BROWNSVILLE, November 3 - U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela recently told the Rio Grande Guardian that insecurity in Tamaulipas and across Mexico has now got to be viewed as one of the biggest foreign policy issues confronting the United States.
The Brownsville Democrat said that through his work in Washington, D.C, he would be placing a much greater emphasis on the issue of cartel violence and two recent statements appear to bear this out.
Firstly, in the light of the recent killing of three siblings from Progreso in Matamoros, Vela in a statement “implored” the governments of the United States and Mexico to commit, once and for all, to eliminating cartel violence in Mexico. Secondly, Vela said on Monday that he will oppose the confirmation of the next U.S. attorney general unless that person commits to extraditing former Tamaulipas Governor Tomas Yarrington, who was indicted in the U.S. in 2013 but has not been brought to justice.
Vela’s stance on insecurity in Mexico has pleased Francisco “Kiko” Rendon, a member of the Texas Southmost College’s board of trustees. Rendon’s brother Carlos was murdered early last month in Matamoros. “Congressman Vela is bold for doing what he is doing. He is going above and beyond. We need our State Department to do a lot more,” Rendon said.
Vela knows the Rendon family well. In an interview with the Guardian, Vela said the murder of Carlos Rendon and, in a separate incident, the recent murder of well-known Matamoros businessman Fernando Lugo, brought home the need to focus on security.
However, Vela said it is wrong to view the issue of insecurity in Mexico as just a border problem, citing the recent disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, Mexico. “If I go to Washington and ask for help just for this region, other members of Congress want to view it more globally. Insecurity is an issue for both countries. We have drug cartel activity in over 1,000 cities across the United States and in Mexico, 60,000 to 80,000 people have been killed. Washington needs to wake up and give this the same kind of attention it gives to other parts of the world,” Vela told the Guardian.
With regard to the death of Erica Alvarado Rivera, 26, Alex Alvarado, 22, and Jose Angel Alvarado, 21, three siblings from Progreso, Texas, Vela said he has been in contact with the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The young adults went missing on Oct. 13. Their bodies were found recently in Matamoros, just across the Rio Grande from Vela’s hometown of Brownsville.
“My thoughts are with the Alvarado family during this difficult time. My staff and I have been in contact with the U.S. Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Vela said, in a statement.
“Given that this was initially believed to have been a kidnapping, the FBI began working with their Mexican counterparts shortly after the three siblings were reported missing. This tragic incident is a reminder of the fierce violence that plagues Tamaulipas and reinforces my belief that insecurity in Tamaulipas is one of the biggest foreign policy issues confronting our nation. I implore the governments of the United States and Mexico to commit, once and for all, to eliminating cartel violence in Mexico.”
With regard to the situation with Yarrington, Vela said the indictment and extradition of those who have fueled violence in Mexico must be a top priority of the U.S. Department of Justice and the State Department. He issued this statement on Monday:
“The President of the United States will soon be nominating an individual to replace Attorney General Eric Holder. In my view, any potential appointee must be committed to the extradition of the indicted former governor of Tamaulipas, Tomas Yarrington.
“In December of 2013, a federal indictment filed in the Southern District of Texas-Brownsville Division was unsealed. According to the indictment, Yarrington received large bribes from drug trafficking organizations such as the Gulf Cartel to allow them to operate their criminal enterprises in the state of Tamaulipas freely.
“Specifically, the indictment charges Yarrington with conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute, conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to defraud, and conspiracy to make false statements to federally insured U.S. banks. Additionally, Yarrington is charged with conspiracy to violate the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act, two substantive bank fraud charges, and conspiracy to structure currency transactions at a domestic financial institution.
“Already, millions of dollars worth of assets produced by the racketeering enterprise lead by Yarrington have been seized by the United States, including a condominium on South Padre Island and an airplane.
“It has been more than ten months since the scathing Yarrington indictment was unsealed. Yet, no formal extradition request to my knowledge has been made from the U.S. State Department to the government of Mexico to bring Yarrington to Brownsville to stand trial.
“Indicting and extraditing those who have fueled the violence in Mexico must be a top priority of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. State Department.
“In a travel warning updated in October of 2014, the State Department warns, ‘Matamoros, Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, and Ciudad Victoria have experienced numerous gun battles and attacks with explosive devices in the past year. Violent conflicts between rival criminal elements and/or the Mexican military can occur in all parts of the region and at all times of the day. The number of reported kidnappings for Tamaulipas is among the highest in Mexico, and the number of U.S. citizens reported to the consulates in Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo as being kidnapped, abducted, or disappearing involuntarily in the first half of 2014 has also increased’.”
“For the last century and a half, residents of Northern Mexico and South Texas enjoyed a bicultural experience where crossing to work, eat, shop or visit family and friends was a part of everyday life. This way of life has now been ripped apart. Extraditing Yarrington to the U.S. to stand trial in Brownsville will not solve all of the security problems in Northern Mexico, but it will send a strong message that we demand that those whose criminal acts have destabilized Mexico be held accountable.
“Thus, my question to any person President Obama might nominate, if you were to become Attorney General, how committed would you be to extraditing Tomas Yarrington to the U.S. to stand trial?”
TSC Trustee Rendon said he would like to see murders carried out in Mexico publicized as such. “You hear about them capturing drug dealers. Why do they not say, ‘hey, we captured these murderers.’ We do not see it. We need to find the guilty party and get them off the street. You never see them say, ‘we captured this person and he was connected to all these murders.’ We have to find these people so they do not do it to anybody else. We need to put them behind bars.”
Rendon said his family has had a form of closure in this case of his brother because, although no one has been brought to justice, the body of Carlos Rendon was identified, returned, and given a proper burial. He said that does not always happen.
Rendon said he agrees with Congressman Vela that the State Department is not doing enough to help Mexico deal with cartel activity. He pointed out that his brother was killed after a home invasion and robbery that turned into a kidnapping that turned into a murder. He said the kidnapping took place just a couple of blocks from the U.S. Consulate’s office in Matamoros.
Rendon said the U.S. Consulate’s Office in Matamoros had said they would have three observers at the Matamoros home of his brother when the Mexican forensic investigation took place. “Five minutes before it was supposed to happen they said they could not be there. I later found out they would not go because of security fears,” Rendon said. He said his family had to hire a Mexican attorney to observe proceedings.
Rendon said he has known Lugo, the Matamoros businessman since the 1990s. “He was an industrial engineer. He lived next door neighbor to my Dad, who was born in Matamoros. I understand he was picked up in a restaurant in Matamoros; that a ransom was paid, it was not a lot of money, and still he was killed. He has worked in construction and economic development his whole adult life. Like my brother, he had children that go to school in Brownsville.”