Mexico drug crimes leave border at odds
Fort Hancock residents don't like the fence, but value security
By Dudley Althaus
Houston Chronicle Mexico City Bureau
Feb. 28, 2009, 10:15PM
Fort Hancock - Gale Carr and his neighbors farm thousands of acres of cotton
and chile peppers on America's fortified frontier, across a trickling Rio
Grande from what's been called Mexico's Valley of the Beheaded.
The bedlam and drug violence gripping Mexico has reached down even into the
once somnolent villages bordering Fort Hancock, where Carr and thousands of
others in the high desert find themselves in the trenches of turmoil.
"You have mass killing over there," Carr, 42, said as he drove through
seed-ready fields fringed and sometimes fractured by the new U.S. border
fence. "You feel sorry for them."
The violence has claimed more than 1,000 lives in Mexico so far this year,
U.S. and Mexican officials said. About half have been killed in Chihuahua
state, which borders West Texas, and many of those in Ciudad Juarez and the
villages downstream from it.
The police chief and five of his officers were kidnapped from a community
near Carr's 3,000-acre farm a few weeks ago. Their detached heads turned up
for days afterward, bearing threats against others.
Then, a handful of people were killed last weekend in Porvenir, the village
that's closest to Carr's cotton fields. Talk ran of a list of 30 local
residents marked for death. Hundreds of Mexicans lucky enough to have U.S.
passports or visas streamed through the border post, seeking refuge.
Things will get worse
President Felipe Calderon insisted to an interviewer last week that Mexico
is not a failed state and that he is winning the war. He ordered 5,000
additional soldiers into the Juarez area, reinforcing the 2,000 already
there. "It's either them or us," he said.
Yet, things most likely will get worse before they get better.
"There is no indication that the situation will improve in the near future,"
the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez noted in a new warning for Americans to
avoid Porvenir and elsewhere south of the border.
The Rio Grande, a few yards wide and often no deeper than a man's knees,
flows through this stretch of high desert 55 miles southeast of the El
Paso/Ciudad Juarez metroplex. Smugglers have gone through here - drugs and
people flowing north, guns south - as long as the river's been a boundary.
When he was a boy, Carr and his friends played in the stream and skipped
over to Porvenir to watch movies or flirt with the girls in the plaza. But
that was when the border was a region, not a rampart.
Now the new American fence blocks the river bank. And Carr and others in
Fort Hancock haven't crossed the short bridge to Mexico in years.
"Not on a dare," said one of the farmers at the town's cafe. "Not on a bet,"
Call for more troops
Gov. Rick Perry last week called for another 1,000 troops to guard the West
Texas border. Arvin West, the sheriff of Hudspeth County, which includes
Fort Hancock, flew to Washington seeking more federal aid for his 15-deputy
But despite the violence south of the river, Carr and other residents say
they don't particularly fear the gangsters.
Indeed, they suggest they're as much under the U.S. government's occupation
as its protection. Many resent the border fence and view the bolstered
Border Patrol detachment, which has swelled from 19 agents to more than
200 - with disdain.
"Almost America," they say of Fort Hancock, a village of about 1,700 souls.
"There's really a strong conflict between our security concerns and our
personal rights," said Carr, who served with the Army in Germany when the
Berlin Wall collapsed.
"When you give up liberty for security, you lose both and gain nothing," he
said, paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin.
For all the crime in Hudspeth County - 90 percent of arrests are connected
to the drug trade - the last murder here was more than three years ago.
"If it weren't for the border, this would be Mayberry," Sheriff West said.
Still, threats lurk.
The county made international news three years ago when sheriff's deputies
faced off with smugglers - some of them wearing Mexican army uniforms and
driving a military Humvee - whose marijuana load had got stuck in the river
downstream from Fort Hancock.
Hit squad suspected
At least five Fort Hancock residents have been killed south of the river or
simply disappeared in the past several years, Chief Deputy Mike Doyal said.
Sheriff's deputies recently scrambled on reports that a drug gang hit squad
crossed the river.
"Twenty years ago, I would never have imagined I'd be sitting here talking
about hit squads and military incursions," Doyal said. "In the last seven or
eight years this border has changed drastically."
Carr said the killings across the river have forced him to rethink his own
resentments toward the fence.
"At first, I was very much against it," he said. "But if they have a civil
war over there, maybe it has value."
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