I’d always thought of piracy as a 17th Century anachronism until a couple of years ago with the deteriorating situation off the coast of Somalia. Even then I considered it a distant condition borne of a failed state two oceans away. Recent reports of North American pirates have simply bewildered me. I thought in the Americas they’d long ago been confined to family outings at Disney World, a la "Pirates of the Caribbean."
I won’t spend too much time describing the Mexican river pirates currently stalking the Rio Grande / Río Bravo del Norte along the Falcon Reservoir border area. It’s all been reported widely in the Press and there’s no need for me to go into great detail. To boil it down in a few words, smuggling activities by members of the Los Zetas drug cartel have been hampered by rival gangs and increased law enforcement. They’ve discovered a new source of revenue, the U.S. anglers straying across border waters in expensive boats loaded with sophisticated electronics. Easy pickings.
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The Falcon Reservoir traces back to a cooperative effort between Mexico and the United States. It is managed by the International Boundary and Water Commission for the benefit of both countries. Water is a scarce and valuable resource in this desert climate and a giant reservoir certainly contributes to the thirsty needs on both sides of the border, providing drinking water, irrigation, hydroelectric power, flood control and recreational space.
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The two nations plugged up the river in 1953 with the Falcon Dam, creating a large reservoir that stretches for miles. It has since become a magnet for boaters and fishermen. Texas Parks and Wildlife notes, "Falcon has long been regarded as one of the best largemouth bass lakes in the state. To win a bass tournament at Falcon, it often takes a 5-6 pound average/fish for your stringer. Channel catfish provide additional opportunities, with an occasional blue or flathead catfish."
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848 and established the Rio Grande as a border through this stretch, "from thence up the middle of that river, following the deepest channel, where it has more than one, to the point where it strikes the southern boundary of New Mexico." Most of the time it’s pretty academic. It’s shallow and narrow. You’re either on one side of the river or the other, as I discovered when I jumped the border a number of years ago. Deepest channel? Who cares. The rivulet is the border.
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Throw a lake on top of it however and things change considerably. The international boundary continues to be the deepest channel as it existed in 1848 but now obscured by more than 80,000 acres submerged below the surface. The Commission placed concrete pillars in the lake at the border turns, one of which can be seen in the satellite image (enhanced greatly by the shadow it casts).
The line doesn’t always stay near the middle of the lake either due to underlying topography. It comes perilously close to the U.S. shoreline in some spots, and as close as 500 feet from the banks near Zapata, the major Texas town in the area. However, U.S. border control agents can only stand by helplessly if a fisherman strays across that invisible line and falls into the clutches of pirates.