Both the press and politicians in France have come to the defence of a French woman condemned to sixty years of jail in Mexico for kidnapping charges. Former victims of the crime however see the accused in a much darker light.
Found guilty of kidnapping and carrying arms, 34-year-old Florence Cassez was sentenced to 60 years in prison by a Mexican court. The French citizen however, insists that she's innocent. Her defenders call on case irregularities and contradictions in the witness statements. Even President Nicolas Sarkozy has demanded her return to France to serve out her sentence - something which has outraged the Mexican public, especially victims of the criminal gang which Cassez was supposedly part of. For them, there's no doubt that the former girlfriend of ringleader Israel Vallarta is guilty.
"Sarkozy's trying to distract the public"
Political blogger Emiliano Crespo is urging his government not to give in to the French president's demands of extradition.
President Nicolas Sarkozy is a rightwing neo-populist. In face of his inability to sort out France's real problems, he's become an expert in public distraction, with Cassez's case the latest to date. (...) Personally I don't think Felipe Calderon [Mexican president] is stupid enough to fall for his soap opera pleas. We'll tell him, in the most diplomatic manner, ‘We're terribly sorry President Sarkozy, but with this case, just f*** off'!"
"I remember her voice; it still haunts me"
My name is Cristina Rios Valladares and I was the victim of a kidnapping along with my husband Raul (who was released after a few hours in order to get ransom money) and son, who was 11 at the time. From 19 October to 9 December 2005 we went through an ordeal that changed our lives forever. Since then we've been forced to live abroad through fear of reprisals from group members who still walk free. My family remains devastated. We were held in captivity for 52 days in which I was sexually abused. All three of us were put through extreme psychological torture.
On 9 December we were liberated by the Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI). Israel Vallarta and Florence Cassez were arrested and then charged with holding us. Florence, from France, presented herself as a victim in the case, not an accomplice.
While we heard of the news of Cassez's sentencing from our hideout (we can't call a place where you're constrained to live through fear a home), we also heard her claim innocence, with the very same voice with which I heard numerous times during my detention. That French accent which still echoes in my mind today. The voice which my son identifies as that which belongs to the woman who drew blood from him in order to send it, along with a human ear, supposed to be my son's, to my husband.
When I hear her cry innocence, I remember a voice twisted with rage and jealousy, shouting that if I ever touched her lover, ringleader Israel Vallarta again, (she walked in on him molesting me), then I'd pay for it in person."
How does a kidnapping work in Mexico?
This CCTV footage, broadcast by Mexican TV channels and websites, shows a kidnapping carried out by the gang "Los Gaseros", today disbanded. The commentary explains that three men get out off a supposed taxi and hold up the victim outside his door. An accomplice, driving a cement mixer, then blocks the road, while another arrives in a grey car. They put the victim in the trunk along with one of his kidnappers. The operation is over in under ten seconds.
In league with Iraq and Colombia, Mexico is considered one of the places where kidnap is most likely to happen.