MCALLEN, RGV – U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is pushing for an Iraq-style “Green Zone” along the transportation corridor between Monterrey and McAllen.

The congressman says the Rio Grande Valley is suffering economically because Highway 40 is not safe. He said bank deposits and tourism is down because Monterrey residents are not visiting the region in the numbers they used to.

Gonzalez said the issue is so important he is withholding his support for USMCA, the successor to NAFTA, pending inclusion of security issues in the new trade agreement.

“I met with the secretary of public security in Mexico City a few months ago. He assured me it (security along Highway 40) is going to be put in that plan. So, now I am asking for deadlines and dates and we are moving forward in that direction,” Gonzalez said.

“That is the only issue I am holding them hostage on, on my (USMCA) vote. We need to ensure our trade is safe from Monterrey to here and that tourism can continue because that impacts us directly in our region.”

Gonzalez made his comments at a luncheon hosted by the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The luncheon was held at the Double Tree Suites in McAllen. Gonzalez was the main speaker at the event, with questions posed by retired UT-Rio Grande Valley politics professor Jerry Polinard.

According to a study by consultancy firm Dominguez Resendiz, the Monterrey-Monterrey-Reynosa highway is the “most dangerous” road in Mexico. During the first quarter of 2019, 3,147 complaints of auto-transport theft were recorded.

Gonzalez won a round of applause from the audience when he linked security to ratification of USMCA. In a Q&A with the audience, Gonzalez won praise from healthcare consultant Mario Garza.

Garza said: “I would like to applaud your efforts to safeguard the corridor on Highway 40 from McAllen to Monterrey. Having family in Monterrey, it is very comforting. I think your application of technology, drones, cameras, will very much enhance the safety on that corridor.”

Garza said he has personally seen family members from Monterrey group together, caravan-style, and come five or six vehicles at a time.

“I understand that having a post every 20 kilometers would greatly secure that whole corridor. But I think also, having someone assist that caravan… every half an hour have someone drive with that caravan to the border would cost less and maybe be a quicker fix,” Garza said.

“You could have someone go back and forth with that caravan, like wild, Wild West wagon-style. I know it works for my family, five or six cares at a time.”

It was in response to Garza’s comments that Congressman Gonzalez mentioned his “Green Zone” idea.

“The new police force Mexico is putting together is going to heavily patrol that route (Highway 40). There are going to be drones, there is going to be technology. We have aerostats on our side of the border that can gather intel that we can share with people we know and trust,” Gonzalez said.

“It is going to be a mix of everything. There are going to be people on the ground, cameras, drones. We want to create like the Green Zone in Iraq, where, if you go in there, you know you are okay. And, as long as you don’t leave that route, we can assure your safety.”

Polinard, now a professor emeritus at UTRGV, asked Gonzalez questions on a range of subjects. These included trade, immigration, healthcare and gun control. Naturally enough, the event kicked off with trade.

“When we talk about trade and we don’t talk about insecurity, I think it is a missed opportunity. More than 60 percent of all produce imported into this country comes through the Pharr bridge. I have some folks (farmers in his district) that have to pay for security across the border. I do not see how that is not a tax or a tariff,” Gonzalez said, in response to a question from Polinard about USMCA.

“The road from Monterrey to our border, to the Anzalduas Bridge has not been 100 percent safe for a long time and it is costing us money. Deposits are down, people are not being second homes like they were at one time, here in our region and on South Padre Island.”

Gonzalez said that while he is for free trade, the United States “needs to hold Mexico responsible” for some security issues.

“I think it would be a missed opportunity not to talk about security across our border when we are talking about trade. I can tell you I am a Free Trader, I support NAFTA, I support trade. This administration has promised to put the road, Highway 40, from Monterrey to our border under a security pilot program.”

Gonzalez said he can make a strong case that security should be aligned with a trade agreement because there is a lot of value attached to security.

“We were getting a billion dollars in Mexican national deposits to our banks, just here in McAllen. They are way down. Real estate has been impacted. The market on the island, where people from Monterrey own second and third homes has been impacted. A lot of people are selling and a lot of people are not buying because of the simple insecurity of the trade route from Monterrey to Anzalduas Bridge,” Gonzalez said.

“This administration has assured me that they are going to put that road (Highway 40) in a pilot program and we are working with our State Department to create security points every 20 kilometers, all the way from Monterrey to our border. So, I am holding their feet to the fire on this issue because it has impacted us directly.”

Gonzalez added: “This billion dollars a year of Mexican national deposits will continue to come to the United States. They are just not going to come to our region. They are going to fly over us and go to Houston, Dallas and San Antonio and other places. So, that road is super important for our economy.”