Friday, February 17, 2012

State Web Site Chronicles Drug Violence on Border Farms

One South Texas farmer appears on screen the way crime victims and witnesses often do, his face blurred and his voice distorted. Some ranchers talk about seeing drug smugglers in military-style uniforms on their property, describing the threats to their livelihood and lives as a border war. "We see a lot of things, but we keep our mouths shut about it," the farmer whose identity was concealed says in one video clip. "We just don't want to be in anybody's hit list." The Web site behind these videos -- -- is run by neither a Minuteman-style border patrol group nor a tech-savvy rancher. It is a product of Texas state government, created and operated by the Department of Agriculture, as a way to publicize the assertions by farmers and others that violence from Mexico's drug war has spilled over the border. But it has a more political mission as well: to publicly challenge the Obama administration, which has called the belief that the border is overrun by violence from Mexican drug cartels "a widespread misperception." Begun in March, steers a Texas agency typically concerned with detecting plant diseases and regulating grain-storage warehouses into the more controversial realm of domestic security. It paints a frightening portrait of life along the 1,254-mile border that Texas shares with Mexico. One man talks about quitting the farming business out of fear for his family's safety. There are police reports and news accounts of a ranch foreman getting injured by shattered glass after drug-smuggling suspects shot at his truck, vehicles being pursued by law enforcement crashing through farm fences and workers clearing trees being told to stop what they were doing or else. "I would have 80-year-old ranchers meet with me, tears in their eyes, and say, 'My family settled this land, I've been here my entire life and I'm scared to go on my own property,' " said the state's agriculture commissioner, Todd Staples, who came up with the idea for the Web site. "That's how I got involved, because landowners came to me."...more

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