Five men have been handed over to police in Matamoros, along with an apology letter, for the deadly kidnapping of four Americans last week after they crossed the border into Mexico – two of the American citizens were killed, the other two recovering in a Brownsville hospital.
As more details have come out, it’s a story that has been looming larger and larger in the international news cycle.
Nathan Jones is associate professor of Security Studies at Sam Houston State University and a nonresident scholar at the Baker Institute at Rice university. His research focuses on drug violence in Mexico, and he joined Texas Standard to put the events over the past week into context. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Let’s talk the biggest development here – this apology note and the surrender of five individuals that the cartel claims were responsible for this act, which they described as “senseless.” What’s going on?
Nathan Jones: So this is standard modus operandi for cartels when there’s been violence against U..S law enforcement, for example. However, it’s important to remember this is information warfare. This is propaganda. They’re trying to smooth things over. And these individuals may not have even been the individuals who did it. They could just be people who are being forced to say this possibly under threat of their families. Or it could really be the individuals that did it. And this is kind of like the principal agent problem. They’re claiming in this note that they wouldn’t do this, that these guys were essentially freelancing and that they didn’t have control and they were being undisciplined.
But of course, violence against people unrelated to anything that has to do with drugs or cartel activity has been going on for decades now. Why the sudden and quick response from the Gulf Cartel here, given that so many citizens of Mexico disappear and there’s nary a response from the cartels?
Yes, that’s exactly right. There’s a different threshold for violence against Americans, and in particular American law enforcement. But in this case, there were four Americans who were kidnapped, two killed. This made international news. This certainly made national news in the United States. So there was a lot of pressure. But then there’s not that same level of pressure when Mexican citizens are killed in this way.
Who’s bringing the pressure on the cartels? Is it the American government? Is it the threat of some kind of American response? Is it the Mexican government that’s leaning hard on the cartels? What is it exactly that’s prompted this reaction, in your estimation?
Well, it’s the U.S. government putting pressure on the Mexican government. And I think that that’s where it’s really coming in, because the U.S. government does have the capacity through stronger rule of law institutions to make this a much larger issue. And they clearly, through diplomatic channels, exerted real pressure.
These were Americans who went across the border from Brownsville to Matamoros. I think a lot of people are asking this: how safe or unsafe is it to go to Mexico for Americans?
Well, I would recommend everybody follow the State Department travel warnings and the State Department travel warning on Tamaulipas was very clear: Don’t go. You know, if you’re a person who crosses on a regular basis and has family there, then you’re taking your safety into your own hands.
Now, there are other areas of Mexico that are fundamentally different. So I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. But I also think that people should think about: what is their risk assessment in terms of cartel patrols? And if you have certain things that make you stand out – if you are going to buy drugs, if you are going to engage in trying to find prostitution or you are a heavily-tattooed military age male – there are certain things that are going to increase your risk factors. And I think people have to think about those things.