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Bloodiest Region In Mexico? Right Across From McAllen, Texas


U.S. agencies like the Border Control and Drug Enforcement Administration spend some of their time helping Mexico fight a drug war. It is not going well. The Mexican city of Reynosa, just across the border from McAllen, Texas, has become the latest battleground. Throughout this oil-rich state, murder, extortion and kidnapping are all on the rise. Many say the drug cartels are fighting among themselves and there have been some victories against the cartels. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, the government has sent in hundreds of troops to stop the bloodshed. But it hasn't been enough.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It's a little after noon and the sun is blazing as an army convoy rolls out the front gate of Reynosa's military base. Three large trucks filled with heavily armed soldiers are led down the highway by an armored vehicle. Inside the vehicle, which looks like a cross between a souped-up Hummer and a small tank, soldiers pick up chatter on a radio tuned to the frequency used by lookouts or Halcones, Hawks, stationed all along the highway. All are on the payroll of the drug cartels. I'm only allowed to record one person on the patrol, a captain who for security reasons won't give his name.


KAHN: The captain just told me that the lookouts have determined where we are, that we just crossed under a bridge and that we're on the main highway.

KAHN: Hundreds of federal troops have been sent to this critical state rich in oil, home to the vital port of Tampico and several key international border crossings. Since April, more than 100 people have been killed, some in brazen daylight shootouts. Even the state's intelligence officer was murdered. The governor's bodyguard has been charged with the crime. Local police and officials are widely believed to be in cahoots with the traffickers. On patrol, the soldiers pick up activity on the radio taking place in a gated community just off the highway. The convoy suddenly takes a sharp turn, drives straight across the grassy medium at full speed and races down the narrow streets of the tiny middle-class neighborhood.

CAPTAIN: (Spanish spoken).

KAHN: The captain shouts fan out, fan out. On the trafficker's radio, you hear the lookout shouting the patrol is here, the patrol is here, everyone lay low. After several tense minutes, the captain gets out and talks to one man with three large Chevy suburban's scattered in front of his home, two have blown out tires, one has Texas license plates. The captain makes a quick call to a liaison with the U.S. Border Control, who informs him the plates are registered to a compact Mazda across the border. The car is impounded.

CAPTAIN: (Spanish spoken).

KAHN: The captain says the man looks suspicious to him and refers the whole case to federal prosecutors. Mexican authorities have made some major scores against the cartels this year. Several high-ranking members of the feared Zetas organization have been either killed or arrested. The rival Gulf cartel has had its setbacks too. The recent capture of a leading cartel boss is thought to have sparked a power struggle among lower lieutenants and much of the current violence. Will Glaspy, head of the DEA office across the border in McAllen, Texas, says the Gulf cartel has been severely weakened, but not eliminated.

WILL GLASPY: The Gulf cartel looks nothing like it did six years ago. They are still a very formidable criminal organization and I don't see their imminent breakup anytime soon.

KAHN: Along with the troops, the Mexican government sent in military commanders and prosecutors, essentially taking over local control. Authorities made a similar move in the state of Michoacan after civilian vigilantes took up arms against organized crime gangs. Security analyst Alejandro Hope with the Mexico city think tank IMCO, says heavy troop deployment and federal commandeering is not going to solve the state's problems. He says that won't happen until corrupt local police and hapless politicians are held accountable.

ALEJANDRO HOPE: If the federal government stays these guys will never take responsibility for their own safety.

KAHN: For now, the troop presence remains strong. At a military checkpoint just outside of town, residents don't seem bothered by the stepped up police presence.

PEDRO VALDEZ: (Spanish spoken).

KAHN: Trucker Pedro Valdez says, on the contrary, he feels safer. After all, it's not his preference to come to Reynosa during these violent times, he has to for work. Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.