On the afternoon of Sept. 30, Coloradan David Michael Hartley was shot and killed by a Mexican gang of “pirates” on Falcon Lake, a 60-mile-long reservoir on the Rio Grande about 90 miles southeast of Laredo, Texas. He was returning with his wife Tiffany on their jet skis from a sightseeing trip to the Mexican side of the lake.
The murder of an American vacationer three miles inside Mexico is cause enough for concern, but what is especially troubling is that it took the Mexican authorities six days to acknowledge the crime and begin a search for Hartley’s body. At this writing, the body has yet to be recovered, and the likelihood of apprehending the killers is almost zero.
The local Texas sheriff, Sigi Gonzalez, has been calling Mexican authorities seeking their cooperation. Because the local Mexican police will not venture onto the lake to deal with the “pirates,” he called the Mexican state police and then the Mexican military. The state police started to mobilize to go after the pirates but discovered someone had stolen their boat motor. When the Mexican police finally approached the scene, they were ambushed and driven back by superior firepower.
This story about why it is taking so long to recover the body is also the story of why the murder happened in the first place. The gang of young thieves on Falcon Lake that attacked the Hartleys has been operating since April under the protection of the “Zetas,” the drug-trafficking organization that controls the drug corridors in the lower Rio Grande Valley. The government of Mexico has been unable to clear Falcon Lake of “pirates” because it is unable to disarm the Zetas.
The Mexican reaction to the murder reveals the corruption and impotence of the Mexican government. Sadly, it is also the story of the incompetence and dishonesty within the United States government. Our government steadfastly refuses to tell the American people the truth about the extent of the rampant violence and breakdown of civil authority throughout Mexico, and it refuses to take the steps necessary to protect Americans from the escalating violence.
The first reaction from Mexican authorities when complaints were lodged about the slow response in recovering the body was to question the truthfulness of the victim’s wife. Tiffany Hartley saw the gunshot wound to her husband’s head and had to leave him in the water and flee for her life. It took the Mexican government six days to organize a search at the scene of the crime. Sheriff Gonzalez believes the criminals have very likely disposed of the body and that it will never be found.
In the wake of this tragedy, can our government do anything? Yes, there are steps that can be taken. First, since local Texas law enforcement is not allowed to pursue pirates into Mexico to apprehend them and Mexican police are incapable of doing so, the Texas government should close Falcon Lake to all boating and allow fishing only on the shoreline. Second, until the Mexican government recovers firm control of the region, the U.S. government should issue a travel warning strongly discouraging American travel to the four Mexican states bordering Texas.
To his credit, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called on the Mexican government to give the matter urgent attention, but we have heard not a peep from the governor of Colorado, the Hartley’s home state. The governor of Colorado should call the Mexican consul in Denver into his office and give him a formal letter of protest addressed to the Mexican ambassador.
Friends and relatives of the Hartleys in Colorado have not been silent. They protested on Friday at the Mexican consulate in Denver, with signs saying “Bring David Home” and “Justice for the Hartleys.”
Our State Department does not wish to acknowledge the unpleasant truth that today, there is no semblance of “law enforcement” in the four Mexican states bordering the Rio Grande – Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas. The Mexican government cannot protect either its own citizens or foreign tourists from cartel violence in that region. Not only does the drug cartel’s little gang of “pirates” operate with impunity on Falcon Lake, the cartels intimidate and neutralize local law enforcement in nearly every town and city. Mayors and police chiefs are assassinated, journalists are killed, merchants are extorted and honest officials cowed into submission. Less than 5 percent of murders in Mexico are ever prosecuted in court.
Mexico derives billions of dollars annually from American tourists, and an American tourist boycott of Mexico would cripple the Mexican economy. I am not advocating a boycott at this time, but it would be entirely justified in view of the Mexican government’s interference in domestic U.S. politics and its inability to control the violence that is spilling over into the United States. The flow of “human exports” last year included over 100,000 criminals apprehended on our southwest border.
The insulting and incompetent Mexican response to the murder of David Hartley only rubs salt into the wounds of a nation already victimized by Mexican intransigence. The Sept. 30 “pirate attack” is but a symptom of deeper, simmering problem, and Mexico would be well advised to finish disarming the cartels soon if it wants those billions of American tourist dollars to keep flowing southward.