A worker at the Cequent factory in Reynosa. A worker at the Cequent factory in Reynosa.

Economic engine runs to the tune of gunfire

As drug cartels fight it out in Reynosa, the economy chugs along

Cartel violence is common in Reynosa but despite the frequent shootouts that leave residents living in fear, the northern border city is one of Mexico’s economic powerhouses.

Reynosa is home to around 60% of all industry in the northeast of the state of Tamaulipas and contributes to about 3.1% of Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to the municipal government.

The city’s economy is growing at a rate of around 2% annually and in a population of 700,000, there are 210,000 workers.

The city’s maquiladoras, or factories, provide the biggest source of employment but significant numbers of people also work in the transportation, construction and agricultural sectors.

Last year, the combined value of goods that were imported to and exported from Reynosa was more than 762 billion pesos (US $41 billion).

Many large companies such as LG and Black & Decker have factories in Reynosa and the demand for labor is such that there is currently a shortfall of around 10,000 workers.

Consequently, companies are forced to look to other parts of the country to recruit, the CEO of Index, a local manufacturers’ association, told the news agency EFE.

“There is not enough staff so we have to go to other states of Mexico to attract personnel,” Martha Ramos said.

With the economy doing so well it can be hard to reconcile the fact that the municipality of Reynosa is one of the most violent in the country.

The city is more notorious for its bloody confrontations than it is known for its booming industry.

President Enrique Peña Nieto recently cancelled a trip to Tamaulipas but his office didn’t say why, raising speculation that gun battles in downtown Reynosa triggered the move.

But while Reynosa’s violence is for many a distant threat and one that they can avoid by not traveling there, for residents of the city it is very real: in a recent poll around 95% of the population said they feel unsafe.

No one is more conscious of the dangers than the business sector.

“We work in the prevention of risks, with actions carried out by authorities and also internally with employees,” Ramos said.

The head of human resources at a factory operated by Cequent — a United States auto parts company — agreed that forward planning was essential to minimizing security risks.      

“It’s not luck, it’s work, [it’s a matter of] putting your security consultants to work and seeing which areas can be improved. You have to work on the worst-case scenario . . .” Thelma Moyeda said.

In 10 years working for the company she has never been in a dangerous situation while on the job, she said. Completely enclosing the industrial park where the factory is located is the company’s next goal to improve security, Moyeda explained.

However, combating crime in the broader area of the city is more challenging.

Narco-blockades — where criminal gangs set vehicles alight on the city’s streets to obstruct security operations — are one of the biggest problems, creating chaos and terrifying residents while also impacting negatively on commerce.

Outbreaks of violence can sometimes make it impossible for workers to get to their jobs. Yet Reynosa’s residents remain resilient.

“Yes, life has changed but at the end of the day we keep working because we have to produce and we have to live,” Moyeda said.

Demand for Mexican-made products in the United States remains high and Reynosa’s location directly across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas, means that its factories are in a privileged position to ship to the lucrative market north of the border.

“Reynosa is a city of contrasts. It has violence and crime problems but everyone wants to come to Reynosa because of its geographic location,” Mayor Maki Ortiz said.

Source: 24 Horas (sp)

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