the case received a credibility bolster when the El Paso City Council formally adopted a resolution asking U.S. and Mexican government officials for a review of the matter.
Supporters are soliciting signatures from the pubic on an online petition urging federal U.S. and Texas state officials to intervene in the case. El Paso city leaders, another petition target, have already responded.
The case, as any with cases of human right violations allegations, could have implications on U.S.-Mexico international relations. Through the 2007 Merida Initiative, the U.S. funds Mexico $1.3 billion to fight their so-called "drug war." This funding allots more than $420 million to the Mexican military. However, U.S. lawmakers have threatened to withhold 15%, amounting to nearly $200 million, upon reports of human rights violations.
The El Paso resolution supporting Huckabee and Quijas specifically calls for the withholding of further Merida Initiative funding until the Mexican military accepts the consequences of its human rights abuses.