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B.P. agents told to stay on alert

BY JAMES GUTIERREZ
Laredo Times staff writer
June 7, 2000

Laredo Border Patrol officials said Tuesday that agents are on alert and are "thinking twice when they leave for work" since a Mexican militant put a $10,000 bounty on their heads. "We're not calling an official alert we're always on alert, it's part of the job," Assistant BP Chief George A. Gunnoe said, "but we are urging our agents to be more conscious of their surroundings and to be more careful of the kinds of situations that they allow themselves to be led into."

Gunnoe explained that the comments of Carlos Ibarra Perez at his press conference Monday in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico has artificially raised tensions along the border to the point where both sides fear that the other is going to shoot somebody one for protection and the other for a reward.

"We've been doing this (work) for 75 years now, and the tensions have always been high here we've understood that it's a way of life along the border. But this individual has brought things to the point where our guys are thinking twice when they leave for work in the morning," Gunnoe said.

Problems began when Perez, the spokesman for an advocacy group called the "Citizen Defense Committee," held a press conference in which he publicly offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who would kill a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Ibarra's announcement came in response to illegal immigrants allegedly slain by federal agents and private landowners in the United States, particularly along the Arizona-Mexico border, one source said.

"(Border Patrol) are massacring people, and now we're ready to defend ourselves," Ibarra was quoted as saying. According to news reports from Mexico, the Tamaulipas state attorney general's office has opened up a criminal investigation into Ibarra's dealings in what they are calling "a possible incitement to murder."

"Independent of the seriousness with which one should take the declarations of Mr. Carlos Ibarra Perez, in no way can we permit attempts to return to a system of self-defense in which everyone takes justice into his own hands," the agency said in a news release. According to Gunnoe, Ibarra at one point during the press conference made reference to a recent incident in Brownsville, where an illegal immigrant was killed by a Border Patrol agent during a struggle.

"The agent was met in this case with a lot of physical resistance so much so that he actually feared for his life and had to take the appropriate action that resulted in death," Gunnoe said. "How (Ibarra) determines this to be the normal course of business or the prevailing attitude, that Border Patrol agents run rampant on the border, is beyond me. In truth, we don't know what his agenda is."

As to the $10,000 reward, Gunnoe explained that any assault on a federal agent would be a felony offense and that the killing of a federal agent would be a capital offense, punishable by death. Ibarra claims that his 5,000-member group will raise the bounty money by donating $2 each to their bounty fund.

Gunnoe said that he does not know what will happen next. "We're all taking a 'wait and see' attitude. We have no idea who this individual is or what his capabilities are for organizing this many people. But I do understand that the FBI is trying to get involved," said Gunnoe, who added that his greatest concern is for the agents out in the field.

"I hope it doesn't impact them at all, though I know it will it'll be in the back of their minds. Our agents are trained to think and react automatically, we can't have that split second of hesitation," he said. Reynosa is located in a region covered by the McAllen Sector Border Patrol, which has also been put on heightened alert, according to Laredo BP officials.

(Staff writer James Gutierrez can be reached at 728-2566 or by e-mail at james@lmtonline.com)