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Clinton adviser vows review of border tragedy
Official meets with family of slain teen
The Houston Chronicle July 16, 1997

Copyright 1997 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's anti-drug adviser said Tuesday that the federal government should "flat-out guarantee" a thorough scrutiny of the military's role in border anti-drug efforts, in view of the May 20 shooting of a young South Texan by a Marine.

A group from Redford, where Esequiel Hernandez was shot to death while tending his family goats, visited with anti-drug adviser Barry McCaffrey, a White House aide, and an assistant secretary of defense Tuesday.

The Hernandez incident "needs to be investigated and what I told these people is, we will investigate it," McCaffrey said. "(The military unit) will end up reviewing their rules of engagement, their training, their command and control.

"We view (the Hernandez shooting) as a tragedy and we will try to ensure that this kind of incident doesn't happen again.

"That ought to be a flat-out guarantee by the U.S. armed forces who participate in supporting local law enforcement," McCaffrey said.

The Redford delegation demanded dissolving the military unit involved in the shooting, a congressional investigation of the death and greater coordination between the Border Patrol and the communities in which it works.

"We are glad that they have heard us," Belen Hernandez, the victim's sister, told reporters in front of the White House. "They show interest. They say they will help us."

The Rev. Mel La Follette, a retired Episcopal priest helping the family, said they were "assured that attention will be given to a number of problems we have pointed out" related to military assistance to anti-drug efforts.

"At the moment, we are quite pleased with the way our trip is going," La Follette said.

The leader of a Marine unit involved in anti-drug surveillance fired on Hernandez. The Marines said Hernandez had fired his rifle twice before he was fired on.

McCaffrey said the conversations with the relatives and friends of Esequiel Hernandez "were a very painful and moving experience for me. . . . They were enormously sincere and hurt by the incident. . . . They also don't feel they were adequately heard out. And I am sympathetic to that viewpoint."

Letting the group's concerns be heard "should clearly be the response of government in general," McCaffrey said.

The anti-drug adviser said he has consulted with Defense Secretary William Cohen and military leaders "and we are all committed to learn from this tragedy."

Jesus Valenzuela, a cousin of the victim, told reporters the family wants the U.S. military to withdraw totally from border anti-drug work. The military "is not a force to prevent the problems of the border," he said, "and we run the risk of losing our lives."

His wife, Diana, said, "We have the immigration (service) and they are enough, without having the military. . . . The military is for fighting wars. They don't know the community involved."

McCaffrey said the military's role in detection and monitoring drug traffic near the border involves a relatively small number of "primarily support elements."

In nine years of intense drug efforts, only one other shooting has occurred, he said.

Maria Jimenez, director of the American Friends Service Committee's project involving immigration, said the Redford group's visit to Washington "obviously touched a nerve. They (federal officials) have been careful to listen. The response was good. They have given a high-level priority to this."

While the group from Redford visited federal officials, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved funding to hire 1,000 more Border Patrol agents and improve customs facilities on the border.

Approximately two-thirds of the new agents will be in the Marfa, Del Rio, Laredo and McAllen sectors of the patrol, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said in a statement.

This article copyright 1997 the Houston Chronicle and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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