Matamoros chamber alerts to violence in U.S. - Brownsville Herald: Valley

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Matamoros chamber alerts to violence in U.S.

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Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 12:00 am

The Matamoros Chamber of Commerce has issued an alert warning people of possible risks involved in traveling to U.S. border cities.

The advisory, in response to continuing alerts from the U.S. State Department about dangers of travel in Mexico caused by fighting among drug cartels, says that travelers should beware of violence.

Raul Quintanilla, chamber vice president for foreign commerce, voiced the warning in an article published in a Matamoros newspaper, and the alert was restated Wednesday by Christian Perez on behalf of Chamber President Roberto Salas.

Media reports from Matamoros over the past year indicate that there has been friction between some members of the business group and Michael Barkin, consul general of the U.S. in Matamoros. Several issues have been mentioned, from apparent personality conflicts to the treatment of Mexican citizens by consular staff.

The chamber’s vice president for international affairs, Gerardo Acevedo Danache, on Wednesday called for dialogue among all the parties based on mutual respect.

“The issue of security has been taken out of context and I believe that we should have dialogue and focus on commerce and tourism,” Acevedo Danache said.

Quintanilla was quoted Friday in El Mañana saying that with the U.S. government continuing its travel alerts about the risks in Tamaulipas, it is important to note that these risks don’t affect Mexico alone but also the border area in the United States.

The news report quoted Quintanilla as saying that violence has reached the Rio Grande Valley because it is a large consumer of prohibited substances and a route for these.

He said the chamber was recommending that people going to Mexico begin taking precautions from the time they arrive in Brownsville, McAllen, Harlingen or Laredo, and that Mexican citizens who visit these cities in the United States for pleasure or business also be careful.

Quintanilla said the type of violent incidents that have occurred in Tamaulipas also are occurring in the Texas cities. He maintained that during the last several months, some business people in South Texas have said that they have been victims of extortion and other crimes against them and family members.

Angela Burton, president and CEO of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, said she didn’t understand why the Matamoros chamber was saying this.

“We have worked together on trade and tourism for years,” Burton said. “The issue of safety in Brownsville or the other border communities has never been brought to my attention by them as a concern.”

Barkin, the consul, issued a brief statement: “I won’t speculate on the reasons why this group issued the statement.”

He stated: “Assisting American citizens in knowing the risks of foreign travel is one of the most important functions of the Department of State. For this reason the Embassy in Mexico City and the consulates throughout Mexico issue travel warnings and advice to travelers. These are available on our web pages. We defer to local, state and federal authorities in the U.S. for specifics on travel in the U.S.”

Perez said that the border cities in Tamaulipas are facing a situation where people, businesses and industry are moving to the United States, legally and illegally, because of the belief that the U.S. side is more secure.

“Those same people are beginning to report violent incidents in border communities in the United States,” he said, noting that such incidents include gunfights and kidnappings.

“If they (criminals) are looking for a person in Mexico and he goes to the United States, they go all the way to the United States to look for him,” Perez said.

“The phenomena of violence has reached border cities in the United States, and we are alerting to this,” he said.

Perez indicated that Barkin caused the alert to be issued by the chamber after he said last week that businessman and residents should take precautions when they cross into Mexico.

Perez said that Barkin recently said that Matamoros is a risky place and to take precautions, “and we responded that we do have a problem of violence, but that it starts in the United States when someone sets foot in the border cities in the Rio Grande Valley.” He indicated that the difference is that news media in Matamoros reports on the incidents, unlike in the United States.

Perez said that this is the second alert that the chamber has issued. He said the first one was issued after claims of Mexican citizens falling victim to spillover violence when they crossed into Brownsville.

“All of those situations obligated us to issue the (first) alert approximately six months ago,” Perez said on Salas’ behalf. “With the declaration of the consul and the series of reports we have, we issued the alert again last Thursday.

“Violence has arrived in the U.S. border cities; that it is not known or reported to the extent that it is in Mexico, doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening,” he said.

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