Thursday, September 22, 2005

Public safety in border towns: Bad rap or bad news?

Note to Mexican border towns: Bad cops are bad for tourism.

In Reynosa, a border town of up to a million people across the Rio Grande from McAllen, TX, business leaders say their community is getting a bad rap because of drug-related violence upstream.
Reports the McAllen Monitor:

The argument Reynosa’s business community continually propounds is that while the drug cartels are violent, their targets are people who affect their business, whether it is a trafficker who steals from a load or a police officer trying to crack down — not tourists.

"They’re doing bad things, but if you’re just here to have dinner, you’re not going to have a problem," [business leader Cesar] Martinez said. "I think a lot of the problem’s with the media. They make it out like we live in a terrible town, but that’s not the case. … Look at everyone walking out on the street. Would they be out walking around if it was so dangerous? We have problems, but so does everyone."

Personally, I love Mexico and I'd hate to contribute wrongfully to anyone's decision not to visit. IMO, everyone should. What's more, it's probably true the drug runners have no reason to target tourists, but that ignores a harsher reality: Who tourists, particularly women, perhaps should fear more on the border are cops.

It's just a flat-out falsehood to claim that the border's bad rap stems solely from confusion with problems in Nuevo Laredo, where a third of police force was sacked this spring for corruption.
That's not to say there aren't many heroic Mexican cops actively fighting the bad guys, but police corruption is widespread. Officers in Juarez have been implicated in kidnapping and murdering possibly hundreds of women, including US tourists. In Reynosa, a police officer allegedly assassinated a prominent local businessman in December 2003. In 2004, 26 Reynosa police officers were suspended and fired and 12 were indicted for conducting robberies and even rape against US tourists. Again, reported the Monitor:
These actions follow[ed] the resignation of former [Reynosa] police director Carlos Hernandez Chaires on Oct. 6 and the termination of his second-incommand, José Garcia Rangel, who had barricaded himself in his office after being asked to step down by Reynosa city officials Oct. 5.

Seven of the nine complaints [from US citizens] involved police demanding money from tourists, usually on their way out the city’s red light district, according to Naland. But included in this round of charges was a police officer accused of rape and another charged with aiding the kidnappers of an American man, who was held for five days while his bank account was emptied via ATM withdrawals.

So even if it's true that drug runners aren't targeting tourists, one might fear the police just as much, it seems, when visiting Reynosa and other border towns.

That doesn't mean you should avoid the border, or Mexico. Most folks will be just fine. Go. Have fun. Be careful. Just don't trust the cops.

No comments: