HispanicVista Columnists

A Small Breeze Seems To Be Blowing

By Richard N. Baldwin T.

13 February 2005

      In the beginning of February, we were treated by one of those periodical "spats" between the Mexican and US governments. In this case, it was due to the issuance of a warning to US tourists by the US ambassador to México, Tony Garza. This was a cautionary letter to potential travelers from the US to the northern border area of México. A number of people here went up the wall over the letter. But recent events along the border (a lot of it due to an escalating drug cartel turf war that I wrote about recently) was a timely reminder for US citizens to take care along the border. The US was only doing what it should in looking out for their citizens.

     In the letter, sent by Garza to Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbrz, Garza expressed concern that the Mexican police were incapable of "coming to grips" with border violence. Amen to that, as most Mexicans heartily agree with that evaluation. But the reply by Derbez was typical damage control as he called the US position "exaggerated and outside the scope of reality". But one US council general here said, "It's not a red light, it's blinking yellow".

     In the past six months, 27 US citizens have been abducted along the border. Two were found dead and eight are missing. In past years, the average has been 2 to 3 per year. As I said, the war is heating up and Garza was only doing his job with the warning.

     In reality, as far as US citizens are concerned, we are not talking about Baghdad here. In the Matamoros area alone more than 1,000 US executives cross daily to work in border plants. 155,000 "winter Texans" are staying in their RVs in the area. And tens of thousands American citizens cross the Rio Grande every day for a short trip to México. Of course, a certain number of day-trippers are looking for trouble that they may find. The non-enforced 18 year-old drinking laws are an attraction. But the rise in incidents does give cause for the warning.

     But in the second week of February, something else happened. Ambassador Garza announced a $5 million crime-fighting grant from the US to the Mexican State of Chihuahua, where the city of Juárez is located. This, of course, is and has been a particularly bad area as it is where more than 300 young Mexican women have been brutally murdered. He stated that "Our strong cooperation on law enforcement is essential because it enables us to carry out our responsibility as public servants . . .  ensuring the safety and well being of both Mexican and American citizens". And he recognizes that along the México-US border is where the common interests are most sharply evident and most closely shared.

     This grant, to be disbursed over four years, will be used to provide legal assistance and mental health services to victim's families. Also included are funds to support justice reform that includes training, technical assistance and professional exchanges for state prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys. The money will be distributed through the US Agency for International Development to the state of Chihuahua. And the "citizens will decide the specific path and timing for any reform". It should be noted that the northern states have been moving toward legal reform recently on their own. This includes open (not secret) trials and judges receiving oral testimony. These are small but important steps toward a real justice system. And a heck of a lot more than the federal government is doing on this matter.

     We should also note that the US State Department takes its direction from the administration (the president of the US). It is not like the Foreign Ministry of México that often as not, simply goes off in their own direction without knowledge or approval of our administration. And since this action has the blessing of President Bush, there seems to be a hint that his second term might give some attention to what is going on south of the border. Maybe that will put a damper on some of the "I hate Bush" crowd here.

     The situation in our justice and enforcement systems is, of course sad. But even with prodding by President Fox, our congress has totally ignored any badly needed reforms. Possibly (we hope) the gentle prodding with this gift from the US, our politicians might begin to see the light that our people want better justice.

     It would seem that the US government is more concerned about the welfare of the Mexican citizens than the Mexican federal government and congress is.


Richard N. Baldwin T., a HispanicVista.com (http://www.hispanicvista.com/) contributing columnist, lives in
Tlalnepantla, Edo de México. E-mail at: R1041643422@aol.com