On the Brink

For scenery it’s hard to beat a twelve mile stretch of road along the Rio Grande outside the Texas border town del Rio. There’s one problem. It’s a favorite crossing point for illegal immigrants trying to reach the U.S. They usually succeed but not always. The climb down to the river isn’t easy, and the current can be swift. There’s an occasional drowning. The National Guard greet most of the crossers and detain them for the Border Patrol.

The area is a special project of Texas Governor Greg Abbott to show he is serious about border control. His Abbott fence is now completed along the route. It’s not a thirty-foot-high Trump affair, only ten feet with razor wire on top. Migrants have cut holes in it with shears and are sometimes able to scale it. But Sergeant Alejandro Moy says it has helped his competent National Guard team to apprehend those crossing.

Sergeant Alejandro Moy

Between the fence and the migrants are the homeowners who pay a price in insecurity for their splendid setting on the river. They can expect daily visits from weary, bedraggled migrants wondering where to go next. Barking dogs alert them to the newcomers who may just be passing through or ask for some food.

Sometimes they want more. Diane Schroeder, a watchful resident, says she once had to save a horse from a migrant intent on transportation. Nelson Puo, a retired Border Patrol officer, caught a couple of migrants trying to make off with his refrigerator. He handed them over to the Border Patrol. He says every day he has to be on the look-out. It’s steady work, though good fishing is a compensation.

In effect, like it or not, the del Rio homeowners are a front-line defense against this southern invasion. Their equivalent are the large ranchers on the Arizona border whose property is violated at night by cartel groups clad in black and well-armed. But the ranchers have the advantage of distance. The interlopers steer clear of the ranch house to avoid a shootout. There’s no distance between the Rio Homeowners and their invaders who are closer than neighbors and not as well intentioned. Like the National Guard the residents have guns but cannot fire them unless fired on.

Still, they cope. Doughty Diane Schroeder is not put off by a glimpse of an armed black clad cartel boss giving orders on the opposite riverbank. Her husband, a truck driver, heard a noise outside one night with the dogs barking. When he opened the door with his gun, two trespassers flung themselves on the ground, pleading, “Don’t shoot!” He didn’t, to be sure, and learned that they were not trying to escape from Mexico but to return to it. Apparently, they had made a drug delivery and were going back to make another. Instead, they were turned over to the Border Patrol.

Diane Schroeder

Despite occasional shots from across the river and a lot of unwelcome visitors, the Rio residents seem determined to stay where they are. “This is America,” says Nelson Puo. “Why would I have to move out?” It’s a testament to the Texans that their property values have gone up from $7000 a lot to $10,000. If the migrants continue to come, so may the Texans. It’s a standoff.

The Other War

The war in Ukraine is brutal and destructive with a Russia determined to prevail at whatever the cost. The U.S. is not involved except on the periphery by sending military aid to Ukraine, yet evidence is mounting that it was more engaged than assumed in the build-up to the war. The CIA and special operations were giving advice and training to the Ukrainians. A number of biological research labs with leftover Soviet weapons were under U.S. supervision. If as seems likely, Russia finally overcomes the stalwart Ukrainian defense, Hilary Clinton, among others, predicts an insurgency to follow, modeled on the one that defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan some thirty years ago.

If so, it doesn’t seem likely that U.S. attention will turn any time soon to the other war on its border which from almost any point of view is far more threatening to the country. The ambitious, heavily armed, well organized drug cartels make no secret of their aim to fleece the U.S. and ultimately cripple it. That would be revenge, some say, for the U.S. grab of half of Mexico in the 1840’s war. Their tools are the endless drugs and unknown people they pour across the broken U.S. border without let-up. They’re also expanding their illegal and highly profitable marijuana farms in California and Oregon, again with no serious resistance. Their operatives can be found throughout the U.S. directing drug distribution and billions of dollars in payments to helpful hands.

In the past they have tried to avoid harming Americans while ruthlessly murdering Mexicans who get in their way or, frankly, just for the fun of it. But that seems to be changing. Recently, some cartel gunmen opened fire on the U.S. consulate in the border city Nuevo Laredo, apparently in revenge for the arrest of one of their chiefs. No one was hit, but the U.S. took people and families out of the consulate with the ambassador to Mexico expressing “grave concern” to its government.

Cartel Map by Region of Influence, Stratfor Global Intelligence

That followed the usual script that Mexico is a sovereign country with an inviolate border – at least on its side – when in fact it’s a narco state run by the drug cartels who will no doubt dismiss the ambassador’s plea. It might be asked why the U.S is willing to have Russians killed while sparing the cartels. Are they any less threatening or evil? Former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr is alarmed at the size of the threat. In a recent TV interview he recalled a Mexican attempt to arrest a cartel boss that was thwarted by 700 cartel para military troops with machine guns mounted on trucks. He sees a “president down there who believes in hugs, not bullets and has lost control of the country. And we have no control over that territory and no control of the border.”

The U.S. may not believe in hugs but its reaction has not been a great deal more strenuous. The obvious solution is to put U.S. troops, now scattered in dubious activities around the world, on the embattled border where they can confront the cartels and if necessary cross the border to pursue them in what is a lawless land. Are Americans, increasingly poisoned by Mexican fentanyl disguised as drugs of common usage, not as deserving as Ukrainians? In a year’s time 100 thousand Americans have died in this manner.

Then there are the Mexicans who live in a slaughterhouse almost totally ignored by the U.S. media. For example, the cartels are in the habit of raiding funerals of rivals or other offenders where their targets are sure to show up. After a recent attack in the town of San Jose de Gracia, the number of victims couldn’t be determined since the gunmen cleaned up afterwards and removed the bodies. Maybe seventeen, and had they been dismembered or skinned alive?

A war for the liberation of Mexico is not in the offing, but a resolute U.S. stand on the border would be a start.

Bullets Along the Beaches

Come enjoy our beautiful beaches, sparkling waters, lively bars, fabulous food, and picturesque towns, boast the tourist ads for Mexico. All too true, but one activity is conspicuous in its absence from the promotion – shootings courtesy of the drug cartels.

They are on the rise in the vacation wonderland along the Caribbean in the state of Quintana Roo. In late January shootings killed two Canadian tourists in a five-star hotel in Playa del Carmen. Close by a few days later a beachfront bar manager was murdered. In December a group of men riding ski jets opened fire on a beach at Cancun, killing a drug dealer and wounding four tourists. In November visitors in Puerto Morelos were locked in their hotel rooms as gunmen opened fire on the beach, killing two people. In October an attack in a bar in Tulum left two tourists dead, one of them a U.S. travel promoter.

Homicides have dramatically increased along the beaches as tourism has risen. Where people congregate so do drugs for use and sale. The cartels arrive to pick up some loose change along with their massive U.S. profits and violence is sure to follow. Its minor compared to the mayhem elsewhere in Mexico, but important enough for the U.S. State Department to issue a warning about travel in the region. The CDC had added its own alert to the high incidence of Covid 19 in Mexico.

Armed guard with bathers on the beach. Photo by: Business Insider

Politics have played a part in the crime wave. Elections were recently held for mayor and police chief in various towns along the coast. That meant that cartels were going to have to make new arrangements with authorities to continue to operate. It also has led to renewed violent competition among the cartels for the best location at beaches, bars, and casinos.

Foreign gangsters from Russia – where else? – and Romania have joined the action, concentrating mainly on money laundering and sex trafficking. A Romanian boss who used to enjoy a cozy relationship with top Mexican officials has been caught and imprisoned, but crime fighters caution that his operation continues to function. As in the case of the local cartels, removing the man at the top hardly matters. He is quickly replaced given the money involved.

Hardy visitors to the beaches can take comfort in the fact that the cartels don’t wish them harm. They are business and killings are bad publicity. The international media is indifferent to the endless murder of Mexicans, but foreigners are another matter. Hands off. The cartels get the picture. Accidents can happen despite their best efforts of killing only their own. Bullets can go wrong. But it also should be kept in mind that there are limits to cartel patience with intruders, however innocent, on their domain. Occasionally bullets are a warning. Don’t forget who is in charge here.

Meanwhile, adventurous travelers can enjoy the reasonable prices and spectacular setting of Quintana Roo. With a little caution like not criticizing drug cartels while drinking in a bar or harassing the armed guards who mingle with tourists on the beach, it can be a fun vacation.


Reckoning in Tijuana

Mexico is not at war, but its people can hardly tell the difference. Cartel violence is an equivalent, racking up one of the world’s highest homicide rates and killing more journalists than any other place on earth, nine last year and more the fifty since 2018. So far this year, three have been killed for their courage to report the doings of the drug cartels which virtually control Mexico and brook no opposition. The penalty is invariably death.

The question is how the journalists manage to carry on, but they know their work is vital since no other country. including the U.S., takes much interest in what they face. Mexico’s overwhelming violence is studiously ignored while media and government attention is focused on the possibility of violence half a globe away in Ukraine. It’s a close ally, we’re told. But what is neighboring Mexico?

Three years ago, Mexican President Lopez Obrador held a press conference in Tijuana, especially susceptible to violence. Reporter Lourdes Maldonado Lopez told him, “I fear for my life “, referring to a dispute she had with a former employer, the boss of a media outlet and a top regional politician – read drug cartel. The president said he would investigate. That didn’t prevent her from being shot to death in her car in Tijuana in January.

Lourdes Maldonado Lopez. Photo by: BBC News

On learning of this, the president said – not very accurately – he hadn’t been aware of any likely violence. But then his policy has been one of forbearance toward the cartels. He says he looks forward to an era of good feelings: “we must purify public life so that materialism doesn’t dominate us, so that ambition, ego and hate are set aside.” But are the cartels listening?

To pacify whatever critics may exist across the border, Mexico has established a protection program for endangered journalists, including a panic button for emergencies. None of this helped Lopez in her hour of need, but then was it meant to? The cartels decide who lives or dies in Mexico.

Earlier in January, photo newsman Margarito Martinez, who covered crime in Tijuana, was shot and killed after numerous threats on his life, and reporter Jose Luis Gamboa, who connected local authorities with organized crime, was stabbed and left dying on a street in Veracruz state. The killers are hardly ever caught, much less put on trial. After all, they’re working for the state – the drug cartels.

We can imagine the uproar if this many journalists were killed in the U.S. Yet Mexico is right next door. Perhaps the same attitude prevails as it does on the border. Drugs are allowed to pour across, in particular fentanyl which can kill by overdose or by any dose since it’s regularly laced to other drugs that can be swallowed unaware.

Someone is benefiting from this extraordinary pillage. Along with drugs, many billions in drug money spread around the U.S. If those who profit care little for the American lives lost to drugs – 100 thousand a year – why should they care about Mexicans? American eyes, currently fixated on distant Ukraine, should turn south, and focus on the genuine U.S. enemy, the drug cartels.

Border Crisis 1

Texas Governor Greg Abbott calls the town of Roma the “hottest spot” on the border. With reason. The increasingly aggressive drug cartels are now shooting across the river in the direction of the Border Patrol who are not allowed to fire back. So far no one has been hit, but if he is?

The cartels who basically control the Mexican side of the border like to taunt the Border Patrol and see how far they can go. We’re told they harbor political ambitions beyond drug profits. Time to avenge the Mexican War of the 1840’s when half of their country was lost to the U.S.?  The cartels are sufficiently ruthless, organized and wealthy beyond dreams of avarice to act on their ambition.

Photo by www.latimes.com

Their presence is felt in Roma and across the Rio Grande – the border – in the Mexican town Miguel Aleman. Having paid $10 thousand or more to the cartels or forced to carry their drugs to reach Roma, desperate migrants can be spotted daily. The river is shallow and easily crossed, and there are not enough border guards to be constantly on the watch.

“They come night and day,” says an employee at Jack in Box close to the river. Nothing special, she says. It’s just routine. “It’s easy to hide here,” says a saleswoman at the Dollar Store nearby. Migrants will duck behind the many tables of merchandise. The Border Patrol comes searching for them in a continual game of hide and seek

Some of the newcomers don’t even have to wade into the water. They try to cross the bridge from Aleman. They can be very inventive, says a U.S Customs agent on the bridge. “We get everything.”

The governor has sent the National Guard to the border, but they are unarmed and cannot detain the immigrants. They can only call the Border Patrol who may arrive too late to make an arrest. To keep bad news away, Border Patrol agents are told not to talk to outsiders like reporters. Please go to my superior, one will say, and the superior says the same all the way up to where? The White House? Out on the road, maybe a very dusty road, the BP tends to open up. They have a job to do and are doing it as best they can.

Miguel Aleman is a brisk sunny walk across the bridge from Roma. It’s quite similar to other Mexican border towns – colorful facades of shops that line the streets, lively people at work and play, and an abiding sense of poverty with the continuing background hum of drug cartel control. The town has been the center of a violent dispute between the Zetas and Gulf cartels with dead bodies appearing from time to time.

 A group of undocumented immigrants wade across the Rio Grande at the U.S.-Mexico border in Roma, Texas. (credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

But Americans still arrive for good dentistry at a third of the cost back home. All kinds of other goods, respectable or not, are on sale at bargain prices. Is it safe to come and buy? Yes, provided you stick to your purchases and don’t go out of your way to antagonize anyone, especially a cartel member

A resident says that these days you don’t have to worry just about the cartels but also their imitators. Cartel violence is contagious and others have picked up the habit without the cartels’ more astute strategy. The cartels don’t like this, but they have only themselves to blame.

There are a few rather dowdy hotels in town which fill up with illegals on their way across the river. I’m told the cartels have also removed the town planting along the Rio in order to make a speedy getaway for migrants headed for Roma.

As Roma goes, it seems, so goes the border

A Drug Cartel Bonanza

Apparently, the Mexican drug cartels, masters of the border, were taken unawares by the Haitian surge to the U.S. But have no fear. The cartels quickly adjusted, and it looked as if they had planned the whole event themselves.The congestion of some 15 thousand Haitians at the border town of Del Rio drew under manned U.S. Border Patrol from other ports of entry that were then open to an invasion of cartel drugs – a clear bonanza. They could only agree with American progressives: the more immigration the better.

Soldiers unload bundles of seized marijuana before incinerating the drugs at a military base in Tijuana, Mexico. Photo by wired.com

How other Americans may react to the increased fentanyl coming across the border is another matter. A record 92,183 Americans died from an overdose of drugs in 2020, largely attributable to fentanyl, deadly even in tiny bits which make them easier to smuggle. They are insidious. NBC News reports a young woman at Arizona State University who swallowed an oxycodone pill for pain that turned out to be laced with a lethal amount of fentanyl.

The Border Patrol cannot cope because there are not enough of them. Some 600 agents were moved from Laredo, Texas, upriver to Del Rio. Abandoning Laredo, the largest point of entry to Mexico, meant loss of control of the border. The cartels caught on and began furnishing buses to bring still more migrants to Del Rio.

There are long stretches of the 2000 mile border which are unprotected. One can spend a good part of the day going back and forth between the two countries without being detected. Clear sailing for the cartels who operate mainly at night. Even the projected wall, if completed, would be only a partial deterrence. There would still be significant gaps to be exploited by the cartels. 

The solution is more manpower, e.g., U.S. troops protecting this country along with all its patrons abroad. They need to have the power to enforce the law, and if cartels make trouble on the U.S. side of the border, they should be able to pursue them if necessary into Mexico.

The U.S. media is understandably sympathetic to the plight of migrants but tends to overlook a main reason for their flight – the violence around them, mostly due to the cartels. Despite the inroads made by billionaire George Soros in financing prosecutors who don’t prosecute, the U.S. remains much safer than nations to the south. The best way to make life better for their people and to stop their coming to in great waves to the U.S. is to curb the power of the cartels. Fewer drugs means less violence. This entails greater care for the addicted here whose depression is not helped by media hysteria over one thing or another. A suitable calm is prescribed which is better for everyone.

What If the U.S. and Mexico Were One?

Visiting the town of McAllen in southern Texas, you may think you’re in Mexico. Everyone speaks Spanish in a town considered to be 90 per cent Hispanic, and that may underestimate. There’s no sign of fear of any kind as people contentedly go about their business in a bustling community.

That’s the north side of the U.S.-Mexican border. To the south it’s a different matter. Even by Mexican standards, the city of of Reynosa is violent, reflecting near total drug cartel control. No racial divide – a crime divide. Migrants are now piling up in the city, waiting their turn to cross the border under the supervision of the cartels who charge heavily for the privilege of entering the U.S. Cartel approval is the passport.

The cartel chiefs are as careful about people coming as going. Look-outs are posted on top of buildings to monitor everyone who enters. Any possible trouble makers are going to have trouble. A manager of the Fairfield Inn in McAllen has a grandmother in Reynosa who pays a lawyer with cartel contacts to remain safe, a cartel tax. The manger would like to visit her but doesn’t dare. She says she would be trapped in a cartel financial web from which there’s no escape.

Genuine solutions for this impasse are in short supply – two utterly contrasting nations with governments that couldn’t be farther apart. That said, a startling cure was once proposed during the U.S. war against Mexico in the 1840’s. Ambitious imperialists urged taking all of Mexico instead of just half, as it turned out. This would be best for both countries, they said, a greater U.S., a better governed Mexico.

Other Americans were aghast, abolitionists and slaveholders alike. Popular U.S. Senator Henry Clay asked: “Does any considerate man believe it possible that two such immense countries with populations so incongruous, so different in race, in languages, in religion and in laws could be blended together in one harmonious mass and happily governed by one common authority?”

But with U.S. troops in Mexico City, some prominent Mexicans asked them to stay and offered $1.2 million to victorious general Winfield Scott to assume the presidency of Mexico along with its annexation to the U.S. Observers at the time said many Mexicans agreed. But war weary Americans weren’t buying it. They wanted to go home and forget an unpopular war.

What if the improbable had occurred and Mexico joined the U.S.? There would be no border today and no cartels since U.S. law enforcement would extend to Mexico. A more genuine Mexico could emerge from cartel rule. It’s true the U.S. would have become more culturally diverse with attendant problems, but including more gradations between black and white might have softened extremes and, as in other countries, led to the abolition of slavery without the vastly destructive Civil War which still reverberates today.