One reason why visiting Mexico may be a not-good idea

August 12, 2011

That little problem of being caught in the middle:

A Valley mother says night terrors and fear are all she has left after armed men stole her sense of security. The woman says she’s trying to stay strong for her seven children.

She ran the gates, breaking them, at the Donna International Bridge to get away. The hardest part for the mother is that her 8-year-old daughter watched as a man pointed a rifle at her. She promised the girl they weren’t going to die.

“My life changed and I want to be the same person that I was, you know?” the woman says.

Apparently Mom and daughter had stumbled across a gang robbing the bridge crew. Wisely, the mother decided not to wait around to see if there was a “no witnesses” policy in force; she jumped the median and crashed her van through the gates on the US side of the bridge. My assumption is that surprising the Mexican gunmen like this probably is what saved her and her child’s life.

Though I have to ask: For what reason, barring an emergency, would anyone cross the border into Mexico these days, when violence is rampant and government authority barely exists in the border region? And why on Earth take your child?

(Guessing: She has relatives on the other side and thought it would be safe.)

Take a look at this map: the bridge is just east of McAllen, site of the Border Patrol station that was the subject of an excellent book, Patrolling Chaos. On the other side is the, to put it nicely, “troubled” city of Reynosa, a primary battleground between the Zeta and Gulf cartels, and occasionally the Mexican military. There have been grenade attacks; a nearby town was abandoned because of cartel violence.

Pardon me, ma’am, but while I admire your bravery and while I sympathize with your fear, your common sense leaves a little to be desired.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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Cartel Wars: 25 dead in Ciudad Juarez

September 15, 2010

…in three hours:

Drug-related violence continues to consume Ciudad Juarez in northern Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. Last Thursday’s toll of 25 killed over a three-hour period rattled a city that is already accustomed to numerous deaths a day.

It was the highest single-day toll recorded in the border city since the violence erupted there more than two years ago. Victims in Thursday’s shootings range in age from 15 to 67. They were mostly ambushed inside their homes, reports the El Paso Times.

Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said the killings were believed to be acts of retaliation by the Juarez cartel for an alleged kidnapping of a child by the rival Sinaloa cartel. What’s not clear is what all those victims had to do with the alleged kidnapping.

Does it matter why, anymore? Public safety is all but nonexistent in several Mexican cities thanks to the gang wars and the government’s failures to rein them in. Reynosa, at the other end of the Texas-Mexican border from Juarez, is described as being under the open control of the Gulf and Zeta cartels, which are battling over the city like pirates over a captured woman, while the Mexican Army sits by, impotent.

Not only is there the human tragedy of people living in fear of their lives from bloodthirsty criminals, but what happens on their side of the border affects us, too. Not just from illegal immigration as people understandably look for a safer place to live, but also physical security. Already cartel violence is spreading into our cities. Do we have to wait for another raid on Columbus to take our border problems seriously?

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Welcome to Cartel City

September 9, 2010

That Mexico is wracked by violence as the federal government battles drug gangs and the gangs battle each other isn’t really news anymore; around 23,000 people have died since 2007, and I’ve written before about violence in Mexico’s northern border cities, as well as the possibility of it spilling over to our side. Secretary of State Clinton recently referred to this drug war as an insurgency, something the Mexican government loudly denounced.

But what do you call it when the central government loses control of a city to the drug cartels? Residents of Reynosa, Mexico, might well agree with Secretary Clinton:

“It’s hard to be sure when the Gulf cartel gained the power over the city that it has now; it didn’t happen in a single blow, reporters said. Most traced the change to three or four years ago. Before then, the cartel ran a kind of parallel government from which it strongly influenced institutions such as the police and the city government. Reynosa Mayor Oscar Luebbert Gutiérrez did not respond to written questions submitted by CPJ, but journalists say the cartel is fully embedded in the government and gets nearly whatever it wants. “

Journalists are not allowed to print stories without the cartel’s consent first. The cartel even has its own Website where it publishes stories that are okay to cover under its guidelines  (They don’t print the site’s url, though.)  There is a gun battle nearly every day in Reynosa, yet they largely go unreported by the media who have been threatened or killed for reporting on the violence.

“The editor said journalists also know what it means to go against the cartel. “They will abduct you; they will torture you for hours; they will kill you, and then dismember you. And your family will always be waiting for you to come home.” In a chilling illustration of the traffickers’ brutal enforcement methods, three Reynosa journalists disappeared in March and are now feared dead. Colleagues said the three could have done something to anger either the Gulf cartel or the Zetas, or have gotten caught up in the warfare by doing favors for one of the groups.”

The situation is so bad, according to journalist Melissa del Bosque, that gangs even hijacked trucks and used them to block the local Mexican Army base, effectively sealing troops inside to prevent them from intervening in a battle in Reynosa between rival cartels wielding assault rifles and grenades.

And that’s right across the bridge from the US city of McAllen, Texas.

Mexican President Profirio Diaz once famously said “Poor Mexico. So far from God and so close to the United States.” Nowadays he might phrase it “Pobre Mexico – y triste Reynosa!”

RELATED: Reynosa and McAllen feature in an excellent book I read recently, Robert Lee Maril’s “Patrolling Chaos.” Professor Maril spent the better part of two years riding with the agents of the Border Patrol station in McAllen and studying its operations. Far from being a dry academic work, it’s fascinating reading with compelling portraits of the people and the area. I plan to do a fuller review soon, but, for now, take this as a strong recommendation for anyone interested in border issues, illegal immigration, the Border Patrol itself, and Deep South Texas in general.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)