Requiem for a Border City

Dispatches from the Border Wall: Reynosa



Reynosa is crumbling under the dark spell of organized crime and narco-traficantes. This is not the city I used to know a decade ago with its vibrant plaza, smiling families and a healthy tourism trade in the city’s downtown plaza. Sure, Reynosa was never pretty. It was a gritty, industrial border town but then I have a soft spot for ugly places with a story to tell. Reynosa has always been ugly but it was alive and at least it had hope.

Now the restaurants and small businesses downtown are closed for good. Store owners can’t afford the extortion payments charged by organized crime. Weeds sprout up from the fronts of boarded up discos. Former restaurants tagged with graffiti crumble under the hot August sun. Two weeks ago, someone threw a grenade at the city hall. It stands deserted now. In the streets no one smiles and no one makes eye contact. As I sit in a restaurant on the plaza I find my thoughts reeling. Is that guy in the black hat sitting next to me a narco? Maybe I should move away from the window?

I don’t want to be another victim caught in the crossfire. It’s not only the narco-traficantes you have to worry about here. Their show of power and the utter failure of the police force or army to curtail the violence have emboldened other criminals in the city. Now you have to worry about kidnappers, carjackers, and the people with nothing to lose. The bullets could come anytime from anywhere. When people from Reynosa speak about the cartels or organized crime they whisper even when sitting in their own living rooms. “Don’t use my name” and “You didn’t hear it from me” I hear again and again.

Anyone with a business and some family connection to the United States is packing up and leaving or has already left. Others are returning to Veracruz and points on the map further south.  Reynosa is the dominion now of the poor and disenfranchised, and of organized crime and their saint La Santa Muerte. A shining white altar to La Santa Muerte (Saint Death) marks the entrance to Reynosa. She wasn’t here a decade ago when I worked as a reporter in the city.  This smiling grim reaper is a fitting saint for these times. The mood in Reynosa is fatalistic. The only thing certain these days is death.

As my husband snaps photographs of the skeletal spectre La Santa Muerte a silver pickup truck careens down the highway at high speed with its hazard lights flashing. It weaves dangerously in and out of traffic passing a highway patrol car that does nothing to detain him. Moments later an Army convoy of several humvees comes speeding down the highway in pursuit their assault rifles glinting in the harsh afternoon sun. Fear courses through me as they pass me by on the side of the road. I pretend not to see them. It would be fitting if I had to take shelter from their bullets behind the altar to La Santa Muerte. The only place in Reynosa anyone seems to find comfort anymore.