Fear grows as drug war rages on south Texas border

Nuevo Laredo

Credit: WFAA-TV

A youngster clings to an adult as residents of Mexican border towns worry about drug-related violence.




Posted on March 3, 2010 at 10:01 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 4 at 10:11 AM

Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

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NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico — Border residents fear more violence as rival drug cartels battle for lucrative smuggling routes to Texas. The fight pits former allies — the Zetas against the Gulf Cartel, according to U.S. law enforcement and Mexican officials.

The spike in violence spans the border from Reynosa to Nuevo Laredo and several Mexican towns in between. The exact number is hard to confirm.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo warned of an "ongoing gun battle" near the Zoo, and in an e-mail alert advised "all U.S. citizens to shelter in place and to take precautions until the fighting subsides."

Nuevo Laredo Mayor Ramon Garza said he was aware of two attacks. He said the first was on Feb. 19 and another one was on Feb. 26. The second attack targeted two police stations and did "minor damage."

Garza said Mexican federal investigators were handling the case to determine if that damage was caused by grenades or some type of "homemade" explosive device.

Local, state and federal authorities in Mexico provided few details about the violence, and that has border residents on edge.

Official confirmation of the cartel clashes has come in travel alerts from U.S. Consulates in the region. The U.S. Consulate in Monterrey now warns U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo because of "several gun battles."

The suggestion that residents were reacting only to rumors angered a woman in Camargo, in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, who used her cell phone camera to document damage from a gun fight Saturday night in the area bordering Starr County.

In a video posted on YouTube, the unidentified woman points out shell casings on the ground, bullet-riddled SUVs, and bodies in the streets. It's some of the most graphic evidence of the bloodshed that has border residents on edge.

School attendance was down last week as parents kept their children home along the Tamaulipas border, particularly in Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. Several e-mails circulating warned of impending gun battles.

The mayor of Nuevo Laredo said he had seen and heard the rumors, including one that gunmen had kidnapped and killed him.

"As you can see, I am alive and well," he said Sunday evening.

While some rumors are false, the fear is real.

In downtown Nuevo Laredo, the situation is tense. Laredo resident Llucell de la Cruz crossed the border to visit her favorite hair salon just a few blocks from the international bridge.

"We come, do what we need to do and get out before dark, " she said.

Others are avoiding Nuevo Laredo altogether. The usually long line at the bridge to cross the border was shorter than usual.

Concern for the region is growing on both sides of the border. A group called The Texas Apostolic Prayer Network posted an "urgent prayer alert" for the area on its Web site:

"Show us how to stand with the Mexican people to quell the violence and lawlessness. Raise up men and women who will make their voices heard to our lawmakers. Give us leaders who will pay attention to this crisis."

The message was signed, “Pam."

E-mail akocherga@belo.com