Tourists flying over drug routes
Wed, 23 May 2012 04:10:57 GMT —
It's no secret, living across the border can be extremely dangerous.
Kidnappings, beheadings, grenade blasts, you name it.
For those traveling from Mexico to the U.S. it can be deadly.
So is border violence hurting the Rio Grande Valley's economy?
"I don't think the drug cartels are after tourists but if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time tragedy can happen," said Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport Business Development Manager Michael Jones.
Avoiding getting caught in the cross fire isn't easy for those crossing the border each day.
Nearly 50 million made the journey through the ports of entry in the fiscal year 2011, from Brownsville to Del Rio.
Those people cross the border at entry points like Los Indios.
What it all boils down to is families sharing the same roadways as drug cartels moving their loads north.
In May of 2012, 49 mutilated bodies were dumped on the side of one of those roads connecting the Valley to Monterrey.
Experts say it's not good for business on the border.
"You hear the term spillover violence or it's a war zone and those type of comments really don TMt do us any good," said Steve Ahlenius, President and CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.
"Its been going on for probably the last two and a half years and when it first started to flare up we definitely started seeing a drop in bridge crossings and the number of folks from Mexican Nationals traveling to our region to our cities and shopping and it had an economic impact," said Ahlenius.
According to Ahlenius, Mexican Nationals bring in about one billion dollars in retail sales to the valley each year.
While less may be driving, more are 'flying the friendly skies.'
"The load factors are setting records," said Jones.
"On the border on the frontera in Matamoros and Reynosa there have been problems. You have to pass a navy base or army base which have been attacked by the drug cartels and a lot of people do not feel safe traveling at daytime or nighttime," said Jones.
According to Jones, more business and leisure travelers are packing their bags and buying boarding passes, flying right over the drug routes.
Aeromexico flights from Monterrey to Brownsville are packed.
The flights have been so full Jones said, the airlines are overbooking them, sometimes sending passengers to other airports.
"People feel more secure using our airport. There's a plethora of security agencies here. One 50 seat regional jet like the one behind us, 7 days a week, puts $22,000,000 into the economy," said Jones.
According to Jones, each flight brings in $328,000 dollars in sales tax revenue, with visitors from Mexico spending money on Valley hotels, restaurants and shopping in a safe environment.
"I feel very safe going to the movies in the evening. I don't worry that something's going to happen," said Julian Alvarez from the Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"We have concerns in Mexico but I feel very confident when I go over there I can freely go to a dentist or go eat dinner of course I'm more cautious of what time I go and I go in groups and just like I would anywhere else. If I was in a major city in Houston, I wouldn't go by myself to eat dinner and that is the same way I feel about going to Mexico."
His mission is to change the perception people may have of the border, so that other travelers will feel the way those from Mexico do, safe when visiting the Valley, now turning to flying to get here, to avoid sharing the road with drug smugglers and putting their lives in harm's way.
The number of people killed in Mexico due to drug violence is hard to determine.
That is because the Mexican government stopped releasing the death toll figures.
This January, the number of those killed was already up to 47,500 but reports from Mexican media had it higher than that, up to 60,000.
Only time will tell just how big of an impact the killings will have on the border economy which depends on people crossing into the Valley, to pump a billion dollars into the local economy each year.