Border Town Security Questioned
U.S. travelers warned
By Logan Hawkes
A rash of crimes in recent years directed against U.S. visitors to Texas-Mexican border towns has raised concerns over personal safety for the thousands of Americans who cross international bridges daily to shop local markets, visit medical/dental clinics or enjoy the culture and flavors of Mexico.
2017 TRAVEL UPDATE
U.S. Embassy in Mexico City Issues Travel Warning to Texas-Mexico border cities,
Since Dec. 2016, a new travel has been issued in an email bulletin from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, a travel warning for U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico, especially the U.S.-Mexico border region. This new travel bulletin replaces the travel warning issued in Dec. of 2015 and according to the bulletin the travel warning to Mexican border cities will continue until further notice. This new travel warning mirrors those previously issued and expresses concerns for U.S. citizens crossing the border to these locations.
As a special note to this bulletin, the editors and publishers of wintertexansonline express their sadness and regret that such a travel warning need be issued as we have for many years successfully traveled extensively throughout Mexico, including to many of these border cities, and count many residents and business associates there as friends. Our heart and well wishes go out them as they continue to struggle with social problems, including moderate to high dangers related to criminal activity.
While we continue to do business in Mexico and express our friendship with the citizens of this region, we feel it our duty to state the reality of the potential dangers that exist to travel to the worst of these areas, namely the citizens and micro-regions in the area where criminal activity tends to take place more intently, and violently. We would also like to point out that not every city and not every neighborhood is awash in crime and violence, so when deciding whether to travel or not to travel to border areas should be a personal decision after weighing all the possibilities. We neither recommend or condemn travel to specific areas, but we do advice everyone to consider the risks and take the necessary precautions to ensure safe conduct and passage if you choose to visit border areas.
Here are the details as related to us and collected from multiple sources, including U.S. and Mexican government officials and agencies, local residents on both sides of the border, and individuals, like us, who conduct business on both sides of the border and maintain business relationships with individuals and companies across the border.
According to the official U.S. State Department Travel Warning issued in December 2016:
"U.S. government personnel are prohibited from patronizing casinos, sports books, or other gambling establishments in the states of Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit."
Here is our collective view:
In spite of intense efforts on both sides of the border to curb incidents of crime against visitors, recent reports from Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, indicate the threat level remains moderate to high for U.S. citizens, especially in non-tourist areas.
For many tourists who brave border crossings, what starts out to be a casual day trip to experience international culture and enjoy the abundant shopping and entertainment afforded by these border cities have found they can turn out to be a nightmare of extortion, car-jacking and robbery, with more than a few incidents resulting in abduction and even physical violence and homicide. On the other hand, many Americans cross the border daily to visit restaurants, pharmacies, medical providers and shops without incident.
While the Mexican border cities of Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa have been the prime communities in recent years where tourists were most at risk, rreports from Matamoros, while slightly improved thanks to stepped up military presence there, indicate the risks remain in spite of efforts to curtail them.
In Matamoros a group of five teenagers are being held in connection with the recent car jacking and murder of 65-year old Consuelo Ortiz of Brownsville. The woman and a friend were visiting Matamoros a few years back when the incident happened. According to Matamoros police, the youth, all between the ages of 16-20, followed Ortiz to her car in a paid parking lot, pulling a gun and choking the woman with a belt. The gang placed Ortiz's body in the trunk and later dumped it in the Rio Grande River. Incients of this nature still happen from time to time, though the number of such violent incidents have improved slightly over the last two years.
In that particular incident, police say the teens admit car theft was the motive but say the woman's death was not intended. Police report the group were also suspect in a chain of other crimes in the neighborhood where the murder occurred.
In another incident in the border city, Rigoberto Rodriguez of Brownsville, a U.S. citizen, was found dead in a vacant lot in a residential area of Matamoros. The man, a permanent resident of the U.S., had just returned from a work project in Florida. Police say they believe Rodriguez was murdered after trying to sell his truck to a Matamoros man.
While similar incidents have occurred in border towns along the U.S.-Mexican frontier, U.S. State Department officials are warning the number of crimes continue to be of concern.
In other, less violent offenses, there have been reports of U.S. citizens held for up to three days while thieves used their ATM card to extract the daily maximum amount. In most instances the victims of theft were eventually released. But there is growing concern that younger offenders and more organized criminal elements are getting into the game and the risk of more violent crime could be increasing.
Unless swift and serious attempts are made by Matamoros officials to provide better security and maintain better control of their own police officers and/or those posing as officers, WinterTexansonline.com is recommending that winter visitors avoid crossing into Matamoros this year except in large numbers or as part of an organized and well managed tour by a reputable company.
While crime and corruption are a problem on both sides of the border, bold and blatant hijacking and larceny by the hands or in sight of police officials would prove to be a quick death to the cross-border tourist market. Mexican border towns have long benefited from milling winter visitors who provide a solid base for the local economy. Losing that income has resulted in a major negative impact.
PROGRESO IS THE BETTER CHOICE
Recognizing the need for increased safety and awareness, nearby Nuevo Progreso has apparently gone the extra mile to assure the safety and security of U.S. visitors by stepping up police patrols, placing uniformed street guides, or tourist police, on the sidewalk to offer information and security for visitors. The same should be expected from other border towns interested in attracting winter visitors.
Traveling across the border into Mexico remains high on our list as a great way to experience cross culture exchanges, to save on medicines and other consumer goods, and to experience the sights, sounds and flavor of neighboring communities in colorful and historic Mexico. But U.S. citizens are warned to take precautions, like traveling in groups.
Here are some of the do's and don'ts for crossing the border: