Ruth & I spent 10 days in the Rio Grande Valley and talked to a lot of people who live there. Many of them are tense and told us not to cross into Mexico. That’s why I was very interested in “A Bridge Now Crossed Less Freely” in Sunday’s (February 11) New York Times by Oscar Cásares. I wanted to visit Matamoros and, perhaps, Nuevo Laredo, which we had experienced in the past. Ruth was wary. The closest I came to visiting Mexico was standing among many parked vehicles with Texas license plates while trying to decide whether or not to cross the Rio Grande as a pedestrian on the Los Ebanos ferry, last hand-pulled one on the Rio Grande River.
I’m now glad I didn’t cross on that ferry even though Ruth agreed to stay with the rental car while I did it. Her caution prevented potential problems every day we were near the Mexican border.
The Times article confirmed what we both felt, this is a very troubled border right now. Cásares reports about the “stunning violence in the turf war between the Zetas and Gulf Cartel for control of this lucrative drug smuggling route into the United States”. No wonder we were never too far from the sight of a border control vehicle. No wonder several Hispanic residents of the Rio Grande Valley told us they no longer cross the bridges to visit Matamoros, Reynosa, etc. The article warns about “armed robberies, sexual assaults, carjackings, murder, extortions, and kidnappings”. Ruth read this article too and underlined one sentence that talks about the brave souls who still cross the border but stay on the main drags and clear out before dark. Locals in Brownsville report hearing gun battles across the Rio Grande that have scared off lots of motorhoming winter visitors, often retirees from the Midwest trying to escape winter weather. In many places Ruth & I saw 18-feet-high fences that many residents hope will become an actual border wall.
The most Hispanic city along the Mexico-U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley is busy Brownsville, an important port. We felt completely safe there because of the Border Patrol’s ongoing efforts to secure the border. Reportedly, some senators and other high-placed government officials from the United States have been to the area to get a closer look at efforts to keep citizens protected. The Official Guide to the Rio Grande Valley claims that it’s “really a safe place to call home”. We also found it a safe place to visit as long as we didn’t cross the border. This Guide told me about a Border Community Liaison Program called Operation Detour that strives to keep teens and young adults from becoming involved in smuggling narcotics. Cartels that control much of the Mexican side of the border often recruit young people with the promise of easy money and “the myth that juveniles who get caught will not be prosecuted”.
Each of the communities on the U. S. side of the border has its own personality. I’ll tell about them tomorrow.