September 8, 2005

Heads turn as Mexican troops roll into US with aid

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico (Reuters) - A Mexican army convoy
rolled into the United States on Thursday with food, water and
medicine for Hurricane Katrina victims, the first Mexican
military operation on U.S. soil in 90 years.

Part of an aid package that includes ships and rescue
teams, the convoy of 45 olive-green vehicles and some 200
troops went over the Rio Grande into Texas from the city of
Nuevo Laredo, witnesses said.

Mexicans, who often have a love-hate relationship with
their northern neighbor, are surprised and proud at being able
to help in the hurricane aftermath. Mexico has often been the
recipient of foreign aid for earthquakes and other natural
disasters.

People cheered, waved, honked car horns and rang bells in
villages as the convoy snaked up to the border this week.

While millions of Mexicans have trekked north in pursuit of
the American dream, many at home are still sore at having lost
half their territory to the United States in the 19th century.

Mexico is one of dozens of nations, including some as poor
as Cuba and Bangladesh, to offer aid to the United States as it
grapples with one of the worst natural disasters in its history
in hurricane-swamped New Orleans and surrounding areas.

The Mexican army trucks, filled with of thousands of
ready-to-eat meals, drinking water and medical equipment, were
searched like regular vehicles as they crossed the border early
on Thursday headed for San Antonio, Texas customs officials
said.

"It's a good thing because they're taking aid to the
victims," said Beatriz Gonzalez, 26, who gave the troops free
soft drinks as they stopped for gasoline on the Mexican side of
the border.

Troops inside the trucks were given malaria tablets and
vaccinations against diseases like Hepatitis, Cholera and
Tetanus -- ironically the same shots wary American tourists
might get before visiting parts of Mexico.

Mexican forces under revolutionary Gen. Francisco "Pancho"
Villa, angry at U.S. support for a rival, staged a small raid
into New Mexico in 1916.

They were the bedraggled remnants of an army faction on the
losing side of the Mexican revolution but their action is seen
by historians as the last military incursion into the United
States.

The Villa troops killed several people on a raid on
Columbus, New Mexico, prompting Washington to send a larger
force into Mexico in retaliation.

The two countries fought a full-blown war in the mid-19th
century, when the United States took what are now its
southwestern states from Mexico.

Mexico and the United States are now trade partners and
President Vicente Fox told Reuters this week that the military
convoy was a sign of how close the two nations now are.