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WHY TROOPS OR MILITA ON OUR SOUTHERN BORDER IS NOT A SOLUTION 
I have lived along the west Texas Rio Grande border on and off for many years. During this time I did a fair amount of research and writing about Big Bend border history and as a historian I cannot ignore the lessons of the past. Today Mexico is at war with itself. A massive tide of refugees is reportedly crossing our southern border. The U. S. Border Patrol is overwhelmed. The issue has become quite politicized as tempers flair with vehement demands to militarize our Rio Grande boundary. Shadowy militia groups with their own agendas have also entered the picture.

Few seem to realize that none of this is particularly new. Striking similarities exist between this present day crisis and what took place on the border a century ago. In mid-1916 President Woodrow Wilson ordered the National Guards of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, consisting of some 110,000 officers and men, to the southern border to prevent ongoing bandit raids and violence originating in Mexico. In the upper Big Bend of Texas a number of new cavalry outposts came into existence within a matter of months. For the next three years the U. S. Army, including members of the National Guard, the Texas Rangers as well as armed vigilantes took part in numerous deplorable punitive actions that destroyed the lives of hundreds of Mexicans living on both sides of the Rio Grande. Today it would be called collateral damage but that does not mitigate the inhumanity that resulted. The similarities between those times and today are striking.

Perhaps the most serious of these reprisals took place just after midnight on January 27, 1918 when Troop G of the Eighth U.S. Cavalry, Texas Rangers of Company B from Marfa, Texas and a group of vigilantes surrounded the tiny Presidio County village of Porvenir. A little more than a month previous a group of Mexican raiders had attacked the west Presidio County Brite Ranch robbing a store and stealing a herd of cattle and horses as well as shooting up the place. The raid made national newspaper headlines and initiated calls to teach border Mexicans a lesson. The some 140 residents of Porvenir were dragged from their homes into the freezing night. A search of the village turned up little; no stolen goods, only one old gun with no cartridges and a few knives. The Rangers selected fifteen Porvenir men between the ages of 16 and 72 years and marched their prisoners off into the darkness. Some distance away, the fifteen were unceremoniously shot to death. A few days after the massacre, Troop G returned to Porvenir and destroyed the village. The U.S. Army successfully covered up its role in the killings. Five Texas Rangers were fired from their jobs but never faced prosecution. The actions of the U.S. Army, the Texas Rangers and vigilantes at Porvenir went well beyond the murders of fifteen poor tenant farmers. Forty-two children lost their fathers and their homes as a result of the atrocity. The tension and border raids did not end at Porvenir however. The border raids and brutal retaliations continued on for another year and a half only ending when the U. S. Army left the border entirely in the fall of 1919.

More recently in May 1997, a member of U.S. Marine Joint Task Force 6 drug interdiction patrol shot and killed eighteen-year-old Esequiel Hernandez near the Rio Grande border as he herded goats near his family home outside Redford, Texas. Young Hernandez carried an antique single shot .22 rifle that day to fend off predators. According to the Marines, Esequiel fired a shot in their direction. He probably did not realize the Marines were nearby since they wore camouflaged “ghillie” suits. Acting on orders to return fire, Corporal Clemente Banuelos opened up killing the innocent goat herder. The Hernandez killing became a symbol of the failure of U.S. Drug policy. About that same time upriver from Redford, the Marines established a training outpost at Candelaria, Texas that operated for several summers. A U.S. Army camp about 30 miles upstream from Candelaria also went into operation. The build up of U.S. military prompted the Mexican government to move a contingent of several thousand troops from Chiapas to the border to counter the U.S. troops just across the river. For more than a year the Texas upper Big Bend once had again became an armed camp with soldiers from two nations separated only by a small stream of water known as the Rio Grande River. Citizens on both sides of the border were alarmed and things only quieted down when both the U.S. and Mexican forces left the area much to the relief of border residents.

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recent decision to order 1,000 national guardsmen to the Mexican border is an ill advised political move. At a cost of about $12 million dollars a month, the militarization will only increase border tensions as it always has in the past. These guardsmen have highly questionable arrest powers and lack training in law enforcement. Many of them cannot speak Spanish only adding to the difficulty. Let the Border Patrol and local law enforcement carry out their job, a job they are trained to do and give them the necessary support and funding needed. As Winston Churchill put it, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

Glenn Justice


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