Nightmare of Mexican law

It’s bad enough that Canadians in Mexico are accosted by criminal gangs who have little to fear from police.

It’s bad enough that Canadians in Mexico are accosted by criminal gangs who have little to fear from police.

But what do we make of horror stories involving tourists who run afoul of Mexican law? It’s just luck as to which is worse: the criminals or the cops.

One such case has been reported in which a Vancouver man named Pavel Kulisek has been locked up in a Mexican jail for three years without a trial. There isn’t even a date set for a trial.

Kulisek had been riding an ATV in Baja with a group of other enthusiasts. He later went to a restaurant with one of the Mexicans he met.

While there, the police raided the diner and arrested both of them. The Mexican, it turned out, was a drug dealer. The Canadian, it turned out, was guilty by association.

The story got more publicity this month when, after three years in jail without a trial, Kulisek fell into despondency and tried to hang himself. His cellmate found him in time to save his life.

Kulisek’s wife, Jirina Kuliskova, who is with their two daughters, said she hopes her husband just had a brief spell of despair and that he’ll regain the strength to hold on.

But it’s a tall hope considering that his next chance at a trial is a full year away.

We hope Kulisek’s case is extreme, but we know similar travesties surface from time to time.

Certainly, vacationing Canadians who get drunk and boorish or who engage in criminal acts may deserve some time in a southern slammer.

But because of Mexico’s archaic Napoleonic code of law — and its inconsistent application — the rest of us never know if an imprisoned Canadian is guilty as accused (not necessarily charged) or innocent.

Charges can be trumped up for money or to give locals the impression that the police are serious about crime.

But without what Canadians call due process, such as a fair trial, or even clearly spelled out charges and the opportunity to address them, the tourist is powerless. Help from the Canadian government is always welcome, but, lacking the economic and military clout of a superpower, Canada’s government is little help in most cases.

Considering that many Canadians maintain homes in Mexico, these are situations that one should be aware of.

That’s especially true if the visitor likes to mingle with the locals, but it applies even for those tourists who venture out of an all-inclusive resort.

Generally, it would be a good thing for anyone who enjoys Mexico to learn some Spanish and mix with Mexicans. But few consider the dangers of associating with strangers in that welcoming land.

Obviously, if the person you’re hanging out with is involved in any criminal activity when the police find him (or her), you could see a side of Mexico you don’t want to see.

All your knowledge of Canadian law (or American-TV law) won’t help.

The Napoleonic Code of Law goes back to the 1800s and was a great improvement at the time. But it’s a far cry from Canadian standards.

Instead of being innocent until proven guilty, you are guilty until you can prove your innocence. Good luck with that.

Unofficial authorities in Mexico advise foreigners in their country to befriend an influential lawyer there and memorize his phone number.

As a reasonable safeguard, tourists should have excellent credentials and avoid people and places that, while they may be enticing, would likely attract the criminal element.

Any brush with Mexican law can turn into a nightmare costing tens of thousands of dollars even if you’re lucky enough to be in jail for only a few months.

No tan for you, amigo.

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