Mexican Microcosm: The Unsolved Death Of Kirsty MacColl
by Carl Horowitz:
Laborers, Loitering And Land Use: Why Local Government
Cannot Handle Immigration]
When it comes to corrupt
Mexican government is almost in a league by itself.
All too often, it protects criminals who have the money
and power (in Mexico they are the same thing) to buy
justice. Apparently, that holds true for a
Mexican businessman who, in a just world, would have
been found guilty of
manslaughter of a prominent British rock musician.
This requires some context.
Almost as soon as
he took office nearly six years ago, Mexican
President Vicente Fox, set to
leave office this December 1, has been
calling for the legalization of millions of illegal
Mexicans living here. It`s part of an explicit
long-range strategy to
dissolve the U.S.-Mexico border. The last thing Fox
wants is for some national scandal to upset the delicate
applecart of amnesty negotiations with a friendly Bush
Fortunately for us, the Fox
government can`t seem to shake off one very determined
83-year-old lady, Jean MacColl, whose daughter, Kirsty,
was killed off the
Mexican coast in a highly suspicious accident. If
you want to know who you`re fighting, you might as well
know who you`re fighting for.
Kirsty MacColl was born in 1959 and
grew up in Croydon, a borough of London. Performance ran
in her bloodlines. Her mother, Jean (Newlove) MacColl,
was a prominent theatre choreographer. But it was
Ewan MacColl (1915-89), who would be her primary
Born James Miller to Scottish
Ewan MacColl began as an actor but during the 1950s
became one of Britain`s most prominent
folksinger-songwriters. His best-known song, the
Grammy-winning torch ballad,
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,
would be a
hit in 1972 for Roberta Flack (and much later, for
Celine Dion and
Johnny Cash). On his own, MacColl made dozens of
acoustic folk albums. His politics, regrettably,
leaned far leftward, but at least his Communist
affiliations didn`t overshadow his ability to entertain.
After a divorce from Jean, he married folksinger Peggy
Seeger, half-sister of
Pete Seeger, making for a formidable musical
Strikingly attractive in an
Anglo-Celtic way, young Kirsty began her recording
career in 1979. Her mix of modern folk-rock, Celtic
folk, and much later, Caribbean pop—at times with Phil
Spector-style production bombast—won her enormous
British and Irish chart success (though less so in
America). MacColl recorded some great tracks—have a
listen to "See That Girl," "Mother`s Ruin,"
and a cover of the Kinks` "Days." Her voice
suggested a hybrid of the late
Sandy Denny and the Eurythmics`
In 1984 she married top record
producer Steve Lillywhite, whose clients included U2,
Simple Minds, Peter Gabriel and Marshall Crenshaw. Two
sons, Jamie and Louis, soon came along. Lillywhite
produced his wife`s records, of course, perhaps most
memorably, the Pogues` 1987 Christmas single,
"Fairytale of New York," with Kirsty performing
a vocal duet with the Pogues` Shane McGowan. You didn`t
have to be
Irish to get a lump in the throat.
MacColl and Lillywhite eventually
divorced in the mid 90s. With two kids in tow, Kirsty
took a long timeout—and then reactivated. The Caribbean
"world beat" influence in 1991`s Electric
Landlady became even more pronounced in Tropical
Brainstorm (2000). Kirsty was a huge fan of the
Cuban musicians featured in Wim Wenders` 1999
The Buena Vista Social Club.
She also loved Mexico`s beaches, especially Cozumel
Island, which seemed perfect for a family vacation.
Here, one arrives at the hard part
of this story—the part about the Mexican government and
the powerful individuals it protects from
On December 18, 2000, Kirsty had
gone scuba diving in the clear turquoise waters off
Cozumel Island, about a dozen miles east of the Yucatan
Peninsula. An experienced diver, she`d been there
before, and wanted to introduce her sons to the
experience. Kirsty`s male companion, James Knight, and a
local dive master, Ivan Diaz, were there as well. It was
a heavenly afternoon—and then, horror. Seemingly out of
nowhere, a large power boat was headed straight toward
her sons. Kirsty instinctively swam toward Jamie and
quickly moved him out of the way; though struck, he was
not seriously injured. Diaz, also struck but not
seriously hurt, grabbed the other son, Louis, saving
him, too. It was a different story for Kirsty. She was
killed instantly, her body nearly sliced in half by the
It`s nearly six years later, and
the Mexican government still hasn`t provided a full
accounting of what happened. But all evidence points to
a cover-up. As the mavens of TV news say, "You
A boat hand, Juan Jose Cen Yam,
supposedly had been behind the steering wheel. But he
didn`t have a boating license. He was arrested and
eventually convicted in 2003 of negligent homicide. He
received a prison sentence of two years and 10 months,
but in lieu of serving (as he was allowed by law to do),
he paid a small fine, plus 25,280 pesos (about U.S.
$2,300) in restitution to Kirsty`s surviving sons.
If you can believe it, these were
the least disturbing aspects of this case.
Sr. Cen Yam was a maintenance hand,
not the owner of the powerful 31-foot-long Percalito,
with a top speed of more than 30 knots. Unlicensed to
drive any boat, much less a powerful yacht, the
functionally illiterate Cen Yam claimed to have taken a
seaman`s course, yet when asked simple
navigation-related questions, he was clueless.
Who, then, was the boat`s owner?
Guillermo Gonzalez Nova, chairman of
Controladora Comercial Mexicana, which owns about
250 retail chain stores and supermarkets in Mexico. The
crown-jewel asset of the publicly-traded company is a 50
percent stake in Costco`s operations in that country.
The secretive Nova, now in his early 70s, recently was
ranked among the seven wealthiest men in Mexico. He
comes from a powerful Mexico City-based clan with strong
ties to Cozumel Island. As it turns out, he was on board
at the time of the accident, accompanied by two sons, a
daughter-in-law and an infant granddaughter.
Here`s where the plot thickens.
Jose Cen Yam told police he was the
driver. That doesn`t mean he was telling the truth.
Several eyewitnesses testified that he was not at the
controls of the boat. Dive master Ivan Diaz testified he
saw Cen Yam in the back of the boat, leaping
forward to help during the emergency. Local newspapers
reported that after coming ashore, Gonzalez Nova
admitted he had been at the helm; he was televised being
taken away by police for questioning.
There was an additional problem
with the official story: Regardless of who was behind
the steering wheel, the boat was in an unauthorized
area. The area,
Chankanaab Coral Reef, is part of
Cozumel National Marine Park. It had been designated
several years earlier as
off-limits to all power boats, save for small craft
involved in scuba diving. Moreover, no boat of any kind
was allowed if its draft (i.e., depth of the keel
protruding into the water) exceeded two meters. The
MacColl family lawyer, Demetrio Guerra, stated that the
Percalito had exceeded that limit.
Gonzalez Nova family members
countered that Ivan Diaz had neglected to place a
marker buoy in the water indicating appropriate
boundaries. Additionally, they said, the dive boat
lacked a warning flag. After an investigation,
authorities determined that there indeed had been no
buoy, but that the boat had been flying a flag, albeit
not one conforming to international regulations. More
importantly, the area had a worldwide reputation as a
scuba diving haven; that`s what drew Kirsty there in the
first place. Sr. Gonzalez Nova, highly familiar with
Cozumel Island, could not have been unaware of this.
Then there`s the issue of speed.
Any number of witnesses, including Diaz, said the boat
had been traveling at about 15 to 20 knots, way above
the legal limit of 4 knots. The boat`s bow was riding
clear above the water line, a sure sign of movement at a
brisk clip. Yet Cen Yam and members of the Gonzalez Nova
family each stated for the record that the yacht was
traveling at only one knot. That`s a huge discrepancy.
What`s more, Diaz told authorities
that he initially had spotted the vessel from about 400
yards away. From that distance, even at an illegal 20
knots, a skipper, however inexperienced, would have had
time to swerve. But the boat didn`t slow down.
Even more incriminating (to Sr. Gonzalez Nova), Cen Yam
changed his story under questioning. He indicted that a
passenger had been leaning against the boat`s
windshield, thus blocking the front view. The passenger
had been Nova`s son, Luis.
The conclusion is virtually
unavoidable: The Gonzalez Nova family paid Jose Cen Yam
to be their fall guy. It`s too bad he`s not around to
talk. Jean MacColl—she uses her former married name for
all activities related to her quest for justice —told
reporter Vicky Allan of Scotland`s The Sunday Herald
know that a witness saw Cen Yam a day or so after the
accident. He had got very drunk in the pub and was
celebrating, and he said that his boss had asked him to
take responsibility for the accident and if he did he
would give him a good lot of money. So he was going to
buy himself a new house. I don`t know if he`s bought a
new house because I can`t find him."
If anyone at this point needs
convincing this was a cover-up, here`s the coup de
grace. The MacColl family had attempted to serve
Guillermo Gonzalez Nova and his daughter-in-law, Norma
Haggas, with subpoenas. The Mexican federal police`s
eventual reply was that the pair
"could not be found".
Ponder that for a second. The head
of one of the richest families in all of Mexico
conveniently disappears with a son`s wife—just long
enough for police to drop the case, which they did.
Compared to these moneyed
barbarians, the post-Chappaquiddick Kennedys are
paragons of moral greatness.
Stonewalled, the MacColl family
hired a lawyer to get cooperation from the Mexican
government. More than once, they`ve visited Mexico,
emphasizing this wasn`t about getting rich. "I am not
asking for any money. I just want him [Nova] to stand up
and speak the truth," said
Assuming she ever finds him, Mrs.
MacColl might find herself in harm`s way. She had a
difficult time getting Cozumel Island locals to speak.
One man, preferring to remain anonymous,
told her: "Oh, he`s the don. His name is law
around here. I have to be careful. I have a family to
Welcome to law and order,
The MacColl family, after a lengthy
wait, at least succeeded in reopening the case. They`ve
enjoyed some mainly symbolic victories, such as last
year when the Mexican Office of Public Affairs advised
the MacColls that Cozumel prosecutor Emilio Cortez
Ramirez had been found liable for breach of authority
for failure to register the MacColls` appeal and the
proceedings as formal criminal investigations. He also
was removed from his post.
this ruling may not have a direct impact on the outcome
of the ongoing criminal investigations", Mrs.
wrote hopefully, "it does confirm that this
Federal Prosecutor did not follow correct procedures,
acted improperly and impeded our lawyer". But the
Gonzalez Nova patriarch remains out of reach.
Jean MacColl has broadened her
appeal. She applied to the British Foreign &
Commonwealth Office`s Pro Bono Lawyers Panel to take up
the case against the Mexican government at the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The
prospect of success won her an audience with officials
from Mexico`s Attorney General`s Office, Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and other agencies. She also worked with
filmmaker Olivia Lichtenstein to produce a documentary
Who Killed Kirsty MacColl?
And she`s gotten Kirsty`s fellow
musicians to lend support. This
past February, U2 did a concert in the Mexican city
of Monterrey; lead singer Bono dedicated the group`s
late-80s hit, I Still Haven`t Found What I`m Looking
For to her memory. A concerned
Ruben Aguilar, a
spokesman for Mexican President Vicente Fox,
responded: "The investigation has to offer
results. The federal government is following this
Apparently the outgoing Fox is
still "following" the situation. Will
Mexican President-Elect Felipe Calderon, like Fox a
member of the National Action Party (PAN), make butting
heads with the Gonzalez Nova clan a high priority?
It`s not likely. The 44-year-old
Calderon served as Fox`s Secretary of Energy during
2003-04 before leaving to
pursue his presidential ambitions. And he`s not
without the taint of scandal either, having
been accused of illegally borrowing and then repaying
three million pesos (roughly U.S. $300,000) from
Banobras, a government-owned development bank during his
tenure as director.
VDARE.COM readers can send advice,
love letters and donations to: Justice for Kirsty
Campaign, 63 Gunnersbury Lane, London, UK, W3 8HG. They
also should check out the campaign`s website,
www.justiceforkirsty.org. Kirsty`s estate is not a
bottomless pit. The campaign needs outside funds
to keep the pressure on Mexico.
Here`s the meaning of this saga for
First, if the Mexican government
can`t be trusted to conduct an honest investigation
that might implicate its own
high and mighty, it certainly can`t be trusted to
uphold an amnesty "agreement" with our own
government. That the Bush Administration is determined
to cut a deal with these people suggests
extreme naiveté or worse. Back in January 2004,
detailed here the longstanding ties between the Bush
family and the top echelons of Mexican society.
Second, the real cultural split in
America is not, as shallow hot-button pundits would have
it, between "Red States" and "Blue States".
It is instead between people who believe our nation`s
sense of identity is crucial and those who believe it
is…well, nice, but dispensable. Many counterculture
types are, deep down, patriots who don`t like our
sucking up to Mexico in pursuit of some nebulous
They include fans of Kirsty MacColl looking for straight
F. Horowitz (email
him) is affiliated with the
National Legal and Policy Center, a nonprofit
organization based in Falls Church, Va., dedicated to
promoting ethics and accountability in public life.
here to download his report on
Why Unions Promote Mass
Immigration [pdf].He holds a Ph.D. in urban planning,
and specializes in labor, immigration and housing policy
issues. He also has been a DJ.