Crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico can be quite risky enterprise

The current Mexican cartel murder of two U.S. citizens and the kidnapping of two other individuals in the border city of Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, was a grim reminder that crossing “al otro lado” is risky enterprise.

As a person who lived and worked in Brownsville in the 1970s and returns there regularly, I know quite effectively that the border nowadays is a far distinctive planet than the border back then. That reality is some thing that even I pick out to neglect at instances.

For U.S. citizens who are not of Latino origin or who do not speak Spanish, crossing the border has not been protected for two decades. Extended periods of calm all of a sudden give way to violence that can claim the lives of these caught in the middle. Rival cartels battling for turf lengthy ago killed the as soon as-vibrant tourism market along the border, even as a trickle of Americans continue to cross for a excellent time, to access additional cost-effective pharmaceuticals or healthcare care, or on road trips to interior destinations such as San Miguel de Allende.

I crossed from Brownsville into Matamoros specifically 1 month ago with my ahijado, my godson Philip Correct Jr., and his Matamoros-born mother, Martha, for Philip’s 24th birthday celebration and luncheon. I also crossed on foot a couple of months ago with Jerry McHale, a close buddy and longtime Brownsville resident who served as greatest man at my wedding 41-plus years ago, for dinner and drinks.

We each speak excellent Spanish and know how to blend in, but even that is no assure.

Highly effective drug cartels operate with relative impunity in the border states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, or everywhere across the border from Brownsville to Laredo. They show no mercy to their victims, and vacationers should really not count on the police to preserve the peace or come to their rescue. Mexico’s law enforcement agencies are notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional, and the country’s judicial method exists in name only. Justice in Mexico, when it can be had, is either purchased, or on uncommon occasion, delivered beneath intense political stress, commonly from the United States government.

In the most current instance, a cartel delivered 5 bound and gagged low-level gang members to the regional authorities, dumping them along a public road exactly where they had been collected by police and rapidly indicted as the killers and kidnappers of the 4 U.S. citizens from North Carolina. Welcome to justice, Mexican-style. Who knows if they are fall guys or really guilty? Mexican authorities seldom convict murderers in open criminal trials, however generally pronounce instances solved and closed.

The cartels finance their activities principally via drug cultivation, production and smuggling, with side companies of kidnappings, robbery and extortion. They produce lots of money to get off politicians, cops, and to spend for assault weapons, ammunition and handguns purchased by Texans and smuggled south. The U.S. also serves as the key customer market place for heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. It is a mutually destructive method. 

Each couple of months I head south to Brownsville, exactly where my newspaper profession started in 1977, and exactly where I became bilingual and bicultural, to take a look at the Correct family members and longtime pals.

Philip by no means knew his father, Philip Correct, the Mexico City correspondent for the San Antonio Express-News, who disappeared on a solo backcountry trek in Mexico’s Sierra Madre in 1998. I was True’s editor and joined a military search celebration although his pregnant wife Martha waited at their house in the capitol. We identified True’s hidden grave deep in the bottom of the vast Chapalagana Canyon in indigenous Huichol territory. Weeks later, authorities arrested two Huichol brothers-in-law who confessed to the killing. It took 4 years to win a homicide conviction and 20-year prison terms, only for a corrupt judge to set them totally free ahead of he also fled. By way of 3 Mexican presidencies we sought their recapture, to no avail. That is Mexican justice for you.

I later wrote Trail of Feathers, a book about True’s murder and our pursuit of his killers. The royalties from that book and generous contributions from the Hearst Corp. and the Express-News made an education trust that has taken care of Philip considering the fact that his birth and continues to cover the price of his education as a junior at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

We celebrated True’s higher college graduation years ago in Matamoros, initial with a mass at a Catholic convent and then with his extended Mexican family members at a Matamoros restaurant. We’ve shared numerous other occasions, specially birthdays, in Brownsville, but on occasions such as final month, we cross more than to Matamoros. Word on the street final month signaled it was protected to cross. Rival cartels had been quiet. 

Yellow tape signals no alcohol sales at our restaurant and elsewhere in Matamoros as voters went to the polls in state elections. Credit: Courtesy / Robert Rivard

Voting in state elections was underway on that distinct Sunday, so alcohol sales had been prohibited. We dined at La Catrina, a lately opened restaurant named for La Calavera Catrina, the face of death on Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, in Mexico. My presence in the restaurant drew some second appears, so I was certain to want everybody effectively in Spanish as I passed by. Regional households had been relaxed as youngsters raced about the tables. The meals and service was excellent. It was excellent to be back.

As we neared the bridge to return house, Martha’s telephone lit up with text messages warning that cartel violence had broken out on the city’s outskirts. With me in the car or truck and targeted traffic backed up at the Veterans International Bridge, it would take hours for us to cross. Without having me in the car or truck, Martha’s international crossing permit would enable her to rapidly cross in the express lane. 

Martha turned about and dropped off Philip and me at the Gateway International Bridge, which we very easily crossed on foot amid backed-up targeted traffic. Martha returned to the Veterans International Bridge and also crossed rapidly devoid of incident and we reconnected on the U.S. side.

Philip Correct Jr., left, and Robert Rivard cross the International Bridge returning from Matamoros to Brownsville. Credit: Courtesy / Robert Rivard

The text messages are a widespread way for cross-border residents to stay alert to difficulty. They are a reminder that calm can rapidly give way to chaos in a moment. Weeks later, that calm would give way to tragedy for 4 U.S. citizens. For two of them, there would be no going back.

I have plans to return to see Philip once again in June. We’ve currently decided this subsequent time we will content material ourselves with a backyard cookout in Brownsville.

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