Gun Battles in Mexico Force U.S. to Shut Down Two Border Crossings

March 14, 2012 - 4:45 PM
Unmanned Border Crossing

In this Oct. 31, 2011 photo, work is underway in Big Bend National Park, Texas, on a planned remotely-operated port of entry at the Rio Grande. It would be the first of its kind on the U.S.-Mexico border and provide access to Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico, seen in the distance. (AP Photo/Christopher Sherman)

(CNSNews.com) - Several gun battles between Mexican military forces and drug traffickers  prompted U.S. authorities to temporarily shut down two international bridge crossings on the Southwest border last week.

The two bridges are located at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) port of entry in Eagle Pass, Texas – connecting Eagle Pass, Texas, to Piedras Negras in Coahuila, Mexico.

In an e-mail to CNSNews.com, Douglas Mosier, a spokesman for CBP in El Paso, confirmed that the bridges were closed “in response to violent activity occurring in Piedras Negras, Mexico and as per coordination between the Government of Mexico, the Eagle Pass Police Department and the Maverick County Sheriff's Department.”

“CBP has protocols in place to handle these types of situations and enacted those protocols in response to this incident,” added Mosier. “Our primary concern is for the safety of the traveling public and the safety of our officers.”

He said that the shut down took place overnight between approximately 9 p.m. on March 6 and 8 a.m. the following day.

Traffic to Mexico was stopped at about 9 p.m. Northbound traffic from Mexico coming across the larger bridge – Camino Real International – was rerouted overnight to the Eagle Pass International Bridge.

By 7:40 a.m. on March 7, both international bridges had fully resumed northbound and southbound operations.

Mosier said he could not provide any more details on the battles, which government agency ordered the shut down, and whether CBP often closes down border crossings as a result of drug war violence in Mexico.

However, according to Mexican news reports, the U.S. State Department requested that the bridges be closed in response to a series of gun battles between the Mexican military and bandits in Piedras Negras armed with rifles and rocket grenade launchers.

The State Department did not immediately return calls for comment.

Media accounts from both the U.S. and Mexico revealed that the traffickers used an 18-wheeler engulfed in fire to set up a road block approximately a quarter-mile from one of the bridges and that one female police officer and at least six members of the Mexican military were wounded as a result of the armed conflict.

Eagle Pass Police Chief Tony Castañeda, who referred to the armed criminals as drug traffickers, said, “This is not out of the norm. There have been several gun battles going on here with the narcotics traffickers for quite some time. But it's never gotten to this magnitude where they close bridges,” reported The San Antonio Express-News on March 8.

Speaking in Spanish, Castañeda said in a video that the bridges were closed to prevent the criminals from “fleeing and entering the U.S. to escape because many of them do have the right to enter by means of a passport,” The Eagle Pass Business Journal reported on March 7.

However, Mosier said that CBP was still allowing northbound traffic. It was traffic going into Mexico that was completely stopped.

The decision to close the bridges was aimed at “protecting citizens and preventing some of the delinquents from entering and fleeing from what had occurred on the Mexican side and to maintain security,” added Castañeda.

Castañeda revealed that CBP officers and members of the police force have been placed on alert, adding that as a result he expects northbound traffic on the bridges to be slow for several days following the incident.