By Nick Braune
Mid-Valley Town Crier
The Border Patrol is planning on doing some aerial spraying (herbicides) near Laredo, Texas. Because Laredo and the Mexican city across the river from it, Nuevo Laredo, each have about 350,000 people (not exactly one of Texas’ sparsely populated county areas), concern about the spraying has been growing.
However, the Border Patrol says it is not going to be spraying people, it is simply intending to spray a herbicide over a one mile-long stretch of unpopulated land, the purpose being to kill a tall plant (carrizo cane, similar to bamboo) which has been growing wildly there. The Border Patrol thinks it is too easy for undocumented people to hide in the carrizo where the Patrol does not have a clean line of sight.
The Border Patrol argues that spraying the carriso is a practical, common sense, solution, although quite a few people in the Laredo area, on both sides of the border, are not convinced it is necessary and are not staying quiet. Logically, the burden of proof falls heavily on the Border Patrol — they are not spraying in a desolate region and the spray must be pretty powerful to knock out these bamboo-like shoots. The stretch lies between the Laredo Railroad Bridge and the Laredo Community College, directly across from a populated area in Mexico, according to an article in Frontera NorteSur on March 21st.
According to the Frontera article, the manager for Nuevo Laredo’s water utility said that the Border Patrol advised his office to start turning off water pumps when the spraying takes place. The fact that the Border Patrol has warned the Mexican side that it should not pull water from the Rio while the spraying is taking place made a water manager for Nuevo Laredo raise the obvious question: The utility manager is quoted as saying, “If there is no problem, why are they asking us to do this?” And in a phone interview for this column, Jay Johnson-Castro, the Executive Director of the Rio Grande International Studies Center at Laredo Community College, said that the U.S. authorities are actually suggesting the Mexicans not draw off any river water for a day or two after the spraying as a precaution.
Johnson-Castro was at a meeting of the city council in Nuevo Laredo where they voted 20 to 0 to call on the U.S. to stop the spraying. No doubt many people felt there was a danger and felt confused about the necessity of the project: if the carrizo cane is such a problem, why doesn’t the Border Patrol just hire some crews to cut it down? The Border Patrol has two million dollars for the project, according to Johnson-Castro.)
Johnson-Castro, in the phone interview, said bluntly, “The Border Patrol has not been upfront.” They have been talking about “eradication” of the carrizo cane for some time, but they were not telling many people that they were intending aerial spraying with herbicides. “Back in July, they advertized for one day that they were carrying out an environmental assessment. People just didn’t know this was being discussed.”
Later, according to Johnson-Castro, government people said that they had done an environmental assessment, although the city council members and the city’s environmental department personnel told Johnson-Castro that they hadn’t even seen the report. “The environmental assessment process was abused.” And as far as Mexico goes, says Johnson-Castro, “I myself sent out the initial warning to the health and water departments in Nuevo Laredo and Tamaulipas. If I hadn’t done that, I wonder if the Border Patrol, now sending warnings on the water, would have ever informed them.”
The chemical being used is Imazapyr. Versions of this are made by BASF and Monsanto. Is it safe for people, plants, animals, water? Well, chemical safety standards vary by country. It is labeled as relatively safe in the U.S., but Mexican regulators label it as more toxic and dangerous. And the Europeans have virtually banned it for these defoliation uses, according to Johnson-Castro.
How does the matter stand at present? An association of citizens called Barrio De Colores, composed of residents of the barrios El Cuatro and De Colores, whose homes are near the proposed Border Patrol pilot project site for helicopter spraying, filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security to prevent the planned action. It was filed one day before the March 25th starting date for the spraying. A judge has responded and the spraying is temporarily being held off. This may be extremely important in the long run because the Laredo spraying is intended as a “pilot project” for several stretches of the river, Great Bend to Brownsville.
(Just some thoughts-in-progress. In the above discussion, I didn’t connect this arrogant Border Patrol spraying plan to the increased militarization of the Border. But President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano have just this week pushed — good grief — for more Feds down here on the Border. And they are deliberately, it seems, giving mixed (friendly/unfriendly) messages to Mexico and seem to want to run Mexico’s anti-drug campaign.)