If anyplace should be safe from the extortions, kidnappings and killings that have gripped this troubled nation, it is the state of Aguascalientes, population of less than 1 million, and its once-quiet communities such as Pabellon de Arteaga.
But now the state is being afflicted with the same kind of crime and insecurity that other parts of Mexico–such as the border with Texas–have lived with for years, a result of the growing reach of drug cartels and the success of anti-drug efforts elsewhere, authorities say. The instability has led to an increase in out-migration, and North Texas is a favored destination.
Over the years, the central state of Aguascalientes, known as Mexico’s Rhode Island because of its small size, has gained a reputation for having the best quality of life and safest neighborhoods–“rich in culture and rich in boredom, the good kind,” quipped Irma Carrillo, an education professor at the Autonomous University of Aguascalientes.
But in the last couple of years, residents say, a steady stream of people from Pabellon and nearby communities, including the city of Aguascalientes, have fled for other parts of Mexico or the United States, particularly Texas.
About 200 residents of Aguascalientes, which means Hot Springs, now call the North Texas area home, and about half have arrived in the past two years, according to Miriam Carrillo, sister of Irma and president of Club de Migrantes Juntos Por Pabellon, an immigrant hometown association.
But there’s a poignant difference between the new arrivals and those who came years ago.
“These are people who feel obligated to leave Mexico” because of the crime, said Miriam Carrillo. “These are the people who used to create jobs back home.”
With the United States putting more pressure on smuggling routes along the Gulf Coast in recent years, drug smugglers have rerouted cocaine and marijuana shipments to the Pacific Coast, particularly through the southern state of Guerrero and the northwestern states of Michoacán and Jalisco, said Arturo Islas, an expert on national security issues.
That shift has led to a sharp increase in violence in those areas, and has put Aguascalientes–with easy access to Texas by way of El Paso and Laredo–squarely in the path of the rerouted contraband.
To finance their operations, drug traffickers have turned this once-tranquil industrious region into a haven of kidnappings, extortions and killings. Drug trafficking crimes rose from 157 in 2005 to 602 in 2007, a 127 percent increase, according to a study by Islas.