Just when I thought Sunday’s The New York Times front page article on border crime was going to finally get it right, it went deadly wrong. The story by Damien Cave, “In Mexico, A Kidnapping Ignored”, starts out strong, but limps home in the final stretch because border truth is rarely so simple as outsiders would have it.
The residents of Matamoros, Mexico, are indeed the victims of increasing gun violence from the drug cartels. As two major criminal organizations fight it out on the streets of this border city, directly across from Brownsville, Texas, Mexican citizens who get in the cross-fire are killed and wounded with impunity. At the same time-and this is the first part of the story the NYT’s reporter completely bungles- the Mexican military assigned to protect the residents are, although far from as violent, increasingly culpable. Poorly paid and undertrained, Mexico’s own military is at times a blight on its own people.
But this is not where the real story ends. Although Mr. Cave with great care paints a picture of the Cazares family who have been terriblely victimized in Matamoros, he again lacks a broader overview. Certainly it is true that increasingly numbers of spin-off crimes have occurred because of the narco-trafficantes and their opportunistic henchmen, and certainly many of these crimes, like the one against the affluent Cazares clan is truly tragic. But any border resident knows what Mr. Cave apparently does not: it is not just the authorities and officials on the south side of the Rio Grande who are inept and corrupt.
While the reporter faithfully runs down the details of the mass kidnappings of the Cazares family, their attempts at paying off the kidnappers, and the family members turning to the corrupt Mexican authorities when they have no other choices left, he makes it sound as if all that is really needed is a boat load of Texas Rangers or FBI agents. Then said law enforcers, or county sheriff’s deputies, or Texas state police will, one Texas Ranger at a time, find the criminals, save the victims, and still have time to wave at the camera as the television episode concludes.
Unfortunately graft, corruption, and ineptitude in law enforcement do not stop at the Rio Grande River separating Matamoros from Brownsville. South Texas has more than its fair share of corruption in municipal law enforcement, county Sheriff’s departments, the state police, and the Texas Rangers. Mr. Cave clearly does not know his regional history.
This same reporter misses a major lesson which could be learned from the tribulations of a cross-border family: since the crimes occurred in Matamoros, the crimes will never be reported in the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. In fact, from the point of view of American law enforcement and the national political dialogue on border crime, these multiple kidnappings of the Cazares family never happened.
Why? Because even though some of the victims had dual citizenship, the crimes occurred in the houses and on the streets of Matamoros. So once again we can conclude-just look at the statistics collected by the FBI-that the U.S.-Mexico border is a very safe place in which to reside.
Unfortunately the border reality is much more complex than our sound-bite politicians of both parties are ever likely to admit. So too are the solutions as long as The New York Times botches the story.