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David Hartley and Lake Falcon: symbols of Mexico's ineffective judiciary, police

To many it comes as little surprise that Mexican authorities have yet to recover the body of American tourist David Hartley, allegedly shot by Mexican 'pirates' on Falcon Lake.

By Sara Miller Llana and Nacha CattanStaff writer and correspondent / October 8, 2010

Texas Parks and Wildlife boats pull away from a wreath laid by family near the site where David Hartley was shot last week, on Falcon Lake, in Zapata, Texas, Oct. 6.

Eric Gay/AP


Mexico City

Twenty men, reportedly on vacation, are kidnapped from a hotel in the resort of Acapulco: No leads.

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Mayors are assassinated across the country: Most of the cases unsolved.

In fact, “unsolved” is the defining word for most of the crime that afflicts Mexico, where more than 28,000 have been killed in drug-related violence in nearly four years.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

So to many it comes as little surprise that Mexican authorities have yet to recover the body of American tourist David Hartley, despite US pressure and a week-long search that continued today with helicopters, boats, and vehicles combing Falcon Lake near Zapata, Texas.

“The biggest issue is that the judicial system has not been effective historically in convicting the right people for the right crimes,” says Maureen Meyer, associate for Mexico and Central America for the Washington Office on Latin America. "Mexico also needs an effective police force that can investigate crimes and gather evidence.”

98 percent impunity rate

Mr. Hartley was allegedly shot in the head Sept. 30 by Mexican "pirates" while jet-skiing on Falcon Lake, a 60-mile-long basin straddling the US-Mexico border. His wife, Tiffany, claims the couple entered Mexican waters on Jet Skis to photograph a church, where they were pursued by criminals in speedboats. Neither his body nor his Jet Ski has been found.

His unsolved killing is not a one-off incident in Mexico. While the numbers vary, most groups put the impunity rate here at up to 98 percent, says Ms. Meyer. The number of those actually reporting crime to authorities in the first place is also low, at just about a quarter, due to fears that authorities are incompetent, at best, or corrupt, at worst.

The search effort had been temporarily suspended, according to the Associated Press, because of fears of ambushes from drug gangs, who operate along this stretch of the US-Mexico border. Mexican authorities told the Monitor that they stop searching each evening for fear of attacks.

Mexico 'irresponsible,' says Texas governor

Texas Gov. Rick Perry put pressure on the Mexican authorities to move forward regardless.