Back in 2005, when our former Latin America bureau chief visited Matamoros on the US-Mexico border, she found Americans unfazed by increasing violence. US citizens still opted to ignore US advisories in favor of cheese enchiladas, Mexican trinkets, and cheap prescription drugs.
By the time I came onto the job, just about a year later, border life was still bustling, but people were starting to question whether getting something like a cheap root canal in Mexico was actually worth the risks of crossing into the country.
It is unclear what the motive was in this case. Details will be forthcoming. But at face value, the idea of two US citizens killed during their morning commute will only make more Americans reticent to seek a “Mexican” experience south of the border.
Sergio Salcido Luna and Kevin Joel Romero were reportedly shot several times in the pickup truck they were driving. The US press is reporting that the two had opted to live on the Mexican side of the border for personal reasons, including saving money on housing.
Their employer told the San Diego Union-Tribune that both men had worked at a Californian beverage company for about 1 and 1/2 years. “They were good guys,” he said. “I don’t think they were dealing drugs, selling drugs, or anything to do with drugs. They were both very hardworking individuals. They had a zest for life.”
Reporter Sandra Dibble offers more details about the case, including a statement by Attorney General Rommel Moreno Manjarrez who said one of the victims had a small packet of drugs on him and that his office was investigating whether the homicides were drug-related.
No matter, this case has the potential to scare off Americans more than others – especially cross-border commuters who once claimed their border was being unfairly portrayed.
"Unfortunately," they wrote, "there is a widespread misperception that the Southwest is wracked by violence spilling over from Mexico's ongoing drug war. The facts tell a different story. Some of America's safest communities are in the Southwest border region, with crime rates in cities along the border staying steady or dropping over the past decade.
"... Yet local leaders in the region tell us that the misinformation about safety and security at the border threatens this progress. It drives potential visitors away, hurts local businesses, and simply does not square with the fact the Southwest border region is one of the safest parts of the country."
I agree with that. But I am not sure I can say the same for northern Mexico. My father lives in San Diego and years ago stopped crossing to Tijuana. At the time I thought he was another unfortunate victim of sensationalist news.
We didn't find much violence, but we did find residents on the US side who had stopped crossing the border for their dental work and daily dose of tacos. Palomas was a ghost town. Its best-known restaurant was virtually empty – no Americans there doing the “Mexican thing.”
My opinion then, as I sat there typing away on my laptop, was that people were overly paranoid.
These days, I definitely would not sit in a Palomas restaurant with my computer, a telltale sign of a journalist on the road. I would probably even think twice about the way I visit my dad, which was always via Tijuana. I might possibly take the more expensive seven-hour route through Phoenix.