Posted on August 17, 2004

Diplomacy Sought In Pepper-Ball Flap

Chicago Tribune, Aug. 15

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — Mexican and U.S. diplomats held high-level meetings Friday over the use of “pepper-ball” guns by U.S. Border Patrol agents, after an apparent linguistic confusion over the projectiles helped fuel tensions with Mexico.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega met with Mexican Ambassador Carlos de Icaza in Washington on Friday, after Mexico demanded high-level diplomatic consultations on the issue, an official at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico said.

The Mexican government has faced severe criticism from local media and rights groups for not opposing more strongly the use of “balas de goma” — literally, rubber bullets — against undocumented migrants.

In fact, the round plastic projectiles are fired with compressed gas and are basically paintball pellets filled with pepper powder, an irritant intended to immobilize. The U.S. Border Patrol fired the pepper-balls in 81 instances during 2002-03, and reported no deaths or severe injuries.