The case of a young man who was wrongly accused of smuggling 20 kilograms of cocaine into Mexico has shone another light on deficiencies in the Mexican justice system.
Óscar Montes de Oca, 23, returned to México on July 31 after a nine-day vacation in Argentina, traveling aboard the Colombian airline Avianca on a flight that took him to Perú and Colombia before landing at the Mexico City airport at 1:15 pm.
When his only documented piece of luggage, a green backpack, didn’t turn up on the baggage carousel, he inquired with airline personnel.
At that point he was approached by immigration authorities who presented him with a red, wheeled suitcase that wasn’t his. Montes de Oca insisted several times that it wasn’t his backpack, that the stickers identifying it as such could have been easily swapped and that the total weight of the bag in question was 10 kilos more than what he had registered in Argentina.
When he refused to open the suitcase, declaring once more that it wasn’t his, the officials opened it themselves, went through its contents and found the cocaine.
None of his arguments was enough for the authorities and Montes de Oca was transported to the Attorney General’s office specializing in organized crime where, at 3:00am on August 1, he was finally given the chance to call his family. Later that day he was transported once more, this time to the federal penitentiary in Tepic, Nayarit. The nature of the crime of which Montes de Oca was being accused demanded preventive incarceration in a federal facility.
But it wasn’t long before a groundswell of support began building for the young sociology graduate. Relatives and friends created an intense social media campaign, publicizing the case and demanding his liberation. Montes de Oca’s employer, Jorge Olvera, president of the Autonomous University of the State of México, condemned the arrest and provided the accused with legal aid, as did the governor of the state, Eruviel Ávila.
After seven days of imprisonment, the Attorney General decided there was enough proof that Montes de Oca was innocent and dropped all charges against him. He was released from the federal prison early yesterday morning.
One piece of the evidence of his innocence was presented by the airline, which said that Montes de Oca’s backpack went missing at the Lima, Peru, airport. The Attorney General concluded that the Mexican traveler was the latest victim of a criminal organization that has swapped pieces of luggage in that same airport for months.
After his release Montes de Oca declared that the airline’s evidence was critical in clarifying his case.
He also lamented that the justice system presumes everyone guilty until proven otherwise.
“I hope that no one ever has to go through what I went through. It is extremely important that what I lived through doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Thanks to friends and family, he said, “the hell” only lasted seven days.
What little hope was to be found within the walls of the federal prison came from one of Montes de Oca’s fellow inmates, who told him he had heard his father talking on the radio, saying they were doing everything they could to get him out.
Montes de Oca believes authorities and airlines need to create robust security mechanisms that can guarantee that a passenger’s luggage won’t be swapped or tampered with while in transit. In the meantime, he suggests travelers take a selfie with their luggage and its labels before check-in.
He is now considering legal action against the institutions that falsely accused and imprisoned him. His father has already made a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission.
As for his luggage, he is still waiting for his backpack.
Source: Milenio (sp)