What we know about the Americans kidnapped in Matamoros, Mexico

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Four American citizens were kidnapped by armed men in Mexico on Friday, officials in both countries said.

The Americans entered Matamoros, a city in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, from Brownsville, Tex., in a white minivan with North Carolina plates, the FBI said.

The passengers in the car caught fire shortly after entering the city. Then they were put in another vehicle and taken away. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the four had “crossed the border to buy medicine in Mexico” when they were caught in a crossfire “between gangs.” “

Matamoros is located on the south bank of the Rio Grande, just across the border from Brownsville, Tex.

The FBI, which is investigating the kidnapping along with Mexican law enforcement agencies, is offering a $50,000 reward as authorities seek the arrest of the gunmen and the return of the victims.

Here’s what we know about Matamoros and the reasons why people cross the US-Mexico border, including health care.

Why is Matamoros famous?

Every day, tens of thousands of people either walk or drive across the bridge from Brownsville, Tex., to Matamoros, home to 580,000 people, for doctor’s appointments, shopping or serious activities such as food to take The green river Rio Grande winds between the two capital cities.

Officially known as “Heroica Matamoros,” the city is located in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, one of the most crime-ridden states in Mexico and one of six Mexican states to which Department of State advises Americans against travel, citing the risk of crime and kidnapping.

“Criminal groups target public and private passenger buses, as well as private cars traveling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers and demanding ransom payments,” the department’s latest travel advisor saying.

Tamaulipas is known for its long history of crime and crime, as a main route for migrants heading to the United States, as well as the busy and integrated border life shared by Mexicans and Americans on both sides of the border.

In the last ten years or so, Tamaulipas has been a symbol of Mexico drug-related violence and home to some of the worst human atrocities in the country, where criminal gangs and drug gangs regularly fight turf wars, terrorize communities and run kidnapping rackets.

More recently, the city became known for its squalid makeshift tent camps where thousands of asylum seekers were forced to wait while they made their case under the country’s “Remain in Mexico” program. -former president Donald Trump.

In 2010 and 2011, a series of migrant murders in the city of San Fernando, about 87 miles south of Matamoros, shocked the country and the world. In 2010, authorities found the bodies of 72 Central American migrants killed by the Zetas, a ruthless group that broke away from the Gulf drug cartel in the mid-2000s.

In 2011, gunmen drove at least 193 people – some of them migrants from Central America – off buses, shot them to death and dumped their bodies in 47 hidden graves. The two cases of mass killing of civilians at remote areas 90 minutes south of Texas marked a new level of barbarism in the US Mexican-backed drug war.

Matamoros was not spared from this wave of violence. In 2011, 18 members of a family were taken from three homes in the town on the morning of July 9. While the women and children were freed days later, the men were not returned despite several ransom payments.

Although the city is currently in the hands of the Gulf Cartel, the Mexican authorities have made strong progress in improving security in recent years.

According to official data, the number of kidnappings and murders, both locally and statewide, has dropped significantly in recent years. At the moment, there are much less obvious attacks like the Friday kidnapping and residents enjoy a friendly rest.

Why do Americans cross the border for health care?

Pharmacies, dentists and optometrists start popping up almost as soon as you cross the border into northern Mexico. The numbers are hard to come by but Americans regularly cross the border for health care including cosmetic surgeries, experts said.

One of the most common health care reasons for Americans to cross the border is to visit the dentist, according to academics who study the US-Mexico border.

“It is a very common phenomenon to travel to Reynosa or Matamoros for medicines, or medical procedures, and especially to see dentists because it is cheaper than in Texas,” said Nestor Rodriguez, professor of socio- experience at the University of Texas at Austin. “Some Mexican Americans may feel more familiar with Mexican doctors than with American ones.

Prescription drugs are much cheaper in Mexico, said Kathleen Staud, professor emerita of political science at the University of Texas at El Paso.

For people who can’t afford medical insurance — Texas is among a handful of states that have rejected Medicaid expansion — health care in Mexico is an affordable option, Staud said.

Mexican pharmacies offer some advantages over those in the United States, Staud said. Among them is an on-site medical doctor who can offer free medical intervention, in Spanish. There is a warning that people who travel for medicines or care must have time to wait in lines to cross the border.

Another advantage of Mexican pharmacies is that they offer many over the counter medications; that means patients can avoid the waiting time and cost of a doctor’s appointment.

“The pharmacy business thrives on a man on the border,” said Ricardo Ainslie, a professor of border culture and history at the University of Texas at Austin. “Matamoros is a major health care destination, as are cities 50 miles west of Matamoros.”

Medicines for high blood pressure, diabetes, and antibiotics are among those that Americans find across the border, said Jose M. Villarreal, professor of Chicano Latino studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. .

Others may be looking for painkillers like Oxycotin, Ainslie said. “People with addiction problems, who don’t have prescriptions or don’t want to be monitored for their consumption, can travel to Matamoros,” he said.

Some people also travel to Mexico for surgical procedures. Ainslie said that northern Mexico has several prestigious medical schools where people can travel “to access qualified health care at a fraction of the cost of American health care or surgeries despite the fact that it is completely out of pocket.”

What other reasons do people in border towns move regularly between the US and Mexico?

People who live in border towns such as Brownsville, Tex., or Matamoros are often bi-national and for generations have traveled to see family or friends, or for work and school, according to experts border checks.

“There are people who regularly travel from cities in Texas to Reynosa or Matamoros, or other towns in between to meet family,” Rodriguez said. “There are so many families that are divided by the end.”

People living on the American side can also cross the border for “extraordinary reasons,” he said. Sometimes Rodriguez students cross the border for good food on the Mexican side.

Similarly, Amelie Ramirez, director of the Health Promotion Research Institute in San Antonio, said that Hispanics often cross the Texas border to buy groceries.

“Since the rise of cartel violence in these areas, I would believe that the percentage of white Americans traveling to Mexico has dropped because of security fears,” Ainslie said. “But it’s there. still, and people travel to Matamoros regularly for all kinds of reasons.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics at least 948,895 people entered the United States through the Brownsville border in January 2023; in January 2000 this number was at least 1,809,300.

Kevin Sieff and Leo Sands contributed to this report.

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