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Mexican Microcosm: The Unsolved Death Of Kirsty MacColl
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November 01, 2006, 04:00 AM
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[Recently by Carl Horowitz: Laborers, Loitering And Land Use: Why Local Government Cannot Handle Immigration]

When it comes to corrupt institutions, the 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 administration.

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 father, Ewan MacColl (1915-89), who would be her primary career influence.

Born James Miller to Scottish parents, 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 partnership.

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` Annie Lennox.

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 documentary film, 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 accountability.

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 propeller.

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 decide."

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? Meet 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 (August 22, 2004):

"We do 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 Jean MacColl.

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 keep".

Welcome to law and order, Mexican-style.

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. 

"Whilst this ruling may not have a direct impact on the outcome of the ongoing criminal investigations", Mrs. MacColl 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 for BBC, 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 situation."

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 America.

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, Steve Sailer 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 leaders sucking up to Mexico in pursuit of some nebulous "globalism". They include fans of Kirsty MacColl looking for straight answers.

Carl 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. Click 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.