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Mexico drug crimes leave border at odds

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  • Steven L. Robinson
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2009
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      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,"
      agreed another.

      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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