Texas Department of Public Safety border violence

The drug cartel violence on Friday in the Mexican border town of Reynosa will give ammunition to those in Texas pushing for an increase in state spending of up to $800 million for border security. But the violence also may be a sign that Mexico is making some progress in its war on the cartels.

For anyone who may have missed it, gunfire broke out in Reynosa on Friday as Mexican authorities arrested a Gulf Cartel leader. Cartel members attempted to halt his transfer to Mexico City by blockading Reynosa with burning school buses. Although there were gun battles, the international bridges leading to Reynosa remained open and travel was not prohibited. Part of what is happening in Mexico is a splintering of the major drug cartels as authorities concentrate on capturing organized crime chiefs.

Many of the recent clashes within the Gulf Cartel have come from infighting between different cells that control key cities along the Rio Grande.

Cartel forces in Reynosa are known as the Metros and have fought members based in Matamoros, known as the Ciclones, in ongoing turf battles over the past few months. Further west, Los Zetas have traditionally controlled territory west of Miguel Alemán, across the river from Roma, toward the northwest past Nuevo Laredo.

At about the same time as the Reynosa violence, Mexican authorities also arrested the head of the Juárez Cartel. This head of the snake approach has been effective to a point, but like the mythical Hydra, cut off one head and more appear. 

While violence has fallen in several areas of Mexico, particularly Ciudad Juárez, other areas remain in the grip of these battling criminal gangs, including much of the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, where Reynosa is.

New gangs have emerged in the past couple of years and rapidly gained strength. One of the most dangerous is the Jalisco Cartel-New Generation, which officials say ambushed a Jalisco state police convoy on April 6 and killed 15 agents.

But gang violence has been so diminished in Juárez across from El Paso that city officials have launched a public relations campaign to attract renewed tourism. In 2010, Juárez was called the most dangerous city in the world because of its 3,000 murders, but the number was down to 424 in 2014. The mayor says he wants to “vindicate the city’s image abroad.” However, the number of murders still is more than double what it was in 2007, and one critic said the new program “is like washing a face when the rest of the body is still dirty, sick of corruption, impunity, poverty and inequality.” 

So here is the rub for Texas lawmakers: The cartels no doubt have a presence in Texas with the smuggling of drugs and humans, but the extreme violence remains on the Mexican side of the border. The real question, which so far the Texas Department of Public Safety has not adequately answered, is this: what exactly is Texas getting for the money it’s spending on border security?

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)