2: A Bad Scenario
<< 1: Neighbors || 3: The Long Border >>
In the crystal balls of the intelligence agencies the following unhappy future may
Just after midnight, June 8, the United States closed its border with Mexico, following
three years of intense national debate. Ten thousand new searchlights went on, draining
power from the grids serving centers from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas. More than
200,000 treasury, immigration, police, and military personnel were in place from the Gulf
of Mexico to the Pacific, an average of one hundred guards for each of the two thousand
miles of the border. On roads paralleling the bordersome of them newly bulldozed dirt
trackscruise police and sheriffs cars and motorcycles, and military jeeps and armored
vehicles. From new helicopter parks, choppers covered assigned sectors.
Roads and rail lines crossing the border were blocked. Air crossings were prohibited,
and radar and military aircraft were in place to enforce the ban. Washington said the
barriers were up until a new agreement was reached with Mexico on search procedures.
Mexico said there would be no accord during the rupture of traffic by the United States.
America began a mammoth wall project, starting at the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and
the Pacific Ocean and proceeding in both directions from twelve other points: Brownsville,
McAllen, Laredo, Eagle Pass, Del Río, and El Paso, in Texas; Columbus in New Mexico;
Douglas, Nogales, Lukeville, and near Yuma, in Arizona; and Calexico in California. Thus,
what the Mexicans at once call La Muralla del Buen Vecinothe Good Neighbor Wallhad
twenty-six moving faces. The foundation went six feet below the ground, while bald, brutal
concrete was to rise twenty-five feet above the surface. On top of the monstrosity were to
be six feet of wire charged with lethal voltage. It was planned to clear and level the
ground on both sides of the wall in strips one hundred fifty feet wide, but the details
were incomplete because of protests from property owners in the border cities. Only
fifty-six gates were planned in the wall. There would be a guard tower fifty feet high at
one-mile intervals. The Good Neighbor Wall was one of the largest construction projects in
history; for much of the world, it was one of the most obnoxious.(1)
Crowds gathered on both sides of the border, especially near the wall construction
sites. Before noon on the first day of construction enough incidents occurred to confirm
the predictions of pessimistsbombs, dynamite, bottles of gasoline, fire, rocks, clubs,
guns, and knives wrecked hundreds of buildings and killed 112 and injured 1,515 persons.
Most of the casualties were in the United States, but some of them were Mexican citizens
Reporters, cameramen, TV technicians and makeup people, cartoonists, editorial pundits,
and feature writers had flooded the border areas of the United States and Mexico. An
effort to keep media personnel outside wide "security zones" on the American
side soon collapsed. The zones were too extensive to police. The reporters were too
insistent. Too many bystanders also were invading the zones. Neither civil nor military
officials were anxious to prick TV personalities with bayonets. Yet in the end, the media
contributed five dead and thirty-six injured, including nationals from eight countries.
And when media people were killed and wounded, their employers and followers demanded that
the United States arrange its affairs more sensibly.
"Let's be sensible, Mr. President," the majority leader of the Senate said
just after noon in the White House Oval Office."
"That always is my aim, senator," the president said frostily.
The senator shrugged. "I might have phrased that better, Mr. President. I meant to
say, what are we looking for, of course, is a practical solution to this immigration
The president said sourly, "You know that's what Mexico's president, López
Portillo, told us when he visited here in 1977, that we needed a more
"sensible,"policy in the Western Hemisphere. Irritating word. Anyway, closing
the border and building the wall was supposed to bring Mexico into line on both
immigration and petroleum policy. You supported it, senator."
The senator nodded, not apologetically: "I did. Lots of folks were for it. I'm not
sure who's for it now. Maybe we made a mistake."
The president said, rather contemptuously, "Possibly. But if you change a policy
during the first day's outcry against it. . . ." He did not finish the sentence.
The senator said firmly, "I just wanted you that I was ready for compromise if
that is necessary."
Yes, Jim. I know you're up for reelection this fall."
The senator had been a power in national politics for twenty years and knew better than
to accept such a sneer without retaliation. "I'll tell you, Walt," he told the
president, that sort of tone gets a lot of people's backs up."
The president smiled with effort and said, "I know. I shouldn't have said it,
At 4:00 P.M., the National Security Council heard a lot about people whose backs were
The secretary of state summarized world reaction to the wall. "Communists claim
brutality, imperialism, lack of respect for developing nations. So does the noncommunist
Third World. The Organization of African States is preparing a statement. The Human Rights
Commission of the Organization of American States is in session at the request of Mexico.
Four organs of the United Nations have issued or are preparing condemnations of our
The president complained. "All those countries control entry by foreigners. The
Soviets built quite a wall in Germany."
"Yes, " the secretary said. "We have a statement going out today that
includes those points."
"The strong reaction surprised you, too?"
"Yes, Mr. President. The name the Mexicans gave the wall helped dramatize it, and
so did the size of the wall."
The president said impatiently, "I know you were against it. So it's too bad we
didn't knock off a few feet." He looked at another figure seated at the long table.
"Organized labor had no doubts."
The labor secretary was famed for his bluntness. Up from the ranks, he strove for (and
overdid) the common touch. "Mr. President," he said, "I've talked to nearly
fifty labor leaders, and they say we sure have a right to protect ourselves against cheap
foreign labor. They say the issue of closing the border was fully debated, absolutely
fully and democratically debated. And they say, also, Mr. President, that Mexico controls
its own immigration with an iron fist, but says we can't. They say, "Let's show 'em.'
They say we hope our security forces will learn how to control terrorist elements in the
"We all hope that," the president dryly agreed, looking at the secretary of
The secretary of defense had great technical ability and a short way with those he
thought his intellectual inferiors. "We know how to do it now, Mr. President, but the
guidelines laid down have made it difficult. You can't control mobs, or journalists, with
"We all agree with that, too," the president said sharply. "And we all
know that Mexico is bound to retaliate through its petroleum policy."
He looked at the secretary of state, who shrugged and said, "I don't see that
anything has changed. We either give in to pressure or not."
The president said grimly, "We'll give the security forces more authority."
He looked around the table and asked harshly, "Is there any dissent?"
So, that night a butter-toned TV newsperson reported, "The administration position
is that it's a sensible, legitimate, and necessary policy that must be supported more
firmly. Critics say that it means a dictatorshipat least in the border area."
But most Americans did not believe that a dictatorship was in the making. Mostly, they
were irritated. They thought that immigration was something each nation should control for
itself. Could anyone enter the Soviet Union, take a job from a Russian, get welfare and
public medical care? No, and anyone couldn't go to Mexico and do that either. But Mexicans
could do it in the United States. And they could riot against American law, as many
people, to their irritation, saw on television.
What the media publicized as the first violence was the killing of Patricio Guardiola
Ramírez, twenty, a third-year student at the University of Nuevo León in the city of
Monterrey, one hundred twenty miles south of the border city of Laredo, Texas. All his
life, Patricio, from a middle-class business family, had heard praise or envy of United
States' economic achievements and condemnation of its Mexican policies. When, three years
before, Washington hardened its views on immigration, Patricio was prepared to be
indignant. Student attitudes were at least formally leftist and they were passionately
nationalist. Nearly all students disliked gringo investments and branch plants in Mexico
and gringo barriers to imports of Mexico's tomatoes , shoes, and other products.
Patricio and forty-three other students drove to Nuevo Laredo, in the state of
Tamaulipas, then waded the shallow Rio Grande (called the Rio Bravo in Mexico) three miles
east of the center of Laredo, Texas. From there they walked back to where construction had
begun on the wall just outside the city. It was one hundred fifty feet from the river,
leaving a cleared zone to expose saboteurs coming from Mexico. The lights illuminated a
strip more than a quarter-mile square, crowded with earth-moving vehicles, piles of lumber
and steel for concrete forms, other building equipment and materials, soldiers and police
and their vehicles, media personnel, with television cables snaking in all directions, and
several thousand spectators interested enough to stand in a field at 12:43 A. M.
The forty-four students from the University of Nuevo León approached a group of eight
or ten U.S. soldiers, who were standing near some big concrete mixing trucks whose fat
bodies revolved, leaking a grey-white liquid. The students yelled, "Viva
México!" and threw some rocks at the soldiers. Patricio Guardiola Ramírez may have
thrown the first stone, but he did not hit anyone. Some other stones broke off four of the
teeth of a U.S. Army private named Edgar Prentice Brownlaw, from Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
In his rage and pain and fear he shot Patricio Guardiola Ramírez dead. Since Patricio was
shot in the head, the television cameras got a perfectly dreadful picture of the young
man's face disintegrating.
The army officers commanding the area efficiently buttoned things up. The forty-three
surviving students were escorted to the International bridge. A funeral home in Laredo
carried the body of Patricio Guardiola Ramírez to a funeral home in Nuevo Laredo. Private
Brownlaw was hustled out of the area and never was interviewed or punished.
The news came to the million residents of the twin cities of Ciudad Juárez in the
state of Chihuahua, and El Paso, Texas. Over two-thirds of those people live in Mexico,
and many of them cross daily over a bridge to work and shop in El Paso. Smaller numbers of
Americans go to Ciudad Juárez to buy handcrafted furniture, rugs, jewelry, wrought iron,
glass, and ceramics. Servicemen from the big American air and army bases nearby also go to
the bars, nightclubs, and whorehouses of Juárez.
Mexicans who went to the bridge in the early morning of June 8 found the gates closed
and guarded by soldiers. A big sign said
ESTA CLAUSURADO EL PUENTEBRIDGE CLOSED.
A crowd built up at the Mexican end of the bridge. It was noisy but orderly, mostly
made up of ordinary citizens who wanted to go to El Paso, as they did every day. A handful
of nationalists and agitators shouted slogans, but few people paid attention. That was
going to change.
It was going to change because in El Paso a man named Harry Crane thought the death of
Patricio Guardiola Ramírez presented him with an opportunity. There were 3,472 other U.S.
citizens who thought that the Mexican student's death must offer an opportunity, but few
of them could decide what the opportunity was. Crane was in no doubt: It was an excuse for
violence that would bring American institutions into disrepute, for Crane belonged to a
tiny group, The Clarifiers, that rages against the impurity of human society.
Crane and his colleagues paid a Mexican who was illegally in El Paso to go back across
the border into Ciudad Juárez with Crane. The Mexican carried a portable loudspeaker in a
suitcase, while Crane had two Molotov cocktails in a paper shopping bag marked in big
Oak Street Shopping Center, Air Conditioned
There were about 10,000 people now at the Mexican end of the international bridge,
mostly quiet, smoking, buying tacos, roasted corn, and flavored waters from vendors. The
Mexican army lieutenant in command of the squad of fifteen soldiers behind the flimsy
gates at the entrance to the bridge was relaxed. He knew that the police and army had
rounded up every known troublemaker in the Ciudad Juárez area. He knew the crowd would go
home as soon as it was convinced that it could not get across the river.
Harry Crane and his hired hand made their way to the front of the crowd at the gate. At
9:32 A.M. that morning of June 8, the hired hand took the portable loudspeaker out of his
suitcase and began screaming:
A La Muralla! A La Muralla! A La Muralla!
To The Wall! To The Wall! To The Wall!
That was a cry that not only referred to the new Good Neighbor Wall but to all walls
against which so many men had been executed throughout history. It had been a popular
slogan during Castro's revolution in Cuba.
The crowd surged forward against the gate at the entrance to the bridge. The army
lieutenant talked rapidly into a telephone. As the gates bulged under the crowd's
pressure, the lieutenant slammed down the phone and ordered his men to the sides of the
bridge. The shouting crowd pushed down the gate and flowed across the bridge toward the
heavy barricade at the American end, where a loudspeaker bellowed:
Alto Ahí! Detengase! Sí No, Disparamos!
Stop there! Halt! If Not, We will Shoot!
Harry Crane ran out ahead of the crowd, which began to slow its advance. He gripped a
Molotov cocktail with a burning fuse. Behind him, reluctantly and far behind, came his
hired hand with the shopping bag containing the other gasoline bomb. Crane ran close to
the barricade at the United States end of the bridge and threw the bottle of gasoline. It
burst in a sheet of flame between two soldiers, and their screams could be heard for a
quarter of a mile.
A U.S. Army captain shouted Fire! and a burst of carbine and machine
pistol fire continued for nearly fifteen seconds, until a lieutenant colonel got his Cease Fire! heard and obeyed.
By then, as a later count showed, 32 Mexicans were dead on the bridge and 117 wounded.
The Mexican dead included the man carrying the shopping bag. Also dead was Harry Crane.
By 10:30 A.M. the president of the United States knew that the fingerprints of the man
who threw the bomb were those of Harry G. Crane, member of the anarchistic Clarifiers. The
Mexican ambassador was informed. He phoned Mexico City.
At noon the president of Mexico released the text of a protest his ambassador to
Washington was to was to deliver simultaneously to the president of the United States:
The government of Mexico protests in the strongest terms:
1. The interruption of traffic between its territory and that of the United States of
North America by a unilateral action of the government of the latter.
2. The construction of a wall of such exaggerated characteristics as to suggest that the
attitude of the United State toward the United Mexican States is one of profound mistrust
and lack of cordiality.
3. The killing early today by United States troops of Patricio Guardiola Ramírez, a
Mexican citizen and a student guilty of nothing more reprehensible than throwing a rock.
4. The slaughter of Mexican citizens on the international bridge between Ciudad Juárez
and El Paso by United States military action far in excess of what was required to handle
disturbed conditions there, conditions aggravated by the criminal activities of a United
At 12:15 P.m. the United States ambassador in Mexico was informed that the Mexican
Congress insisted on revising the terms under which United States capitalpossibly $3
billion worthoperated in Mexico.
At 12:30 the Mexican government announced that all United States citizens residing in
Mexico--twenty thousand or so--were required to apply for new identity cards and supply
new information about their economic affairs and their ties with institutions in the
United States, especially the federal government and its intelligence agencies.
At 12:38, at the medical faculty buildings of the University of Guadalajara, riots
began against U.S. students there--some twelve hundred of them. Nearly eighty were
injured; most suffered property damage. Mexican troops put all American students under
protective custody in a warehouse. Some 90 percent of the students left Mexico in the next
At 1:00 P.M. the Mexican government announced agreement with the USSR and Cuba for
negotiation of new economic ties to emphasize minerals, industrial goods, and petroleum
products. Moscow hinted that the Soviet oil on which Cuba depended might be replaced by
supplies from Mexico.
That same morning of June 8 a decision was taken by another of the 3,473 United States
citizens who saw the death of Patricio Guardiola Ramírez as an opportunity. Billy Joe
Pope of Nogales, Arizona, decided that Ramírez's death justified assassination of the
president of the United States for not being tough enough with "greasers," as
Billy Joe called Mexicans, though not to their faces. Mexicans were responsible, Billy Joe
knew, for his failures in school, at work, and with women. He didn't go to his job as cook
in a restaurant that day because he had to plan the assassination. He did that in great
and loving detail until, at 2:30 P.m., his TV set informed him that the governor of
Arizona had arrived in Nogales to be sure that calm had been restored at the border. The
TV screen showed the governor chatting with a crowd at a border station. Many people in
the crowd obviously were of Latin or Indian extraction. Billy Joe abruptly decided that
the governor was as much a Mexican-lover as the president.
He rushed down to the border station, only a few blocks from his rented downtown room.
It proved simple to walk up to the governor and shoot him twice in the stomach.
The media in the United States wallowed in fear and recrimination. Spokesmen of every
interest group and point of view issued statements, often critical of the administration,
though calling for national solidarity in perilous--if mismanaged--times. The president of
the United States watched TV for fifteen minutes, alternately enraged at what he
considered excessive Mexican pressure, and yet fearful of what was happening to his own
And so attending a National Security Council meeting at four that afternoon he found it
a mess. All present were as irritated and fearful as the president. Partisans of
moderation and advocates of a "policy of national strength" were equally
firm-and deaf. The president finally decided in favor of a show of national strength.
Thus, appearing on national prime time TV, the president began, "Fellow Americans,
I have issued orders that security on our border with Mexico be strengthened. I say to you
that attacks on United States armed personnel will not be tolerated." He also asked
American citizens to rally in defense of their right to set internal policy, reminding
them that border and immigration policy had been decided over several years after the
The president hoped that recent events and, his own reactions had increased rather than
diminished his support, but he had no idea if that was the case. His friends assured him
all was well, his foes hinted at impeachment, and network pundits pointed out that more
than one ass had inhabited the White House.
The TV networks interviewed John Whipple, mayor of El Paso, at 8:00 P.M. that night.
Q: Mr. Mayor, as you have heard, there has been violence all along the border. Do you
suppose the causes are the same everywhere?
Q: What are those causes, Mr. Mayor?
A: A lot of impractical theorists tried to solve a complex social, economic,
international problem too abruptly and without proper attention to fact and to the
opinions of those who know the facts best--that is, the people who live in the border
Q: You do agree, I suppose, Mayor Whipple, that immigration policy is a national, not a
A: Putting a twenty-five-foot wall through our town makes it more important to us than
to Boston or Buffalo.
Q: Of course, the wall hasn't been started inside El Paso.
A: No, and I hope it won't be.
But when the president sent another 100,000 troops to the border area, including more
than 8,000 to El Paso, Mayor Whipple went on the air to ask that his constituents receive
the troops quietly as fellow citizens going about their duty, even if that duty Included
clearing a strip through El Paso.
One hundred and fifty-three professors, churchmen, artists, and writers took an ad in
the New York Times deploring the administration's arrogance, the influence of
military men outside their proper sphere, and the role played in American foreign policy
by profit-motivated energy corporations.
The president of Mexico, by June 15, was short of sleep, short of temper, and short of
solutions. At 11:00 P.M. he was conferring with a small group of advisers at Los Pinos,
his residence in Chapultepec Park.
"I hope," he observed testily, "that no one else will inform me that
world opinion is on our side. Unfortunately, the United States on its side has economic
strength and military power He nodded at the minister of government--an old friend and a
man known for his hardheadedness and lack of interest in ideological considerations.
"The possibility," the minister said, "of cutting off the flow of
petroleum and natural gas to the United States has again been considered, and decided in
the negative. The president directs me to announce that there will be no further
discussion of that issue."
The president nodded curtly and said, "We will again communicate to the world
press, the United States, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and
other agencies our firm desire for a negotiated compromise. We will emphasize violent and
unilateral United States actions and play down the possibility of further retaliation by
Mexico."He shrugged."We will try it for a while.. The United States is very near
and other powers very far."
Unable to contain his indignation, the minister of labor cried, "It's a
"It's sensible,"' the president said flatly.
"It's statesmanlike," declared the minister of government.
"It's final,"' said the president.
At 1:33 A.M., July 19, the president of the United States was sleepy, angry, and
frustrated. He looked without admiration at the seventeen advisers who had been at the
long table in the White House for three hours.
"To sum up our deliberations," the president said acidly, "the Mexicans
have outmaneuvered us. Or, we made a mistake and they pounced on it. Unhandsome of
them." He stood up and said bluntly, "Construction of the wall will cease at
An opposition senator shouted, "It's a surrender!"
"Oh, for the love of Christ!" the president snarled, and stalked from the
The world saw excellent TV shots of the abortive Good Neighbor Wall, beginning in the
surf of the Gulf of Mexico and marching starkly inland for 4.76 miles to its full height
of twenty-five feet, then another 1.69 miles at only fifteen feet high, and .34 miles that
only reach ten feet. Pieces like that were strung over the 2,000 miles of the border, iron
reinforcing rods sticking up from the uncompleted sections, the great cranes standing
idle, mountains of supplies under tied-down tarps.
"With the wall mess out of the way," said the president, "we should be
able to handle the problem."
The Senate majority leader nodded. "Yes, Mr. President. Think we should knock down
the parts that were built?"
"Later, I would say, when it's lost most of its news value." The president
shook his head. "Most of us thought the wall was a necessary part of the solution--if
we really wanted a solution."
"Yes, I know, Walt," the senator agreed gloomily. "The reaction
surprised all of us."
"You know, Jim, I still think there's a lot of support for cutting immigration,
"Well, sure, Mr. President. That's why we voted for the wall. It'll be tougher
The president nodded emphatically, "We don't want two or three hundred thousand
troops on the border all the time."
The senator said sarcastically, "Maybe we should take the Mexican suggestion: make
Mexico rich and then people won't want to leave."
"How many votes can you round up for that, Jim?"
"Maybe not even my own."
"Then maybe there's no solution."
The senator said firmly, "Sure there is, Mr. President; it's the pricing we need
to get straight."
"Yeah," the president said, without enthusiasm. "The price of oil. For
the first time I'm glad it's my second term."
1. See chapter 6 for all and fence schemes in
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