PHARR, Texas – While the late Col. Fidencio R. Barrera has received most credit for being the brains behind the creation of Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, a friend and former colleague argues he did something equally profound for the region.

Barrera, a decorated solider and mayor of Pharr for two four-year terms in the 1980s, died April 23 aged 94. He was laid to rest with his wife, Elia S. Barrera, in a family plot on May 20 at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.

Anthony Covacevich worked for then-Hidalgo County Judge Edgar Ruiz when Barrera was mayor of Pharr. 

“Mayor Barrera was rightly acknowledged for spearheading the drive to get an international bridge in Pharr but whilst mayor he did something I believe was even more important,” Covacevich told the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service.

Fidencio Barrera

“Barrera and Judge Ruiz were not in sync politically. But he put aside the politics and allowed the city of Pharr to join the county of Hidalgo for a period of three years so that we could get an Urban County designation.”

Covacevich said that was huge.

“That brought to the county $12 to $15 million a year. We started it in 1988 and it has been in place ever since. All the small cities in the county get a portion of that money. Without Pharr’s help, and U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, we would not have gotten that money.”

Asked what the senator’s role was, Covacevich said: “Sen. Gramm railroaded a bill through Congress. It said, an Entitlement City, like Pharr was, could forgo their entitlement if they joined an Urban County consortium. And the city could pull out if it wanted to.”

Without the legislation, Pharr could not have helped Hidalgo County, Covacevich explained.

“This is why all of our smaller cities get all these monies for streets and water lines and sewer lines through the Urban County program. I know this because I created the program in Hidalgo County and ran it for 13 years. Here we are, $165 million later.”

Covacevich said securing the Urban County designation was a “big, big, deal.” He recalled how Judge Ruiz leaned on him “tremendously” to get the program going.

“The judge said, you have got to get me that Urban County designation. We need that income.”

Prior to getting the designation, Hidalgo County was not considered an Urban County, Covacevich explained.

Anthony Covacevich

“Every city was on its own and had to compete for money. They had to fight against each other. And I am talking about nasty fights up in Austin. We would drive to Austin and the Department of Commerce, which handled the money, they had to decide which cities to fund through the Small Cities program. And there wasn’t enough money for everybody. Some cities got money. Some did not. We called it the Friday Night Football mentality.”

Covacevich remembers that Hidalgo County got its Letter of Credit to set up the Urban County program in July 1988 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“The Urban County program is still getting $12 to $13 million a year,” said Covacevich, proudly.

And why was Mayor Barrera so important, Covacevich was asked.

“Well, Fidencio was willing to put aside politics for the greater good. Pharr was not going to get anything. They were going to get the same amount of money they got as an Entitlement City. But Fidencio helped the 165,000 people in Hidalgo County who lived in the small cities,” Covacevich said.

“To be in the Urban County program we had to have a population of 200,000 outside of the big cities. So, when Pharr came in with us we reached the magical threshold of 200,000.”

The “entitlement cities” back then, Covacevich said, were McAllen, Edinburg, Mission and Pharr. And that is still the case today, he pointed out. 

“They had a population of over 50,000 and so they would get their money every year. They would make a three-year plan and every year they would get an allocation from HUD.

Covacevich also praised Judge Ruiz, for whom he worked for 13 years. 

“Edgar was responsible for taking Hidalgo County from a rural county to an urban county. But Mayor Barrera helped us get the Urban County designation. He did not have to do it but he wanted to help the smaller cities.”


Editor’s Note: Here is the official obituary of Fidencio R. Barrera:

Fidencio R. Barrera, Colonel, US Army, Retired, was called to report to the Supreme Commander of the Universe on Sunday, April 23, 2023. He is survived by his twin brother, Florencio, his three daughters: Melva Diana Maurer, Nelda Barrera Aston, and Melinda Dahlil Taylor. Additionally, five grandchildren: Jennifer Elizabeth Annis, Nicole Anne Rayne, David Cavin Petta, Michael Drew Aston, and John Stuart Aston. His eight great-grandchildren are Elizabeth Ruth Walker, Parker Lynn Annis, Felicity Delia Annis, Samantha Pearl Annis, Cody Petta, Ryker Petta, Zoey Petta, and Vivien Rayne.

Fidencio was born a twin on January 12, 1929 in his beloved hometown of Pharr, Texas. He attended Buell Elementary School, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Middle School, and PSJA High School. The Barrera family were migrant workers. He and his 11 siblings picked vegetables in the Rio Grande Valley and then followed the cotton season all the way to Lamesa in West Texas. Since they did not return until late October, the semester was nearly over and the twins were unable to start school until after age ten.

Fidencio was a Boy Scout and a member of the Texas State Guard. He enlisted in the US Army Air Corps on June 5, 1947. After Basic Training at Lackland Air Base in San Antonio and Airways Communications Training in Scott Field, Illinois, he served in Japan and Iwo Jima. He was honorably discharged as a Sergeant on June 13, 1950, and thereupon returned to his hometown of Pharr. Fidencio then attended the McAllen Business College under the G.I. Bill and was awarded a diploma in Business Administration.

On August 19, 1951, Fidencio married Elia Saenz from Pharr, and the union produced three daughters.

Barrera joined the Texas National Guard and through his performance and military record as a non-commissioned officer on active duty, he qualified for special schooling under the Ten Series Course to become an officer. Upon completion, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in Artillery in the US Army effective May 24, 1955. He went on to graduate from the Field Artillery Officers Basic Course in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and the Advanced Armored Officers Course in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

On October 1, 1961, Barrera was recalled to active duty with the 49th Armored Division for the Berlin Crisis, and he was stationed in Fort Hood, Texas. He was assigned Company Commander of an Armored Company. Upon being promoted to Captain a year later, he was asked to volunteer for a special assignment. Having no “cognitive reason” to refuse, Fidencio was assigned to the 8th Special Forces Group Green Berets (Abn) stationed in the Panama Canal Zone. Later, he attended and graduated from The Special Warfare School in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the US Army Infantry School (Airborne) in Fort Benning, Georgia.

While assigned to the 8th Special Forces Group Green Berets (Abn) in Panama, Barrera traveled extensively throughout South America teaching Host Country Military how to conduct Counter Insurgency Operations and how to win the hearts and minds of the people. In order to participate in a mission to Brazil, he attended the US Army Southern Command Defense Language Institute to learn how to speak Portuguese. Fidencio was a Guest Lecturer at the War colleges of Brazil and a Diplomat to Bogotá, Colombia.

Barrera received orders to Vietnam, but it included a delay enroute at the US Army Defense Language Institute at the Presidio in Monterey, California to learn the Vietnamese language. He served his first tour in IV Corps (Delta area) in 1967 and the second tour in II Corps (Central Highlands) in 1970-71.

In 1973, Fidencio was selected for the US Army Degree Completion (Bootstrap) Program to attend Our Lady of the Lake College in San Antonio. He was conferred the degree of Bachelor of Arts with a major in History and a minor in Political Science on May 1, 1974.

After serving his country faithfully and honorably, Fidencio was retired from the US Army as a Lieutenant Colonel on November 1, 1977. He and Elia happily settled in their hometown of Pharr once again.

Even before retiring, Colonel Barrera began working with Superintendent Augusto Guerra of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District to establish a JROTC program at the local high school. After much concerted effort, the Junior Reserve Officer Training Course at PSJA was finally approved and established in 1981. Fidencio Barrera became the first Senior Army Instructor and organized the first JROTC Program in the PSJA school district.

Barrera then became interested in municipal politics. With the encouragement and support from family and friends, he was elected Mayor of Pharr in 1982. Re-elected in 1986, he served two four-year terms (1982-1990). The annexation of the Las Milpas Colonias and extension of water, sewer and police services; acquisition of land for the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge; and purchase of the 149.5 acres of land for the Pharr-Las Milpas Industrial Park to complement construction of the bridge are among his many successful projects. During Barrera’s tenure, the City of Pharr was the first in the Rio Grande Valley to receive a $3,500,000 grant and low-interest combination loan to provide water and sewer services to much of the cities’ ‘colonias’ and some extraterritorial jurisdiction poverty areas from the Texas Water Development Board.

Additionally, Fidencio and his wife were invited to the Inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1984 and then again in 1990. Mayor and Mrs. Barrera were also invited to attend a ceremony at the White House to commemorate the unveiling of the US Postage Stamp in honor of Hispanic Heritage in 1984.

From 1991 to 1996, Barrera served as President and CEO of the Pharr Chamber of Commerce. He was responsible for the inception of the annual and extremely successful Taste of The Valley function, which is still being held after twenty years.

Fidencio continued as Municipal Judge of Pharr from 1993 to 1994. His service to the community was commemorated by an official Proclamation issued on June 8, 2010 declaring that day as “Fidencio Rodriguez Barrera Day.”

Fidencio Barrera was a humble man who loved his hometown, his family, his Catholic roots, and his country. He loved to serve. He commanded troops and led men into war. He shook hands with Presidents and dignitaries. He was a beloved husband, father, and grandfather. He was the consummate soldier. 

Fidencio Barrera was a true American hero, and he will live in our hearts forever.

Fidencio R. Barrera and his wife, Elia S. Barrera, were laid to rest in a family plot on May 20, 2023 at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, Texas.

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