Pubdate: Mon, 12 Apr 2010
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Nicholas Casey


MEXICO CITY-An attack over the weekend on the U.S. consulate in Nuevo 
Laredo, Mexico, the second against U.S. government employees on the 
Mexican border in less than a month, highlights the mounting safety 
risks to U.S. outposts in the area from drug violence.

Late Friday evening, unknown attackers threw a bomb onto the patio of 
the Nuevo Laredo consulate. The blast shattered windows, but occurred 
after hours and injured no one, the consulate said. Mexican 
authorities are investigating.

The bomb came less than a month after a grisly attack on people 
associated with the Ciudad Juarez consulate, which left three people 
dead. On March 12, hit men chased a pregnant consulate employee and 
her husband, along with a third man in a separate car, through city 
streets in broad daylight, gunning them all down. Mexican authorities 
say an El Paso drug gang was involved in the killings.

A connection between the two attacks appears unlikely given the 
regions are controlled by different drug organizations. Still, the 
events underscore an emerging truth in the Mexican drug war: Despite 
the fact that the U.S. government outposts are officially uninvolved 
in the fighting, the diplomatic employees are being drawn into the 
storm. "We've seen an increase in this type of violence in Nuevo 
Laredo this year, and that's true of all the consulates along the 
border, including Monterrey," said Brian Quigley, a State Department 
consular spokesman. He said both the Nuevo Laredo and nearby Piedras 
Negras consular agency would remain closed until "we have adequate 
security to keep our visitors and staff safe."

This isn't the first attack. In October 2008, two men fired a gun and 
threw a grenade at the U.S. consulate in Monterrey, Mexico's northern 
business capital. The grenade didn't explode. Nuevo Laredo's 
consulate was closed for several days in 2005 by then-U.S. Ambassador 
Tony Garza following a gun battle between warring gangs close to the 
consulate. The U.S.-Mexico border once stood out as a relatively 
peaceful assignment in the U.S. Foreign Service. Relations between 
the countries were friendly and cross-border business boomed. 
Employees could maintain a house on the other side of the border or 
visit relatives there.

The U.S. has built a string of well-staffed embassy outposts in the 
region including Ciudad Juarez, the largest American consulate in the 
world with 300 employees. Others along the border include consulates 
in Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, Tijuana and Nogales, along with smaller 
consular agencies in Ciudad Acuna, Piedras Negras and Reynosa. But 
the situation has been changing the past few years.

In 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderon decided to crush the 
powerful drug organizations by deploying military and federal police 
throughout the country. Four years later, the most notable result 
appears to have been an increase in violence: Nearly 18,000 have been 
killed in fighting since 2006. Mexicans have been a target of most of 
the violence. This weekend, video emerged of gunmen mowing down eight 
people, including a 14-year-old girl, in the northern town of Creel 
last month; on Sunday, the body of a Mexican journalist was found in 
the central state of Michoacan with his throat slit. The family of 
Enrique Villicana Palomares, a columnist for the daily newspaper The 
Voice, reported him missing last week. Both cases are being 
investigated for drug connections.

Mexican security forces are responsible for protecting U.S. 
diplomatic missions in the country, a task some say they may not be 
up to. "They haven't taken it seriously," says Alberto Islas, private 
security consultant in Mexico City, of Mexico's federal and local 
police. Mexican police in Nuevo Laredo didn't immediately respond to 
a call for comment. Mr. Quigley, the consular spokesman said there 
was an "excellent working relationship" with Mexican authorities.

Still, Mr. Islas says, U.S. efforts to beef up security in its 
facilities-with perimeter fences, for example-haven't been matched by 
their Mexican counterparts, like limiting traffic next to consulates 
to pedestrians.

Mr. Quigley, the consular spokesman, says consulates constantly 
conduct their own reviews of security. "I would say we've taken the 
appropriate security measures based on the incidents that have 
happened," he says. Authorities are still probing what happened 
Friday. F.B.I agents and officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, 
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were in Nuevo Laredo to investigate 
this weekend, the consulate said. A surveillance tape may offer clues 
to what happened Friday, and has been turned over to Mexican 
authorities performing their own inquiry. 
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