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Our Opinion: Diplomatic impugnity?

May 29, 2002

We hope the recent gun-toting incident involving the Mexican consul based in Calexico was a learning experience for all involved.

We hope it particularly was a learning experience for the new local Mexican consul, Alfredo Benitez Hernandez, who was walking around an El Centro apartment complex carrying a BB/pellet rifle, apparently intent on shooting at pigeons on the complex's roof that were bothering him. Someone was frightened by that sight and called police.

In this great land we just don't go around shooting things in incorporated areas of this country, particularly living things, and we hope Benitez, if he is new to the country, learned things don't work that way here.

His excuse that he had shot at pigeons at home in Mexico was a flimsy one. He should know our country's laws better than that if he is assigned here as consul. And the truth is Mexico's gun laws are much stricter than ours. (And if he doesn't speak English, as he told the police officers investigating the case, he needs to learn it quickly if he is going to work effectively in this country.)

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We also are not happy with Benitez's quick-draw willingness to use his diplomatic immunity to get himself out of a jam. El Centro police officers called to the scene said he quickly started flashing documents stating that he was the Mexican consul and had diplomatic immunity, and the officer had no right to pursue the matter, particularly in his personal residence, which is considered Mexican territory.

The officers were merely responding to a call of a man with a gun. They did not know the man with the gun was a diplomat until they were informed of it by an irate Benitez. The officers then departed the residence, which probably was the right choice. All in all they handled the situation correctly.

There have been incidents in this nation, and even locally, where diplomats have gotten away with crimes by using their diplomatic immunity. That is a horrible abuse of the privilege, and while the Benitez case did not involve anything serious, his immediate willingness to use his immunity is something of which neither he nor his government should be proud. We do hope he learned a lot from this incident and handles things more diplomatically in the future.

The El Centro Police Department learned from the incident, too. It learned about diplomatic immunity, it learned where the Mexican consul lives in the city, it learned that the consul's residence and car are considered the territory of Mexico and it learned that the new Mexican consul may be more than willing to use his diplomatic immunity when convenient.

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