Mexican troops enter N.M., shoot, go free : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Monday, 27 March 2000 Mexican troops enter N.M., shoot, go free By Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star

Shots fired by Mexican soldiers while in New Mexico on March 14 shook a delicate diplomatic balance among the people who patrol both sides of the border  and could have upset that balance altogether.

But a U.S. Border Patrol administrator followed what has become tradition along the line and released detained soldiers.

Although many agents opposed the decision to release the soldiers, it helped preserve relative peace in a tense border zone, officials argue.

If the soldiers had been detained longer, these tensions would have increased along the border, not only in El Paso, but also throughout the United States side of the border, Border Patrol official Paul M. Berg said in a written statement.

This would have put the lives of many agents at risk.

Tension has risen anyway along the border in recent weeks, with notable drug-war incidents such as the assassination of Tijuanas police chief and the killing of an alleged marijuana smuggler by a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

But it didnt reach the level it might have after March 14, Berg and others said.

It isnt in the interest of (law enforcement officers) to harm any other officers, said Roberto Rodriguez Hernandez, the Mexican consul in Nogales, Ariz.

Berg, chief of the Border Patrol sector centered at Del Rio, Texas, gave this account of the March 14 events:

About 10:30 p.m., two Mexican military Humvees entered the United States in the desert south of Sunland Park, N.M, just west of El Paso. The two vehicles split up, and one followed a Border Patrol vehicle.

The Border Patrol agent eventually stopped his vehicle in front of the Humvee. The agent and soldiers both disembarked, with weapons drawn.

Sunland Park police arrived, and eventually the agent was able to persuade the eight soldiers and their captain that they were in the United States. The nine put down their weapons and turned themselves in to the agent.

Meanwhile, the second Humvee pursued a Border Patrol agent on horseback, who ordered them to stop. But the soldiers continued drawing closer, telling the agent to stop, and the agent fled to the safety of a hiding place in a wash.

As he escaped, that agent heard a gunshot.

The soldiers in the Humvee then saw a second mounted agent, whom they pursued until they became stuck in sand. As some soldiers worked to free the vehicle, others began walking back south, and the agent shone a flashlight on them.

One of those soldiers then fired another shot.

The remaining soldiers freed the Humvee, and all returned to Mexico.

That left the Border Patrol agents with nine soldiers who had not fired the shots, so they questioned them for a few hours before sending them back to Mexico on the order of El Paso Sector Chief Luis Barker.

The other soldiers were never apprehended.

The Border Patrol agents union criticized the decision, considering that it was different from other cross-border incursions in that shots were fired.

They violated the laws of our country, and nothing was done about their violating the laws, said Charles Newcomer, president of the union local in Southern Arizona. Its almost like saying they have carte blanche, a get-out-of-jail free card.

But Berg argued Barker made the right decision.

Border Patrol agents have enough narcotics and alien smugglers and other criminals on the border to contend with, without having to concern themselves with military units or Mexican law enforcement officers trying to get even, Berg said.

Among Border Patrol agents, worry about those who patrol the Mexican side of the line is widespread, leaving aside a revenge motive.

Often when an incursion arises, their first suspicion is that the soldiers or police officers were guiding a drug load.

That suspicion is based on dependable intelligence, said Ron Sanders, former chief of the Tucson sector, who retired last year.

The question that arises in the agents minds, Sanders said, is: Are they trying to arrest the drug smugglers and put them in jail, or are they trying to shake them down and take the drugs for their personal gain?

That question arose during an incursion by Mexican soldiers on March 9 last year near San Miguel gate, about 30 miles south of Sells.

That morning, a U.S. Customs Service officer was watching the soldiers in their Humvee, several hundred yards north of the border.

The officer heard a shot, and a bullet struck the embankment below him. Then two more shots whizzed over his head, and the soldiers disappeared south of the border.

Later, customs agents met the soldiers at the gate and had a cross-border conversation, in which the soldiers said they had been firing warning shots to stop a drug smuggler they were pursuing.

The soldiers showed the American officers two men they had arrested and a load of marijuana they had seized.

Still, the American officers doubt the soldiers stories.

We did a lot of intelligence on the wrappings of the kilos, Sanders said, referring to drug loads seized by Border Patrol.

Many of those we found had been wrapped by the smuggler, and when the military seized it, they put a new wrap over the top of the wrapping the smuggler had put on it, to differentiate their loads, Sanders said.

The military, Sanders said, would then reap profit from the sale of the drugs.

The soldiers in the March 14 New Mexico incident also said they had been pursuing a drug smuggler.

Returning the soldiers to Mexico follows the unwritten rule of border diplomacy: If an incursion is involuntary, or if it looks involuntary, the officers should be allowed to return to their country.

It isnt a written rule, but its logical, especially in the rural areas where its difficult to distinguish the border, Rodriguez said.

The March 14 incident may have resulted from a previous increase in drug-war violence in Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso.

The soldiers were sent to patrol the border in response to that violence, said Jose Z. Garcia, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at New Mexico State University.

Thus, as both Mexico and the United States increase border-area patrols, the chance of encounters increases, Garcia said.

I think the increase in personnel located very close to the border cannot help but increase the level of tensions and increase the potential collateral damage to the officers themselves and to the residents.

-- Martin Thompson (, March 27, 2000


O'Reilly @ Fox News will air segment on this tonight. 8:00 EST. He had a interveiw last week, which was disturbing, and related the exact premise. Thanks for the update, Martin.

-- Ruth Angell (, March 27, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ