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Increasing Danger on the U.S.-Mexican Border

4 MINS READJun 14, 2005 | 22:30 GMT
More than 100 Mexican military and police forces guard a prison in Nuevo Laredo during a security task to conduct a search operation inside the institution for arms, drug and other unauthorized items on Jan. 31, 2005.
(RAUL LLAMAS/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 100 Mexican military and police forces guard a prison in Nuevo Laredo during a security task to conduct a search operation inside the institution for arms, drug and other unauthorized items on Jan. 31, 2005.

Mexican President Vicente Fox ordered Mexican army troops and federal agents to detain all 700 officers of the Nuevo Laredo police force June 13 and assume policing duties in the town, just across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas. The move, which came in response to a breakdown of law and order in the city, will be extended to other border towns, authorities said.

The move is indicative of the serious deterioration in security along the U.S.-Mexican border. Assailants killed Nuevo Laredo Police chief Alejandro Dominguez on June 8, just nine hours after he took over the job. Dominquez was not accompanied by a personal protection detail at the time, meaning he was either arrogant, naive about crime in the city, or under the protection of one of the city's criminal gangs who then betrayed him. One of Nuevo Laredo's many drug cartels might have killed him to make the statement that the cartels, not the police, control the city. A federal investigation of Dominguez's killing caused tensions to rise between federal officers and local police, and on June 10 shooting erupted between the two groups, leaving a plainclothes federal agent wounded.

In Chihuahua city, capital of the border state of Chihuahua, three gunmen assassinated the operations chief of police on June 13. Corrupt police, growing anti-U.S. sentiment in Mexico and a war raging between rival drug gangs have made the border increasingly dangerous for U.S. citizens and corporations. Mexican National Police reported 550 drug-related homicides in Mexico in the first five months of 2005, most of them occurring in towns along the border. In Nuevo Laredo alone, more than 60 killings related to organized crime have occurred, seven police officers among them. Nuevo Laredo is a battleground for several rival drug gangs, most notably the Juarez Cartel, the Tijuana Cartel, a cartel from western Sinaloa state, and the Gulf Cartel from Matamoros. As the cartels battled over turf, they have infiltrated Nuevo Laredo's police force and placed corrupt police officers on their payrolls.

With drug wars raging on both sides of the border — and law and order broken down in Nuevo Laredo to the point in which the army has been sent in — the U.S.-Mexican border has become a dangerous place.

Growing anti-U.S. sentiment in Mexico, stoked by election-year rhetoric and negative publicity over a group of American vigilantes that organized its own border patrol in Arizona, also contributes to a dangerous situation for Americans on the border. To further complicate the situation, the so-called Minutemen are soon to expand their activities from Arizona into New Mexico and Texas. In one sign of the increasing anti-U.S. sentiment, officials in the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali recently revoked permission for U.S. corporations to bring U.S. security details into the country, saying security must be provided by Mexicans.

The city officials invoked a federal law against such practices, although U.S. embassy officials who contacted the Mexican government on behalf of U.S. corporations were unable to verify the existence of such a law. In any case, if the law does exist, it was not enforced before mid-May. Many U.S. firms with dealings in Mexico are now scrambling to find trustworthy Mexican companies to provide security for their personnel. Few Mexican security firms, however, meet U.S. standards. These companies consist of former police officers or off-duty officers who possibly continue to maintain corrupt relationships with organized crime. At the same time, Mexico offers no reliable process for conducting background checks on these officers, suggesting that the only way to ensure reliable security is to develop a personal relationship with a local firm over time.

In the meantime, U.S. corporate personnel are facing a higher risk of falling victim to crime in Mexico. American tourists visiting U.S. border cities also are facing increased threats. Dozens of reports have appeared over the past 18 months of U.S. citizens going missing in Mexico during short trips across the border. With the increase in activity by drug gangs, many of the missing likely ran afoul of organized crime. Mexican police so far have proven ineffective at solving the disappearances. With drug wars raging on both sides of the border — and law and order broken down in Nuevo Laredo to the point in which the army has been sent in — the U.S.-Mexican border has become a dangerous place.

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