Mexico angered by U.S. travel alert for border region
MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's government reacted angrily on Thursday to a U.S. warning about travel along the border, and a top official said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge failed to mention any such concerns in a meeting just last week.The complaints by Interior Secretary Santiago Creel came after a U.S. State Department alert Wednesday expressed fear Mexico had lost control of drug-related violence in the north."U.S. citizens should be aware of the risk posed by the deteriorating security situation," the State Department advisory said, though it stopped short of urging Americans to avoid Mexico.The alert was accompanied by a letter from U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza to Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez and Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha, expressing concern that drug-related violence and kidnappings on the Mexican side of the border would have a "chilling" effect on trade and tourism between the neighbors.In an interview on Mexico's top morning television news program, Creel said Garza's letter expressed legitimate concerns but "went too far, without a doubt."Mexican officials would meet their U.S. counterparts to condemn it, Creel said."Why didn't they say anything a week ago when I was in that meeting with the secretary of homeland security?" he said, referring to a meeting on Jan. 17 in Calexico, Calif. "He didn't express any concern to me." On the contrary, Creel said Ridge had praised Mexico's actions.Derbez told the Televisa television network that the U.S. comments seemed "exaggerated" because the Mexican government has taken concrete actions against criminal groups.Killings and kidnappings have increased in the border region as drug traffickers battle for control of the area.Mexico has sent troops and federal police to patrol the streets of cities from Matamoros to Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, along the border with Texas, at the request of local authorities who said crime and violence have spun out of control.They also have cracked down at top-security federal prisons housing reputed drug traffickers, who allegedly have continued to operate their businesses -- and direct bloody battles for control along the border -- from behind bars with the help of corrupt prison employees.In his letter, Ambassador Garza said the great majority of border-violence victims are Mexican citizens but that Americans passing through the border also face risk. "Increased numbers of murdered and kidnapped Americans in recent months bear this out," he said.Garza said he was concerned "the inability of local law enforcement to come to grips with rising drug warfare, kidnappings and random street violence will have a chilling effect on the cross-border exchange, tourism and commerce.""We certainly do not want at this time to advise Americans to refrain from traveling to Mexico by land or to avoid the border areas, but it is our responsibility to alert them to the enhanced risks," Garza said.The U.S. consul to Reynosa, on the Mexican border across from McAllen, Texas, issued a separate alert in September for U.S. travelers planning to visit that city. The advisory came after officials received reports that Mexican police allegedly were forcing U.S. drivers to remote places or to automated cash machines, where they were told to hand over money or face jail time.