I tend to believe my eyes:
NUEVO PROGRESO, MEXICO – On a typical day last week, people crowded the walkway in front of the Ay Jalisco restaurant and packed the Red Panty bar while sipping margaritas and joking about drink specials along Nuevo Progreso’s main drag.
Meanwhile, about 30 feet south of the Mexican checkpoint, soldiers armed with assault rifles were ready to pull the trigger at a moment’s notice. An armored utility vehicle and two sandbag walls shielded the military men.
Rio Grande Valley natives, Winter Texans and other visitors continue to pour across the border at Nuevo Progreso despite recent drug cartel violence in Reynosa and reports of violence in Matamoros. “I suppose Progreso is the safest of the three,” New Hampshire native Betty Robertson said. “I haven’t heard of anything going on here, but you would never catch me at any of the other two. No sir.”
Harlingen resident Mark Horta, 24, sipped Negra Modelo beer with three friends in one of the strip’s plazas. He said he felt confident in their ability to escape a dangerous situation. “If something went down we would probably just take off running and hide until it’s over,” he said. “We go sometimes (to Reynosa); it’s not even that bad. They have military, too. You just have to be careful.”
But not everyone agrees with Horta’s decision to brave Mexico. Ray Robinson, a Winter Texan at the Sunshine RV Resort in Harlingen, said he wouldn’t consider crossing into any Mexican city until the threat of violence has blown over. “I wouldn’t go across there right now for anything,” he said. “We’re going to wait until we go home in May to go across for medicine. “We hope it will be quieted down … but if not,we may not go then either.”
Robinson said cartel wars aren’t the only reason he won’t go into Mexico. “Friends of ours have lost the license plates off their cars over there and … a friend of mine was stopped by police over there in an alleyway and shaken down while his wife was in the car,” he said. “So many people have problems down there.”
Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce receptionist T.J. Soule said the chamber does not advise against trips into Mexico but suggests that tourists stay aware of their surroundings. “They have to make the decision whether to cross over themselves and be aware that things do happen,” she said. “I tell them to stay on the beaten paths and stay where the crowds are.
The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert late last month for trips into Mexico that is effective until Aug. 20, according to information on the department’s travel Web site. For more information on the alert visit http://www.travel.state.gov, and for more tips on how to stay safe south of the border, visit http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/pa/pa_3028.html.
The Travel Advisory above states, in part:
Mexican drug cartels are engaged in an increasingly violent conflict – both among themselves and with Mexican security services – for control of narcotics trafficking routes along the U.S.-Mexico border. In order to combat violence, the government of Mexico has deployed troops in various parts of the country. U.S. citizens should cooperate fully with official checkpoints when traveling on Mexican highways.
Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades. Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area.
A number of areas along the border are experiencing rapid growth in the rates of many types of crime. Robberies, homicides, petty thefts, and carjackings have all increased over the last year across Mexico generally, with notable spikes in Tijuana and northern Baja California. Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana and Nogales are among the cities which have recently experienced public shootouts during daylight hours in shopping centers and other public venues. Criminals have followed and harassed U.S. citizens traveling in their vehicles in border areas including Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, and Tijuana.
The situation in Ciudad Juarez is of special concern. Mexican authorities report that more than 1,800 people have been killed in the city since January 2008. Additionally, this city of 1.6 million people experienced more than 17,000 car thefts and 1,650 carjackings in 2008. U.S. citizens should pay close attention to their surroundings while traveling in Ciudad Juarez, avoid isolated locations during late night and early morning hours, and remain alert to news reports. A recent series of muggings near the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez targeted applicants for U.S. visas. Visa and other service seekers visiting the Consulate are encouraged to make arrangements to pay for those services using a non-cash method.
The pictures used in this article are from the The Valley Morning Star, and are used with attribution. “Fair Use” and all that.