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  1. #1
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
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    May 2006

    TX - State Web Site Chronicles Drug Violence on Border Farms

    February 16, 2012


    SULLIVAN CITY, Tex. — One South Texas farmer appears on screen the way crime victims and witnesses often do, his face blurred and his voice distorted. Some ranchers talk about seeing drug smugglers in military-style uniforms on their property, describing the threats to their livelihood and lives as a border war.

    “We see a lot of things, but we keep our mouths shut about it,” the farmer whose identity was concealed says in one video clip. “We just don’t want to be in anybody’s hit list.”

    The Web site behind these videos — — is run by neither a Minuteman-style border patrol group nor a tech-savvy rancher. It is a product of Texas state government, created and operated by the Department of Agriculture, as a way to publicize the assertions by farmers and others that violence from Mexico’s drug war has spilled over the border. But it has a more political mission as well: to publicly challenge the Obama administration, which has called the belief that the border is overrun by violence from Mexican drug cartels “a widespread misperception.”

    Begun in March, steers a Texas agency typically concerned with detecting plant diseases and regulating grain-storage warehouses into the more controversial realm of domestic security. It paints a frightening portrait of life along the 1,254-mile border that Texas shares with Mexico. One man talks about quitting the farming business out of fear for his family’s safety. There are police reports and news accounts of a ranch foreman getting injured by shattered glass after drug-smuggling suspects shot at his truck, vehicles being pursued by law enforcement crashing through farm fences and workers clearing trees being told to stop what they were doing or else.

    “I would have 80-year-old ranchers meet with me, tears in their eyes, and say, ‘My family settled this land, I’ve been here my entire life and I’m scared to go on my own property,’ ” said the state’s agriculture commissioner, Todd Staples, who came up with the idea for the Web site. “That’s how I got involved, because landowners came to me.”

    Mr. Staples’s focus on the border echoes the views of one of his predecessors, Gov. Rick Perry, who served as agriculture commissioner in the 1990s and who struck some of the same themes in his campaign for president. One month after starting the Web site, Mr. Staples announced that he was running for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 2014. The Web site has raised his public profile and helped draw attention to farmers’ safety concerns.

    But its larger impact remains unclear.

    In its first roughly nine months, from last March through November, the Web site had only about 7,500 visitors a month. Though it seeks to put pressure on the federal government to protect farmers better, it has not drawn a federal response, and some federal officials say they have not even seen it. The Web site has also been accused of exaggerating the level of violence and fueling anti-immigrant hostility.

    Last year on the site’s message board, someone suggested land mines and tiger traps as border-security methods. Another commenter wrote: “Killem all!!!! They are destroying or great country.” Agriculture officials deleted those posts, and a message-board disclaimer states that the views expressed did not reflect those of the department or Mr. Staples.

    No one who appears on the Web site’s video clips makes threatening remarks. But several portray the rural areas along the border as nothing less than a war zone. In one video, Arthur Barrera, a staff lieutenant with the Texas Rangers, says the Mexican cartels and their scouts come across the border daily. “We are in a war,” he says. “We are in a war, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it by any means.”

    Though the Web site provides few crime statistics to make its case, relying instead on people telling their stories in their own words, underscores the widespread fear in rural border counties. The threat of cartel-related crime, whether the smuggling of drugs or illegal immigrants, has caused people to arm themselves to an extraordinary degree and take other precautions.

    In the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, at a ranch outside Sullivan City about 11 miles from the border, Craig J. Teplicek carries a .380-caliber pistol in the back pocket of his jeans. In his truck he keeps a .357-caliber handgun, a .45-caliber pistol and a .222-caliber rifle. Last year, he chased and tackled a coyote — someone who guides and smuggles people across the border — after the man drove through a fence and abandoned a truck carrying illegal immigrants in one of his fields. Mr. Teplicek ran after the man, carrying his .357.

    “It was scary because I was pretty much convinced he had a knife or a gun,” said Mr. Teplicek, a grain-sorghum rancher. “I had already made up my mind: If he had a gun, we were going to have a shootout right there. I’m with Staples, because we know better than what the politicians are saying. It’s not safe.”

    In nearby McAllen, Othal E. Brand Jr., president and general manager of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District 3, recalled the day last July when his employees working on a pump station at the Rio Grande were shot at from the Mexican side. The bullets came to within 24 inches of the workers. Afterward, Mr. Brand gave his employees permission to carry firearms.

    “As a district, we’re not equipped to protect our employees in that kind of environment,” he said.

    There is widespread disagreement among local, state and federal authorities about the frequency of so-called border spillover violence in Texas.

    Several sheriffs and state law enforcement officials believe the depiction of the situation on the Web site is accurate. Col. Steve McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state’s top law enforcement agency, told a Congressional subcommittee in May that the agency had identified 22 homicides, 24 assaults, 15 shootings and 5 kidnappings in Texas since January 2010 that were directly related to the Mexican cartels. One report by two retired Army generals — a study for which Mr. Staples’s agency spent $80,000 — found that the accounts of border violence illustrated a larger presence of narco-terrorists than previously thought.

    “We need to be careful not to overstate it, but similarly we need to be careful not to understate this problem,” Colonel McCraw said in an interview. “The Mexican cartels are the most significant organized crime threat in Texas. This is not a political issue. This is a crime issue.”

    But the federal authorities and other local officials maintain that violent crime rates in border communities have remained flat or have decreased and that the assertions on are largely anecdotal. They point to other data that shows that border apprehensions in Texas have dropped 58.2 percent since 2006, and deaths along the border recorded by federal agents have decreased 6.6 percent since 2006.

    “What our communities are telling us, by way of the facts, the data and our outreach, does not portray as dismal a situation as some would lead us to believe,” said David V. Aguilar, acting commissioner of United States Customs and Border Protection. “It doesn’t portray a war zone.”

    Mr. Staples said many border crimes had gone unreported, not only because farmers fear retribution but because the threats and other episodes are difficult to measure. “If a transnational criminal organization was based in Canada and having daily and nightly incursions into New York, I think there’d be an uproar throughout America,” he said. “And yet it’s occurring across rural, remote portions of Texas, and it’s being denied.”
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  2. #2
    Super Moderator Newmexican's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Heart of Dixie
    This is an interesting site.

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