Monday, July 05, 2004
Our friends south of the border: A couple of years ago there was a big ruckus here in San Diego when a U.S. Marine was sent to the border to pick up a couple of Marines who had (if I recall correctly) been partying in Tijuana. The Marine was supposed to turn off at the last exit and await his comrades on this side of the border. Unfortunately, he was unfamiliar with the border area, and failed to turn off. When he realized that he was crossing into Mexico, he told the Mexican border guards of his mistake. Instead of letting him do an about face and head back to the U.S., they asked him if he had any firearms in his official U.S. government vehicle. He replied yes (unloaded and in the trunk). They arrested him and threw him in jail.
It took about a week and a Congressional delegation to get him out.
So it should really come as no surprise that when a Marine honor guard went to Mexico to participate in a funeral service of a Mexican-born Marine who died in Iraq, that the Mexican military decided to throw its weight around.
Mexican soldiers with automatic weapons interrupted the July 4 funeral of a U.S. Marine and demanded the Marine honor guard give up ceremonial replicas of rifles they carried.
Hundreds of friends and relatives packed a small cemetery for the funeral on Sunday of 22-year-old Juan Lopez, who was born in this sun-scorched farming town, immigrated to Dalton, Georgia, as a teenager and became a Marine.
He was killed in an ambush in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on June 21.
Maj. Curt Gwilliam presented an American flag to Lopez's widow, Sandra Torres, who clutched a bouquet of yellow and white flowers while tears streamed down her face.
While the funeral demonstrated the close human ties of Mexico and the United States, problems began moments after the start.
Four U.S. Marines marched solemnly to the grave carrying an American flag and the colors of the Marine Corps. Two of the men had rifles that looked real, but could not be fired, strapped to their backs.
Four Mexican soldiers blocked their path, asking the four Marines and six others who had served as pallbearers to return to the car that had brought them to the funeral. Several minutes of discussions by soldiers from both countries continued until a trumpet player began a rendition of taps and the funeral proceeded, despite the objections of the Mexican troops.
This sort of behavior by the Mexican military is unacceptable. The story later makes clear that the Marines' participation in the funeral service was cleared with the Mexican government ahead of time and that the Marines had complied with Mexican laws that they not carry firearms or have a 21-gun salute.
Mexican president Vicente Fox should apologize for this outrage and create some guidelines so this sort of thing does not happen again.