In the border region of south Texas, Laredo in particular, the landscape is dry and dusty most of the year. Between San Antonio and Laredo it is about 150 miles. There a lot of pretty big ranches that offer deer hunting privileges and there have been a few Hollywood movies shot in the area. The first one that comes to mind is the new movie about the Alamo. Billy Bob Thornton was the star. There are a lot of plants in that area that will stick you and ruin your day.
The population gets increasingly more ethnic the further south you go on I 35s. The closer you get to Mexico, the more Latinos you encounter. Shipping is a main stay industry in Laredo. There are trucking terminals all over and there are 4 or 5 different bridges that will take you into Mexico all from I 35s. The other end of I 35 is the Canadian border at Duluth, Minn. This story is about the Mexican border.
Nuevo Laredo sits directly across the Rio Grande River from downtown Laredo. There are 2 bridges that allow you to walk over to Mexico or bring you back out. It’s a famously porous international border that, given the shared culture of people on the two sides, has always seemed seriously smudged. The US Border Patrol has a very large presence on the Texas side. Even with all the BP, the drugs are still smuggled across at an alarming rate. I once sat on the side of a hill looking down at the BP cut a Chevrolet Suburban into little pieces in the search for drugs. It did not take the BP long to find the contraband.
Nuevo Laredo has a problem. There are several gangs that are attempting to control the flow north of the drugs and the flow south of the money made selling the drugs. Lawlessness is the order of the day. Few countries could be as different as the United States and Mexico these days. The critical nature of that difference takes hold as soon as a southbound traveler sets a foot — and it had better be a cautious foot — past the border formalities. In Nuevo Laredo, the walls of many homes and government buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes. Some have high concrete walls, four inches thick, in front of their property — protection against grenades and assault weapons. Nuevo Laredo hasn’t had a police chief in two years. The last one quit in fear of his life after only three months in office. The one before that was shot and killed in broad daylight after seven hours on the job.
Up the river in Juarez, across from El Paso, about 1,200 people have been murdered thus far this year, and the total could hit 1,500. The brutality of many of the murders is stunning. Newspaper headlines announce decapitations, people being burned alive or tortured to death, mass murders. In early November, a headless body was hung from an overpass over the city’s main road.
This violence is pretty much the same from California to Texas along the border. The drug cartels are fighting with each other and the Mexican government. This is no longer the drug war that has chugged along for decades along this border, where there was always violence, but where headlines were more likely to be about the size of drug shipments seized or the latest local Customs or Border Patrol agent found to be in cahoots with the smugglers. Nor is American involvement any longer limited simply (and profoundly) to providing the market for drugs that makes the whole narco trafficking world possible, or to low-level corruption of the occasional border cop. The level of power of the Mexican drug cartels is completely out of control, and nothing the U.S. and Mexican governments are doing seems to be working to slow it down.
Instead, the money generated by the sale of drugs in this country is so impossibly vast that corruption in local Mexican police forces, the Mexican military, and even the federal government is at the saturation point — and many times more lucrative, not to mention healthier, than staying honest. The drug gangs are now recruiting and killing people on the U.S. side of the border, and murders and corruption are on the rise in towns from El Paso to Brownsville. Unless something changes quickly, it looks as though things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Already, the Mexican side of the border has become such a horror show that many Americans will find it difficult to comprehend, no matter how many movies about it they have seen. The transformation of Mexico into a drugocracy is nearly complete, with no institution completely free from its influence, including the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
Many of the most murderous units of the drug armies know very well how to use those weapons because they were taught by the U.S. military — on the assumption that they were going to fight against the cartels. Now they fight for the cartels — or control them. What’s more, American corporations are getting into the act, working under contract with the Mexican and U.S. governments to train specialized soldiers, including in torture techniques, and to act as private security agents on both sides of the border, a prospect that is as chilling to some as the drug lords themselves.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon came to power in 2006 vowing to eliminate the drug scourge and its attendant violence. George W. Bush’s administration handed over hundreds of millions to help with that quest. But all that’s happened since Calderon took office, despite his efforts, is that the violence and corruption have increased. It’s not just the death toll that’s up; robberies, extortions, and kidnappings are on the rise as well. Some Mexicans are having ID chips inserted under the skin to help authorities locate them in case they are kidnapped. More than a little of the people of Nuevo Laredo have moved into Texas and some have moved as far as Minneapolis.
The firepower of the cartels is as frightening as their ruthlessness. Where do they get their weapons? From Texas and other border states, where the gun lobbies have kept the gun laws weak. Texas is considered to be the number-one supplier of weapons to the cartels.
But their artillery goes beyond anything found at your local gun shop. The cartels have M-16s, hand grenades, and grenade launchers — that is, U.S. military weapons, by the truckload.
Law enforcement in Laredo and the Border Patrol are out gunned in every way imaginable.
Part one of a multi part post.
¡yo soy Horsedooty!