Posted on October 18, 2004

12 Reynosa Officers Charged In Exploitation Of Tourists

James Osborne , The Monitor (McAllen, Tex.), Oct. 16

REYNOSA — Charges have been filed against 12 city police officers as fallout continues from allegations of shakedowns, rape and kidnappings perpetrated against U.S. tourists.

The Reynosa Police Department has been under investigation by the Tamaulipas State Attorney General’s Office for the past month, according to John Naland, the U.S. Consul in Matamoros.

“I spoke with Gov. (Tomás) Yarrington (Thursday), and he assured me of his determination to investigate these cases,” he said.

“I’m pleased with the results. We’ve finally gotten movement on these cases, some of which had been stalled for months.”

In all, 26 officers have been suspended or fired over the past week for their involvement in a series of nine complaints filed by U.S. tourists. These actions follow the resignation of former police director Carlos Hernandez Chaires on Oct. 6 and the termination of his second-incommand, José Garcia Rangel, who had barricaded himself in his office after being asked to step down by Reynosa city officials Oct. 5.

Seven of the nine complaints involved police demanding money from tourists, usually on their way out the city’s red light district, according to Naland. But included in this round of charges was a police officer accused of rape and another charged with aiding the kidnappers of an American man, who was held for five days while his bank account was emptied via ATM withdrawals.

“The kidnappers warned him to get the (U.S.) consulate to back off,” Naland said.

“There was no way they could have known we were involved unless someone within the Reynosa police department told them.”

According to Naland, while the shakedown of American tourists at the hands of Mexican police has become almost routine in cities along the border, there has been a dramatic spike in activity in Reynosa in recent months. Last month the consulate issued a travel advisory for the city, warning Americans to avoid using ATMs on the other side of the border. That advisory remains in effect for the time being.

“It was becoming a scary trend, but the pressure’s on now. Some of the bad people have been arrested, but we’re going to have to keep watching things and see how things go,” Naland said.

Not everyone is convinced the problems in Reynosa are any worse than those of any other Mexican city. Mike Allen, president and chief executive officer of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, which assists U.S. businessmen in setting up maquiladoras in and around Reynosa, said he’s been travelling into Mexico for 17 years and never experienced anything beyond a police officer asking for a bribe.

“Some of these reports have been exaggerated. I guess it makes good press. The thing is, there’s problems in every Mexican city with the police, but you just say I don’t have any money and I want to go to the police station,” Allen said.

“The difficulty is some people don’t understand Mexico.”

At the same time, Allen admits that the Reynosa Police Department does have a history of corruption. He is hopeful that the mayoral elections Nov. 14 will be the first step toward stemming that problem.

“I’ve spoken with the candidates and both of them have promised to clean up Reynosa,” Allen said.

“The current mayor hasn’t done a whole lot in that area. But with a new administration I think we’re going to see some improvements.”