Mexico's Drug War Crosses the Border

Written by Mark R. Yzaguirre on Tuesday October 5, 2010

Shootings earlier this week in Brownsville, Texas on the Mexican border have law enforcement worried that Mexico's drug violence is spilling into the U.S.

The headline on the front page of the October 2 issue of the Brownsville Herald blared “Ordered Hit”.  The story attached to this headline told of a gruesome discovery that occurred a few days before near Brownsville, Texas, a city on the U.S.-Mexican border.  A bullet-riddled Dodge Ram pickup truck was found on the side of a heavily-traveled highway, and police found the bodies of two men inside.  The local Justice of the Peace was quoted as saying that it appeared the men were fired upon while driving on the highway, and the assailants "finished them off" when they stopped on the median.

This doesn't appear to have been a random act of violence.  Brownsville police believe that the men were targeted for murder and these murders are related to the ongoing drug cartel violence in Mexico.  As stated in the Herald article:

Brownsville Police Chief Carlos Garcia confirmed the information provided to The Brownsville Herald by Mexican law enforcement officials who stated that one of the men killed is the younger brother of former Gulf Cartel members Alberto "Beto Fabe" Castillo Flores and Oscar "El Apache" Castillo Flores, 33. Beto Fabe, who served as a lieutenant with the cartel, was killed in Matamoros last summer while Oscar Castillo joined the Zetas criminal organization.  El Apache was arrested in Brownsville in July and remains in federal custody. According to court documents, he was caught in a multi-agency operation that was led by ICE, along with Luis Alberto "El Pelochas" Blanco Flores, and Jose Ezequiel "El Niño" Galicia Gonzalez.  A source with firsthand knowledge of criminal activity in Mexico stated that both El Apache and his group belonged to a cell of the Gulf Cartel that switched sides and began cooperating with the Zetas. According to the source, Beto Fabe was the Plaza boss of the Gulf Cartel in Matamoros but let his brother El Apache work for both that cartel and the Zetas in Matamoros.

As disturbing as this story may be, many readers may say to themselves: "So what? Criminals kill each other all the time, particularly in the drug trade in Mexico."  The difference is that this killing occurred in the United States and many people in south Texas are concerned that this is the beginning of a dangerous new chapter in the drug cartel war in Mexico.  As terrible as the situation has become in Mexico, particularly in towns across the border from Texas, that violence has generally not spilled over into the United States.  For example, while Juarez is arguably the most dangerous city in North America, its American sister city, El Paso, has a low crime rate by U.S. standards.

In Brownsville and in much of the border area the concern is that this general order on the U.S. side may be coming to an end.  I was in Brownsville this past weekend and spoke with various people there.  Regarding this incident, many echoed the thoughts of a prominent local attorney friend who said that "this is the day we were all afraid would come" and that the belief that drug cartel warfare could be contained in Mexico, if for no other reason than because the cartels wanted it that way, may no longer be correct.  Most people on the border will tell you that the general rule of thumb has been that as long as one did not involve oneself in illegal activity and stayed on the U.S. side of the border, the possibility of being harmed by Mexican drug cartel violence was somewhere between slim and none.  The local police chief essentially said as much in an article related to the one cited above.

Admittedly, the people involved in this incident apparently didn't follow that rule.  However, the concern is that innocent bystanders may find themselves in harm's way (imagine if you were on the highway next to that truck when the shooting started) and the unwritten rule that the cartels would not cross the border for fear of drawing unwanted attention from Washington and Austin may no longer be in effect.

To be sure, one shouldn't give in to hysteria.  There has always been a certain level of violence on the border (No Country for Old Men, anyone?), and it's not as though drug-related shootings are unknown in U.S. cities.  I can personally attest that regardless of what is happening in Mexico, restaurants are still full in Brownsville, tourists are still sunning themselves at South Padre Island, and people are generally otherwise going about their business.  That having been said, one hopes this incident, along with other recent incidents, is not the beginning of a trend.  If it is the beginning of a trend that would mean there has been a genuine escalation in the already-serious drug cartel violence in Mexico, an escalation in which many of the old assumptions about safety for Americans are no longer operative, on either side of the Rio Grande.

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