Pop star freed but Mexican attitudes still on trial

January 27, 2011

Mexican pop star Kalimba, accused of raping a 17-year-old girl in December, walked free on Thursday after a judge ordered his release for lack of evidence. For fans of the dreadlocked singer and dj, it was a justice of sorts, given that 73 percent of Mexicans believe he was innocent, according to a poll in leading newspaper Reforma. MEXICO/

Guilty or not, the case gave Mexico a bit of homegrown celebrity gossip over the past few weeks in a country where relentless news of horrific drug killings is daily fare. Seeing the singer arrested in El Paso, Texas, where he was recording a new album, then dressed in a orange jump suit and imprisoned in a Mexican jail and then crying on his release, made top news and created plenty of  chat both in Mexican homes and on the Internet.

Did the voice behind local hits such as “Tocando Fondo” (Hitting Bottom) and Disney’s Spanish language version of “The Lion King” really sexually abuse the minor after hosting a show in the Caribbean coastal city of Chetumal in Quintana Roo state on Dec.19, or was the girl just creating a stink to get some attention?

MEXICO/What’s most revealing about the case is what it says about the dysfunctional Mexican justice and prison systems, partly responsible for feeding Mexico’s brutal drug war that has killed more than 34,000 people since December 2006, not to mention the racism against black Mexicans that remains deeply embedded in the country’s culture.

The judicial system’s strong presumption of guilt was on display even before Kalimba was arrested, with the Quintana Roo state prosecutor and a state judge both talking to the media and vowing to put the pop star behind bars.  Sadly, it also came as no surprise that prosecutors were unable to build their case, something that has let countless drug traffickers go free.MEXICO/

Meanwhile, the racist undercurrent was notable in Mexican media, with TV shows and newspapers including La Prensa, playing on the word “black” in headlines and stories to point to both a dark period in the singer’s life and his African heritage, while also needlessly inviting  readers to judge whether Kalimba was guilty or not in online polls.

And on being imprisoned, a fellow inmate jailed for drug trafficking offered to protect Kalimba while he was inside, a reminder that Mexican authorities do not control what goes on inside the country’s penitentiaries. No wonder he cried with relief on being set free.


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