TERROR PLAGUES BORDER
CORRUPTION, KIDNAPPING, CRIME RUINING TEXAS TOWN
By Richard Walker
Residents of Laredo on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande are experiencing terror, and it is not coming from Arab revolutionary groups but from Mexican criminals and drug cartels, one of them comprised of former members of Mexico’s special forces.
In Laredo, a city of 250,000, which has seen massive growth through cross-border trade over the past decade, there is a real fear that there are insufficient federal and local law enforcement personnel to protect Americans living there.
In recent years, aside from violent home invasions by illegal aliens and the spread of narco-trafficking by Mexican drug lords, the Laredo area has seen a spate of kidnappings followed by ransom demands and the disappearance of several dozen of its citizens.
Time and again, the Border Patrol there has warned Washington that neighboring Nuevo Laredo, which is just across the Mexican border, has been the source of violence and illicit drug running that has spread to Laredo and as far as Dallas.
To make matters worse, until a month ago, the DEA and the FBI had made it plain to lawmakers in Congress and in Texas that the entire Nuevo Laredo police force was in the pay of the drug cartels, especially the Zetas, a bloodthirsty group of heavily armed ex-Mexican special forces officers.
The Zetas made their mark along the Gulf of Mexico, waging gun battles with their rival, the Juarez Cartel. According to the FBI, which has been tracking Zeta hit men in the United States, the Zetas’ expertise is in assassination and moving drugs from Mexico into United States.
For the people of Laredo, the most frightening dimension to the violence that has engulfed their region has been the kidnapping of U.S. citizens, who are taken across the border into Nuevo Laredo, some of them never to reappear.
Official figures confirm that, in the past year alone, 30 to 40 Americans have been kidnapped or murdered on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, in the vicinity of Nuevo Laredo.
Traditionally, the half-million inhabitants of Nuevo Laredo depended heavily on tourism from Texas, but with the arrival of the drug gangs and criminals from Mexico City, U.S. citizens have stayed away. As a result, the economic damage to ordinary shopkeepers has been considerable.
From a Border Patrol perspective, the real issue is that Nuevo Laredo poses a potent threat to U.S. security because of what could be hidden in the 10,000 trucks that daily carry goods across the border into the United States.
In early June, Mexican President Vicente Fox, under pressure from Washington, agreed that Nuevo Laredo had to be “cleaned up.” However, he failed to give immediate authorization to his security people to do that, and on June 8 a new police chief in the border town was assassinated.
Mexican agents from the Agencia Federal de Investigacion, AFI, the equivalent of the FBI, were dispatched to Nuevo Laredo to investigate the murder. However, when they arrived in the center of the town, they were stopped at a roadblock by local police, one of whom shot one of the AFI agents in the chest, claiming he had gone for his gun. As it turned out, the AFI agent who was shot was not even armed at the time.
Following the shooting, some 1,000 Mexican troops, special forces and scores of Mexican federal agents moved into Nuevo Laredo and sealed it off. Forty police officers were arrested and questioned about the assassination of the police chief and the shooting of the federal agent.
Those actions were followed by the arrest and questioning of all 700 members of the town’s police force. During the opening hours of the clean-up, Mexican troops found 43 kidnap victims in several different houses. Most of them were members of drug cartels.
That effectively dashed the hopes of American families who had prayed their loved ones would be freed when the town was liberated. No one was more shattered than William Slemaker, who had been holding out hope from September 2004 that his stepdaughter, Yvette Martinez, 27, and her friend, Brenda Cisneros, would be found. They had simply vanished on a trip to Nuevo Laredo and, unlike other kidnap victims, no ransom demands were ever received from their kidnappers.
Violence is a way of life in northern Mexican border towns, and much of that can be attributed to drug cartels and the movement of illegal aliens by organized crime syndicates.
According to the Border Patrol the fault lies with Mexico’s traditionally corrupt police force and judiciary.
The scale of the drug business can be seen in the fact that in four years there has been a 74 percent increase in the seizure of methamphetamine shipments at the border.
For some time, the Border Patrol, desperately in need of more staff, has highlighted the need to tighten security. For example, for years there has been a steady flow of illegals from Nuevo Laredo to the interstate that leads straight to Houston. In 2004, staff from Mexico’s immigration organization, the National Migration Institute, confirmed that among undocumented immigrants interviewed by them were people from China and eastern European countries as well as from Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, Guatemala, Venezuela, El Salvador and Honduras.
The range of countries appeared to indicate the presence of organized crime in moving people into the United States from many parts of the world, using the Mexican border. On July 19, the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition met in Houston to express anger at the U.S. federal government’s failure to secure the border.
The group was highly critical of what it called the “catch and release program” whereby illegals are taken into custody and immediately released when it is established that they are not involved in terrorism. From the coalition’s standpoint, illegals taken into custody should also be subjected to criminal background checks and should be tested to ensure they are not carriers of infectious diseases.
(Issue #31, August 1, 2005)