OK, all, let's take a deep breath.
Once upon a time, I used to winter in a tiny paradise called Bequia, an island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Once in a while, to avoid the long walks and the dollar buses, I'd take a water taxi--a motor-boat whose operator would take you down the coast to your vacation abode.
One of these boats was called the "Jolly Joseph." The operator, Jerome Joseph (I believe I knew him slightly) , was murdered: he was found floating in the harbour with a .22 bullet through the heart. His accused murderers were a pair of dissolute, rich Americans, James and Penella Fletcher. They had been in possession of just such a gun, but it conveniently disappeared.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a justice system modeled on the British system--the judges and lawyers even wear wigs. It's a democratic country. But this didn't stop hysterical American commentators from using the old "whites in the grip of savage Blacks" meme. The then-Prime Minister, James "Son" Mitchell, toured the US to try to explain that the Fletchers would get a fair trial.
The US media commentariat, in the person of Ted Koppel, swung into action. Mitchell was ambushed on CNN. President Clinton (the man who left Leonard Peltier to rot in jail) "sought assurances" from the Prime Minister that the Fletchers would indeed get that fair trial.
As it happens, I know "Son" Mitchell. He has a degree in agronomy from UBC. He's a reserved, dignified, highly civilized human being, even if I found his politics a little conservative for my taste. He was nice enough, one sunny day, to take my ex and me over to Mustique on his 32-foot sailboat for a day trip, before he won the election with his National Democratic Party (NDP)--he was a great fan of David Lewis, as it turned out, and the acronym was no accident.
In any case, the jury found the pair not guilty. There was too little evidence, with the missing gun and all. I wish I could believe that this was a fair, impartial verdict, but the pressure from the US was so immense that I cannot fully trust it. The magistrate, I was told, was really rough on Joseph's brother on the stand, calling him "stupid." There was something that didn't feel right. Nevertheless, the couple walked, and that's that.
Let us turn now to Mexico. I felt, I admit it, what many people felt--this was a Canadian woman who, through no fault of her own, ended up in the toils of a corrupt justice system that runs on bribes and favours. Obviously it took far too long to bring her to trial. And there are many questions one can reasonably ask. How did the judge reach his "guilty" verdict when all the evidence was circumstantial? And yet--didn't she get quite the whack of severance pay for an 10-month stint at work? $25,000? As a cook? A federal public employee in Canada pulling in $52K a year would walk away with that amount only after 25 years.
So I then must ask myself: is my visceral reaction against today's finding of guilt, the five-year sentence and the fine based on my intimate knowledge of the Mexican judicial system? Nope. It doesn't seem to be up there with St.Vincent's, for sure. But when we make these snap judgements about the outcome of trials of Our People in foreign lands, are we not reacting with just a mite of prejudice...even racism?
I put the question to readers; but in any case I am not satisfied with my own initial reaction to the guilty verdict. I need to know more, and maybe feel a little less.