The Dallas Morning News

Kidnapping­s set off alarms for Mexico travelers

Some who go often profess wariness, cite their own encounters

- By IMELDA GARCÍA Staff Writer imelda.garcia@aldiadalla­ Twitter: @imegarcia

The kidnapping of four Americans — two of whom were killed — in the northern Mexico border city of Matamoros has set off alarms for Texans who make frequent trips to Mexico.

This week’s tragic events brought vivid memories back for Elías Gamboa, a Dallasbase­d missionary.

He recalled driving his van full of aid from Texas to Mexico when criminal groups stopped him. Not once but three times on the same day in Nuevo Laredo. The groups wanted to extort money from him.

Gamboa, 58, works for Centro Cristiano De Milagros church. He typically travels every two or three weeks to Matehuala in the state of San Luis Potosi to deliver food, clothing and furniture to Christian churches in the area.

Previous encounters

His encounter with the criminals occurred three years ago. Since then, Gamboa has avoided using the Laredo crossing to enter Mexico unless it’s strictly necessary.

“That day, the first time they stopped me, was when I passed through Mexican customs,” he said. “One street ahead, there was already an organized crime checkpoint … stopping people openly. They weren’t hiding or anything.”

Gamboa told the armed men he was taking aid to Mexico and had no money, so they let him go.

Five miles further on, still in the city, another group stopped him. He repeated his story. Again, they let him go.

An armed group stopped him for a third time at the Nuevo Laredo exit to Monterrey. Gamboa mentioned that he had already been stopped twice ... and they let him go again.

“But other pastors have not had the same luck,” Gamboa said. “Friends of mine have been asked for $500 to $800 to let them pass. That’s the sad situation in Nuevo Laredo.”

Stay on highway

A couple of other times, Gamboa’s car was hit by another vehicle. Upon stopping, Gamboa was accosted by the other drivers, blaming him for the accident and demanding money.

“If you have to make that trip to Mexico,” he said, “the biggest recommenda­tion is to never leave the highway and, if you have to stop, never lose sight of your vehicle, because something can happen.”

Jaime Damián, an activist from the state of Guerrero and founder of Grupo Lazos de Oro in North Texas, has not traveled to Mexico by road for several years because of escalating violence.

“I stopped traveling by car,” he said. “I travel by plane now.”

As a community leader, he talks to folks who travel to Mexico by car. “Some internatio­nal travelers who decide to travel by road already carry $1,000, set aside to be let through” by criminal groups, he said. “And also when they travel by bus, word is they have to give a fee” to these groups.

Better safe

Jorge Martinez is a political analyst who lives in Mission, a neighborin­g city of Mcallen, on the border with Reynosa, Tamaulipas. He used to travel every six weeks with his family to Los Ramones, Nuevo Leon, to visit his mother and other relatives.

But since last December, the Martinezes have suspended their trips. They are expecting a baby and fear that a setback could jeopardize the pregnancy.

“This year is different, because my wife and I are expecting a baby. We decided not to go this spring break because, God forbid, something happens and with the scare, something happens to the baby,” said Martinez, 34.

Last year, Martinez also changed his summer plans because there was conflict between organized crime groups in Los Ramones. He decided not to travel.

“One has to see how things are to decide whether to go or not,” he said. “There are many things to evaluate before making a decision.”

 ?? The Associated Press ?? Mexican army soldiers prepared a search mission for four U.S. citizens kidnapped by gunmen in Matamoros, Mexico, on Monday. Two of the four were found dead.
The Associated Press Mexican army soldiers prepared a search mission for four U.S. citizens kidnapped by gunmen in Matamoros, Mexico, on Monday. Two of the four were found dead.

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