Mexican Pirates Attack Texas Fishermen on Falcon Lake, Which Straddles Border

William Booth, Washington Post, May 30, 2010

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In the past month, crews of outlaws in a small armada of banged-up skiffs and high-powered bass boats launched from the Mexican shore have ambushed bass anglers from the Texas side [of Falcon Lake] innocently casting their plastic worms over favorite spots. The buccaneers have struck in Mexican waters but within sight of the Texas shore.

Dressed in black, the pirates brandish automatic weapons, carry radio cellphones and board the anglers’ boats. They demand weapons or drugs from their captives, but finding neither, seem satisfied with taking $400 or $500 as booty, according to law enforcement officials and victims’ accounts.

There is a saying about not messing with Texas, and the idea that criminals are preying on American anglers is raising already-high temperatures along the southwest border. Answering calls for help, President Obama last week ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to the region.

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“Within the last month, with all the feuding going on over there, the dope smuggling has dropped off and it is starving them. This water is Zeta central. They controlled the whole lake. They distributed everything. Now they’re desperate and diversifying,” said Jose E. Gonzalez, the second in command of the Border Patrol’s Zapata station, which operates an around-the-clock maritime patrol.

At least three armed robberies have been reported in Mexican waters. The Texas Department of Public Safety put out a warning for people to stay on the U.S. side. On Memorial Day weekend, when 200 bass boats would usually be in town, only two dozen were seen at county ramps Friday afternoon.

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‘Some bad boys out there’

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Olga Juliana Elizondo, the mayor of Nueva Guerrero, Mexico, said ranchers are harassed on their land, motorboats have disappeared, vehicles have been stolen and tourists have fled. “We hope this ends soon,” she said.

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‘They watch us’

Out on the water with the U.S. Border Patrol, roaring right down the international boundary line but careful never to cross into Mexico, Gonzalez and a crew pointed out spot after spot where they have intercepted tons of marijuana crossing the lake.

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“But, man, they are so good at counter-surveillance,” Gonzalez said, describing the lake as kind of a Wild West on the water. “They watch us, they watch our boats, our cars, our homes. The smugglers, they know every move we make.”

The traffickers cross day and night, driving boats with bales of marijuana right into the backyards of homes along the lake. They rent cabins at the lakeside state park and stash dope there. The border agents point to a three-story house built like a watchtower on the Mexican shore. The officers frequently see observers with binoculars on the roof. Up and down the lake, netting boats are idled. Nobody waves.

“We’re telling folks that right now, Mexico is not safe. Don’t cross, because we can’t go over and help you. It’s just an imaginary line, but it’s a line I can’t cross,” said Jake Cawthon, a Texas game warden. {snip}

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