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Trade Growth Between Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico Ignores Drug Problems


Mexico's federal government has sent military units to the border city of Nuevo Laredo and removed the city's entire police force following a series of drug-related shootouts and murders. The soldiers recently conducted a series of raids on gang safehouses that resulted in 43 hostages being freed.

But as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Laredo, Texas, the turmoil along the border has not stopped the phenomenal growth of trade through the United States' biggest inland port, and Nuevo Laredo’s sister city, just across the river.

This is the biggest and busiest point of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border, largely because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which has increased trade with Mexico several times over in the past decade.

But residents of Nuevo Laredo, in Mexico, remain uneasy after several gun battles in their streets, the murder of the local police chief and a series of kidnappings and execution-style murders.

One resident said, "We hope that all this comes to an end -- the corruption, the narcotics trafficking -- all this."

Mexicans continue to cross the border to shop in Laredo, Texas at downtown stores and at the biggest Walmart in the world.

Laredo remains relatively peaceful, compared to its neighbor, but Police Chief Augustin is keeping a wary eye on the violence across the river. "What is going on now is basically a turf battle between rival cartel gangs. They are fighting for a lucrative trade route for their narcotics trafficking."

Many tourists have been scared away by the news reports, but Chief Dovalina says the bonds between the two Laredos remain strong. "We share a very common interest in our families and our culture and we continue to traverse the border as often as we always have."

An even more positive view is provided by Laredo's Director of Economic Development, John Adams. "I know that there has been some downturn in the economy in Nuevo Laredo in the retail and restaurant area, but in the trade area that I am involved with, nothing has let up, said Mr. Adams. “Daily, we cross more than the day before. We had more business yesterday than the port of New York did, and on an annualized basis we do over 90 billion dollars in trade."

Bankers, brokers, trucking firms and others involved in trade are anxious to see calm restored to the Mexican border, but Rick Flores, Sheriff of Webb County, of which Laredo is a part, says the state and federal governments need to do more to keep the violence from spilling over the border instead of giving money to the big cities in Texas.

"We need resources. It is not Houston and Dallas that need the major resources. What about these areas where we are having to defend our borders?" asks the sheriff.

Sheriff Flores says drug and immigrant smugglers have intimidated many people living in rural areas along the border. He and other Texas border county sheriffs are asking for more federal help to stop illegal activity of all kinds in their area.

"We are not trying to alarm anyone, we are just saying the problem does exist; let's not close our eyes and turn our cheeks and say it is not happening, because it is."

Both the federal government and Texas state government have pledged funds for border area law enforcement and local officials say they are anxiously waiting for that help.

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