BROWNSVILLE, RGV – U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela says he is working with the Office of the Vice President and the State Department to get the United States to play a bigger role in helping Mexico combat drug cartel violence in Tamaulipas.

Vela said he would like to see the Secure Economic Zones (SEZs) Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has announced for the Mexico-Guatemala border to be implemented also on Mexico’s border with South Texas.

“I fully support Mexican government efforts to eliminate the criminal actors who have destabilized our neighboring cities of Matamoros and Reynosa. Bringing peace and security to these towns, to which so many of us are historically connected, is critical to our joint regional desire for economic prosperity on both sides of the border,” Vela, D-Brownsville, said on Friday, in response to a fresh outbreak of violence in Reynosa.

“It is not an easy task, but we cannot relent. I will continue to urge Washington leadership to give full diplomatic support to achieve full success in this vital mission,” Vela said.

According to Mexican law enforcement officials, three people were killed in outbreaks of violence in Reynosa of Friday. Buses and motor vehicles were set on fire and used as road blocks along Boulevard Hidalgo and Boulevard Morelos. The violence broke out after federal police and marines captured “El Gafe,” a leader of the Gulf Cartel, said a police spokesman. A federal government security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified “El Gafe” as José Hugo Rodríguez Sánchez.

Last November, President Nieto announced a ten-point plan for transforming the economy and security of the southern region of Mexico. These include:

*    A national emergency phone system like 9-1-1
*    A streamlined police force organized by state rather than by local municipalities
*     More transparency and public information on contractors working for the government
*    A constitutional amendment allowing the federal government to intervene and override local municipalities thought to be infiltrated by organized crime

Peña Nieto said that by 2016 he wants to create three secure economic zones in southern Mexico in order to “transform the socio-economic landscape of the region.” He said the zones would involve a “large-scale integral development strategy that will involve the whole country in order to support the neediest sectors in Mexico.” These three zones will be:

1. The Inter-Oceanic Industrial Corridor in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to link the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico
2. The Puerto de Chiapas
3. The Puerto de Lázaro Cárdenas in Michoacán and Guerrero.

Peña Nieto said the SEZs, including two deep-water ports, one in Chiapas and the other in Lázaro Cárdenas, will operate within a regulatory framework and include tax incentives for businesses. Additionally, he said, a number of incentives and financial assistance will be offered, including modern infrastructure, security, preferential financing, foreign trade facilities and lower tax rates.

Congressman Vela said just as much focus needs to be applied to Tamaulipas.

“Over the last several weeks we have been working with the State Department and the Office of the Vice President to really get them to focus on what is happening with the violence on the Tamaulipas border. I feel like we have made progress. I am confident they are beginning to take this seriously but by the same token we need to see some action,” Vela told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“What I have explained is that when you have a situation where five Americans or the family members of Americans have been killed in the period of six months and now two veterans have gone missing, there have to be consequences. There have to be consequences when our people are not safe in Mexico.

“I think we need to develop a strategy to figure out what we can do diplomatically to put ourselves in a situation where the United States and Mexico are showing that they have the will to wipe out cartel violence on the northern Mexican border.”

Vela said probably the most productive approach would be to get Mexico to focus on the SEZs Peña Nieto announced for southern Mexico and apply these to the northern border.

“The plans for Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca are a great idea, though they still have to be implemented. I think these plans would work here on the Texas-Tamaulipas border also. I think it would be a lot easier to implement, because of the proximity of our two countries. We have citizens on both sides of the border that need better protection. It just makes sense and I am going to keep pushing that.”