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[South Texas:]More Mexicans visit Valley via air to avoid violence
The Monitor ^ | January 06, 2011 | Martha L. Hernández

Posted on 01/07/2011 2:05:20 PM PST by SwinneySwitch

McALLEN — Criminal activity in northern Mexico has many people opting to fly the friendly skies between McAllen and points south, rather than traveling overland and risking cartel shakedowns or worse.

Small planes ferry well-heeled people from Monterrey and Tampico to the Rio Grande Valley to shop or visit family without the danger that has become a routine part of highway travel as rival cartels vie for dominance in Tamaulipas and routinely engage in open gun battles with government police and troops.

The McAllen Chamber of Commerce has had a hand in promoting charter air services as a safe alternative to overland routes, even launching a billboard ad campaign in Monterrey in October.

The gambit worked. Mexicans who had started avoiding travel to the Valley out of fear of narco-blockades and cartel violence apparently have begun making the commute again, said Steve Ahlenius, director of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.

"In the first four weeks (of the billboard campaign) we had around 600 people," Ahlenius said.

GID Explore Inc. — a McAllen-based charter air service that flies 12-passenger Cessna airplanes — saw a spike in its flights early last year and found a niche market in Tampico with people who were flying to the Valley. During the Christmas holiday, the company was running up to six flights a day transporting shoppers to the Valley from Mexico.

Travelers from Tampico — on the Gulf coast, about 275 miles south of McAllen — must cross the entire state of Tamaulipas to come shopping here. The overland trip means passing either Soto la Marina or Ciudad Victoria and San Fernando, areas with reputations for cartel-related crime.

Private pilot Andres Salomon Gonzalez remembers one of those incidents. Some passengers he flew from Tampico to McAllen had arranged for a driver to bring their SUV to the Valley so they could avoid getting a rental.

The vehicle didn’t make it here, said Salomon Gonzalez.

"The passengers were waiting for their SUV here (in McAllen), but it never arrived," he said in Spanish. "Late at night they found out that the SUV was stolen at the halfway point along the road."

The driver was released unharmed but was left in the middle of the road with no transportation.

"Ground transportation is too dangerous right now," Salomon Gonzalez said. "Everybody wants to fly."

Gerardo and Silvia Rodriguez have been frequent fliers between McAllen and Monterrey over the past eight years. Now, though, they see a lot more fellow travelers on their flights.

"I know a lot of people from Monterrey that in the past would readily travel overland, and now they either come less frequently or they try to fly with a friend," Gerardo Rodriguezsaid in Spanish.

Everybody wants to visit the border, Salomon Gonzalez said, and they want to travel by plane.

"If they don’t have a plane, a friend may lend them one — a compadre or a (business) associate," he said. "Everybody is moving by air."

The situation is not likely to change any time soon since Tamaulipas residents and officials don’t see the violence declining.

"We are still in the same situation," Salomon Gonzalez said.

Capt. Francisco Garcia, manager of GID Explore, said in Spanish that about 30 percent of the passengers on each of his flights are new customers.

Garcia said he’s flying 700 people a month and making two flights per day.

"We are really pleased with it," Ahlenius, the McAllen chamber director, said of the initiative. "Planes are full every time, so it’s worked out real well."

Local businesspeople, however, generally aren’t taking advantage of the charter service and have stopped their trips altogether, Ahlenius said.

Still, the long lines and long waits at the international bridges and the abundance of Nuevo Leon state license plates at local shopping center parking lots are an indication that people are still trekking to the Valley by car.

Ahlenius is cautious, though, about saying whether the traffic has translated to an increase in sales here, which was the chamber’s hope. However, an assessment at the end of this month should provide some confirmation one way or another.

"The waits at the bridge have been longer, and I think that is a good sign," Ahlenius said. "When I’ve driven in the parking lots at the malls and different shopping centers, I see a lot of folks from Mexico. So, we’ve got our fingers crossed."

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Mexico; News/Current Events; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: borderwar; corruption; mexico; tamaulipas

1 posted on 01/07/2011 2:05:23 PM PST by SwinneySwitch
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To: SwinneySwitch

By air? Are they pole vaulting over the border wall?


2 posted on 01/07/2011 2:13:29 PM PST by JimRed (Excising a cancer before it kills us waters the Tree of Liberty too! TERM LIMITS, NOW AND FOREVER!)
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To: SwinneySwitch
..rather than traveling overland and risking cartel shakedowns or worse.

Travel in Mexico is dangerous. Even going to Mexico is dangerous. I know of a young salesman who was snatched from his Holiday Inn room in Monterrey last year by armed narcos. They took the wrong person by mistake but held him for ransom anyway. He was never seen again.

3 posted on 01/07/2011 2:16:51 PM PST by ExtremeUnction
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To: SwinneySwitch
RINO Big Hair Perry's fault

/ sarc

4 posted on 01/07/2011 2:20:39 PM PST by lormand (A Government who robs Peter to pay Paul, will always have the support of Paul)
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To: Liz; AuntB; Willie Green; okie01

I don’t blame them for wanting out of their crime-ridden hellhole of a homeland, but parts of their native country are reasonably safe. They should travel to those areas instead.

5 posted on 01/07/2011 2:32:16 PM PST by Clintonfatigued (Illegal aliens commit crimes that Americans won't commit)
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To: JimRed
“By air? Are they pole vaulting over the border wall?”

Nah. The coyotes are lobing them by trebuchet.

6 posted on 01/07/2011 2:48:49 PM PST by Panzerlied ("We shall never surrender!")
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To: SwinneySwitch

It’s been a Mexican mass exodus into Texas for a long time now due to the war on their border.

7 posted on 01/07/2011 3:14:05 PM PST by dragnet2 (Diversion and evasion are tools of deceit.)
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To: SwinneySwitch

For crying out loud when the hell are Mexicans ever going to take responsibility for the land God gave them and fix it instead of finding ways to stampede out of it? 400 f’ing years and it’s worse a pest-hole than it ever was and we’ve been insulted with the spectacle of it’s p!ss-ant president lecturing us on ‘’human rights’’ from the well of our House of Representitives.

8 posted on 01/07/2011 7:58:50 PM PST by jmacusa (Two wrongs don't make a right. But they can make it interesting.)
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