Friday, February 14, 2014

Mexico opens investigation into U.S. citizen missing in Michoacán, as long silence grows increasingly ominous

On Valentine's Day, where in the world is Harry Devert?

Guadalajara -
Foreigner visitors sometimes do strange things when they enter Mexico. Especially American ones.

In 2012, former U.S. Marine Jon Hammar decided to tour this country in a 40 year old Winnebago. For some reason, he determined it was important to bring along a decades old .410 shotgun passed down to him by previous generations. Mexico strictly prohibits the private possession of firearms, but before Hammar crossed the border near Matamoros someone told him, "no problem, just be sure to register it with local police after you cross." He tried to do so, and was promptly arrested and jailed. Under intense pressure from American officials and a huge U.S. press campaign, Hammar was freed several months later - after learning much more about Mexican jails than he really wanted to know. With a little help from his friends, Jon Hammar released.

Last month, U.S. national Harry Devert decided to motorcycle his way through Mexico in route to Brazil. And although it was not necessary to do so, he adjusted his route to get a view of beautiful Michoacán, the lemon and avocado growing state which on Feb. 4 president Enrique Peña Nieto called the "heart of Mexico" (In Michoacán, all the president's men arrive with cash and promises).

If one were searching for the single most dangerous, avoid-at-all-costs destination in the Republic right now, the choice would be quite easy: Michoacán. But Devert appears to have selected it. He didn't know that last July 25, the president also told reporters, "Regrettably, parts of the state have passed into the hands of organized crime" (one reason Spain told its citizens this week to stay out).

No foreign traveler should enter Michoacán today, absent an ultra-compelling need, in part because it's impossible to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys (Jalisco drug cartel armed Michoacán autodefensas). Unfortunately, that may explain why no one has heard from Harry Devert for 20 days.

Devert's last known destination was at the bottom center of the map, just up the coast from Acapulco

Devert, 32, disappeared from the radar screen on Jan. 25, supposedly headed for the Pacific coast town of Zihuatanejo in Guerrero state, due south of the Michoacán capital of Morelia and hot spots which have been much in the news in recent days. In text messages that day he told family members that he had just been "escorted" by federal troops through an area "much too dangerous" for him to be, and that another military escort was waiting for him further down the road. Devert promised to call or text that night, but he didn't. His mother, girlfriend and others are increasingly desperate as they wait for his next call or text message. The reality, of course, is that those may never come.

Michoacán has been a deadly no man's land for years. In May 2013 Peña Nieto was forced to send federal troops there in an attempt to restore civil order, a tactic which he repeated on Jan. 13. In many communities corrupt police forces have been replaced by local civilian militiamen. The entire region remains a cauldron of incessant narco violence and political instability, despite the fact that federal units were first dispatched there 86 months ago, in Dec. 2006, by former president Felipe Calderón (Act I, Scene I of what is now colloquially called Mexico's Drug War). Neighboring Guerrero state is little better, and foreigners have been warned about it as well.

To be sure, Devert does hold a few cards. Born in France, he is trilingual (English, French, Spanish). Physically, the former securities trader looks rather less gringo than many American tourists. Widely distributed internet images show the strapping Devert outfitted as a handsome Mexican charro with a bottle of beer and tequila reposado in hand, posing with new friends in some unidentified hamlet. One wonders who they were, and where he was.

Three days ago Mexico's federal attorney general's office as well as its Michoacán counterpart both officially entered the case, announcing that the search for Devert would be prioritized. But whatever temporary lifting of spirits that might have occasioned were quickly dashed Wednesday evening, when Michoacán's chief prosecutor told a national news network interviewer, "We have no evidence that this man actually entered our state; he could be anywhere." That comment did not suggest a sense of urgency, or indeed of any particular interest, in Morelia.

On Valentine's Day Ann Devert, Harry's mother, waits for his return. "Last year he asked me to be his Valentine," she told the Mexican press today. "This year I'm asking him to be mine."

Mar. 31 - Guerrero citizen militia claims U.S. citizen Harry Devert was murdered by drug cartel
Mar. 22 - PAN boss: "There's no respect for life in Michoacán, nor a government"
Mar. 18 - Michoacán Templarios stole human organs from child victims, to sell and to eat
Mar. 5 - Mexican Human Rights Comm'n. says there's no local law in Michoacán
Feb. 17 - Michoacán belongs to organized crime: 55% of Mexicans

Feb. 15, 2014 - Mexico able to deliver security "only in certain zones"
Feb. 15, 2014 - Federal troops kill eight gunmen in Guerrero violence
Jan. 26, 2014 - 20 Michoacán police officers charged as "Zeta killers"
Nov. 16, 2013 - Mass grave by Jalisco-Michoacán border held 67 remains
July 24, 2013 - Mexican army units fortify Jalisco-Michoacán border

© MGR 2014. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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