Tag Archives: lorne matalon

Borderland Horse Patrols In The Age Of High Tech: Funding Requested In Administration’s 2018 Budget

US Border Patrol Agent Leo Gonzales debriefs a Honduran man and his daughter after intercepting them on the Rio Grande near La Grulla, Texas. (photo:Lorne Matalon)

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US Border Patrol Agent Agent Leo Gonzales speaks with two migrants, a father and his five-year-old daughter, who said they had just crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico after an overland trip from Honduras. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

LA GRULLA, Texas–Since the terrorist attacks of Sept 11 2001, the United States has spent over 100 billion dollars on border security technology—cameras, drones, aerostats (“blimps”) airborne patrols, fencing and walls. But in the U.S. Border Patrol’s most active sector in terms of arrests, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, horses and the agents riding them are patrolling terrain that technology alone can’t alone control. As politicians debate an expanded and expensive border wall, this kind of “old school” border security comes at a relatively miniscule cost to taxpayers.

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Using horses to secure the border is not new. It began in 1924, the year what became the modern-day Border Patrol was founded. Today what is changing is where the horses now come from and how critical they’ve become in what statistics show is currently the Border Patrol’s most active zone. Supervisory Agent Manuel Torresmutt leads the horse unit.

“Going into such rough terrain in the dark hours, the horse will take care of the rider,” said Supervisory Agent Manuel Torresmutt, leader of the horse unit.

He and a handful of agents were patrolling a sliver of the Rio Grande one hour west of McAllen, Texas and Reynosa, Mexico. The horses are mustangs captured on federal lands in the west.

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US-Owned Maquilas Welcome Prospect Of Changes To NAFTA

Alberto Martinez welds steel at a maquila owned by Metal Industries of Florida. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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Alberto Martinez welds steel at a maquila in Reynosa, Mexico owned by Metal Industries of Florida (photo: Lorne Matalon)

REYNOSA, Mexico–American-owned assembly-line factories known as maquilas that line the Mexican side of the border with the U.S. have been bracing for change since the election of Donald Trump. But not in the way you might expect. They clearly don’t want a border tax placed on their shipments to the United States, as the Trump administration has threatened. But they are embracing the possibility of an updated Nafta saying the current version makes it a harder to operate in Mexico compared to the U.S. It all has to do with time consuming paperwork.

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Maquila managers and trade groups interviewed in both countries see regulatory uncertainty as an opportunity. “Nafta is 30 years old. It hasn’t kept up with today’s economy,” said Mike Myers, a Texan who runs a maquila owned by Metal Industries, a Florida company that makes vents for air conditioners and heating systems.

Mike Myers, a maquila manager in Reynosa, Mexico. He opposes a border tax but supports an updated Nafta. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Maquilas are foreign-owned factories in Mexico, many American-owned, that produce goods for export. Mexican and Asian interests also own maquilas, which sprung up like mushrooms after the rain when NAFTA took effect in 1994. Maquilas leverage low labor costs in Mexico and duty free access to the U.S. market to produce everything from televisions to medical equipment to computer parts. Continue reading

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Program Frontera Sur: Migrants Running Gauntlet On Guatemala-Mexico Border

The words read, “Christ Lives.” Migrants and goods such as oil and foodstuffs are transported illegally on a raft below a bridge that is an official port of entry between Mexico and Guatemala. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

ARRIAGA, Chiapas — The town of Arriaga in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas perfectly encapsulates how migration through Mexico has changed since 2014. Located three hours and 11 checkpoints north of the Guatemala border, it’s a former hub of trains known collectively as La Bestia, or The Beast.

But now, the train only comes here to bring in work crews who are repairing the tracks. Migrants who once lined the tracks have been replaced by police and Mexican immigration agents. They circle the town in trucks after months of raids, pulling migrants off trains and erecting concrete walls with barbed wire near the tracks to prevent access.

Migrants still show up here though, albeit in far fewer numbers.

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Programa Frontera Sur: Tracking U.S. Influence On Mexico’s Southern Border Plan

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Chiapas — In 2012, a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security declared that Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala was now essentially the southern border of the United States.

That was two years before the 2014 child migrant crisis that saw tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America crossing or attempting to cross into the U.S. from Mexico. Since then, the U.S. has in essence expanded its own border enforcement efforts by assisting Mexico on its southern border. In 2015, fewer Central Americans reached the U.S., though the numbers undulate from season to season.

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This border is porous even after the U.S. pressured Mexico to start Programa Frontera Sur, its southern border plan, in July 2014. The plan was crafted after President Obama said the unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied children and families arriving at the U.S. border in the preceding months constituted an “urgent humanitarian situation.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees later warned of a “looming humanitarian crisis in the Americas.”

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US-Mexico Intelligence Cooperation Braces For Possible Change

Mexican soldiers work in the mountains of Sinaloa burning this marijuana field, part of an eradication program supported by the United States. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

AUSTIN, Texas–The U.S. Congressional Research Service says intelligence cooperation between Mexico and the United States has become closer in the last decade on issues important to both countries such as illegal immigration, border security, drugs and human trafficking.

But that critical intelligence relationship may be under examination in Mexico. The country is trying to fashion a response to a suite of economic threats issued by the new U.S. administration. And security is one serious chip to play. After alleged Mexican drug trafficker Chapo Guzmán Loera was arrested in Sinaloa, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration released a statement.

“The arrest is a significant achievement,” it said, “in our shared fight against organized crime.” There are published reports that U.S. intelligence on Guzmán’s whereabouts led to the takedown. Guzmán was extradited to the United States last month.

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But the former chief of Mexico’s National Intelligence Agency between 2007 and 2011 believes that kind of cooperation risks being diluted. “There will be no incentives to collaborate with the United States,” said Guillermo Valdés in a conversation in Austin, Texas.

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Fraying At The Seams: The Challenge Of Fair Trade Coffee In Mexico And Guatemala

photo: Lorne Matalon

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Paulino Agustín and Sinael Altamirano prepare ground in the mountains of Chiapas state, a prime coffee growing region in Mexico. They are digging before planting coffee trees which typically don't produce coffee beans for three years after planting. (Lorne Matalon)

CACAHOATAN, Chiapas — The lives of thousands of small-scale coffee growers in Latin America and Mexico are better off because of fair trade. But the system is fraying at the seams in one of the world’s most important coffee-growing regions because of a perfect storm defined by low prices, a damaging fungus and unscrupulous middlemen.

Central America and southern Mexico are major parts of the fair trade coffee mosaic and 80 percent of the world’s fair trade coffee comes from Latin America.

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“They pay well,” said coffee grower Pedro Pacheco in Spanish in Chajul, Guatemala referring to the foreigners who buy his fair trade coffee beans. He is a member of a fair trade coffee co-op in which coffee growers sell their beans together sharing risk and reward. He said his co-op works well because its foreign buyers pay a fair price that is locked in and doesn’t change even if market conditions do.

César Ulises Roblero (R) and Carlos Galves Hernandez (L) sell beans they acquire from growers from this small processing plant near the Tacaná volcano, a source of rich soil that imparts a distinct aromatic taste to coffee produced near here. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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Fronteras Desk In Colombia: Key US Ally Debates Peace Accord With FARC Guerrillas

The image on a Bogotá home suggests violence has been raining down on Colombia for too long. (Lorne Matalon)

The image on a Bogotá home suggests violence has been raining down on Colombia for too long. (Lorne Matalon)

BOGOTA, Colombia—A peace deal is expected to be signed in March 2016 between the government of Colombia, a key ally of the United States in South America, and the largest guerrilla movement among several that have fought for decades to topple the Colombian state. The guerrilla group is known as FARC, the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The U.S. has spent billions of dollars in Colombia backing the government against the FARC and another guerrilla group known as the ELN, the Spanish abbreviation for the National Liberation Army, under the terms of Plan Colombia.

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The plan is a multibillion-dollar security package, the majority of which has been deployed to combat drug trafficking, though critics of the government in Colombia are unhappy that much of the assistance from the US went to the Colombian army, which has been accused in the majority of human rights abuses during the armed conflict.

President Barack Obama welcomed his Colombian counterpart in early February. Now, Mr. Obama is pledging to push Congress to grant financial support for the peace talks. But in Colombia, the path to peace is under intense debate.

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El Salvador & Central American Migration: New Concerns As Numbers Rise One Year After Unprecedented Influx

Two members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang (MS-13) stand in a prison in El Salvador. MS-13 was founded by Salvadoran immigrants in California in the 1980s. Recent intelligence gathered by US federal agents shared with the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC show that many Salvadorans cite gang violence as a prime motive for leaving Central America. (Lorne Matalon)

Two members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang (MS-13) stand in a prison in El Salvador. MS-13 was founded by Salvadoran immigrants in California in the 1980s. Recent intelligence gathered by US federal agents shared with the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC show that many Salvadorans cite gang violence as a prime motive for leaving Central America. (Lorne Matalon)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The line of the hopeful forms every weekday morning at the American Embassy in San Salvador.

The scene is both intense and poignant. A line of several dozen families snakes its way along a sidewalk across the street. Infants are wailing in their parents’ arms as clouds of black diesel spewed by passing trucks envelop the crowd. A few feet away, heavily-armed Salvadoran police patrol the embassy perimeter.

The would-be migrants are waiting for their turn to launch a formal application to enter the United States.

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That scene unfolds against a backdrop of new statistics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that some analysts believe may portend a new surge of Central American migrants.

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Mexico Army Challenged In Sinaloa, Durango, Chihuahua

Mexican soldiers work in the mountains of Sinaloa burning this marijuana field, part of an eradication program supported by the United States. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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CULIACAN, Sinaloa–A top boss of the Arellano Felix drug-trafficking cartel is now behind bars in Mexico. The man is a U.S. citizen. He was arrested yesterday following a joint intelligence operation by Mexican and U.S. agencies. American officials are praising Mexico’s determination in going after the traffickers. Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon has made it a top national priority. He’s ordered the Mexican Army to spear-head the fight. That means soldiers are heading into drug cartel territory to track down traffickers and destroy illegal crops. The World’s Lorne Matalon was an embedded reporter on one such mission, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

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The following is a transcript;

Matalon: It’s early morning at the Sinaloa military base. Special Forces soldiers are getting their orders.

Matalon: Their Commander says, “Starting at 11, the first group will begin the mission, the second and third will block the entrances and exits.” The Mexican Army’s Special Forces–their faces covered by black balaclavas–are preparing to head out onto the streets of Culiacan, in Sinaloa state, home of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel. Special Forces recently captured the group’s alleged money-launderer, while the son and brother of the cartel’s leader–Mexico’s most-wanted man–have just been sentenced to jail. The soldiers’ faces are covered because the Sinaloa cartel is killing soldiers, police and informants.

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