Pablo De La Rosa is a journalist based in the Rio Grande Valley. He reports statewide with Texas Public Radio and nationally for NPR from the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Guía de votación para las primarias electorales 2024

Early voting in our primary elections began on Tuesday. Texas public radio regularly publishes voter guides for elections. This year, I’m glad to have produced a Spanish version for these primaries with the help of our TPR Noticias al Día production team.

The Primarias Electorales 2024 Guía de Votación episode breaks away from our usual format of presenting four daily Texas Public Radio stories for our viewers and listeners in Spanish.

For this special primary elections episode, we review information about voting, the primaries, and U.S. Senate and House congressional candidates in Texas.

I’m hoping this helps to inform voters all over Texas, en Español.

To watch more of our episodes, you can visit the TPR Noticias al Día page, follow us on YouTube, or look for us on any podcast platform to listen daily.

Fore more Texas news in Spanish, you can visit the Noticias home page on Texas Public Radio.

Texas Military Major General Thomas M. Suelzer says Operation Lone Star to expand “north and south”

Speaking from the site of a new 80-acre military facility in Eagle Pass las week, Texas Military Major General Thomas M. Suelzer took part in a press conference with Governor Greg Abbott to talk about plans to expand Operation Lone Star, the governor’s controversial border security mission.

Call-in segment to NPR’s Up First on Governor Abbott’s recently announced Operation Lone Star military base in Eagle Pass

We found out on Friday that Texas has already broken ground on an 80-acre military base on the banks of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass. The facility will hold up to 2,300 National Guard, dedicated to expanding Governor Greg Abbott’s controversial border security mission, Operation Lone Star.

I had a chance to talk to A Martínez for Up First this morning on NPR about what we know so far, the comments I’ve heard from Eagle Pass since Friday, and what the project means for the standoff between Abbott and Biden.

Full interview with Jessie Fuentes after Gov. Abbott’s announcement that Texas will build a new border security military base by the Rio Grande.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott just announced that the state has already broken ground on a new military base dedicated to housing up to 2,300 National Guard soldiers on an 80-acre campus situated just feet away from the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass.

This is the latest, and perhaps the most significant yet, of the governor’s efforts to escalate his controversial border security mission, Operation Lone Star, in a standoff with the Biden administration over control of the border.

For more details on the announcement, read my latest post on The Border Chronicle here: Eagle Pass Residents Shocked by News that Governor Abbott Will Build Operation Lone Star Base

The National Union of Education Workers Chapter 30 (SNTE, Sección 30) in Tamaulipas holds a rally on Friday in Matamoros to call for the adoption of a 22-point petition.

Teachers union negotiations break down on the third day of widespread school closures in the state

Negotiations broke down on Friday as the National Union of Education Workers Chapter 30 (SNTE, Sección 30) in Tamaulipas called for the resignation of the Secretary of Education, Lucía Aimé Castillo Pastor on the third day of widespread school closures in the state as the result of a teachers’ strike that began on Wednesday.

Teachers and families from various communities took to the streets on Friday in a show of solidarity as members of the state government posted support for Castillo Pastor on social media.

SNTE says many teachers are owed backpay, benefits, or disability payments

“We have problems receiving payments, overdue payments,” said a member of the SNTE Chapter 30 into a microphone at a public rally in Matamoros.

“I know this happens all over Tamaulipas, but enough is enough. We’re tired. We need to be paid. We love our students, we love our profession, and you are not forcing us to be here in the fight. No one is forcing us to be in the fight. But we’re here because it’s necessary. It’s necessary to advance our union. Together, we are stronger.”

The National Union of Education Workers (SNTE, Sección 30) in Tamaulipas holds a rally on Friday in Matamoros to call for the adoption of a 22-point petition.

Teachers are demanding a 22-point petition be met, including overdue payments for benefits and salary adjustments, which they insist are long overdue.

The SNTE Secretary for Labor and Conflicts says the time lost in school will not be a problem

Jorge Guadalupe Acuña Tovías, Secretary for Labor and Conflicts in Primary Education at SNTE, is charged with monitoring the negotiation process. He’s also authorized to close those negotiations in order to ensure they are carried out in a manner that results in fair benefits for workers.

Acuña Tovías posted a video on SNTE Chapter 30’s Facebook account on Friday in response to concerns over missed class time for children as a result of the teacher strike.

“We already demonstrated during times of COVID that we were able to make up for lost time and used the technological means at our disposal,” said Acuña Tovías in the social media video. “On this occasion, we can do it again. We are not afraid of hard work, and any (teaching) time that might be lost, we can certainly recover it.”

A map of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge showing the approximate area of a wildfire that engulfed at least 200 acres of the reserve. / Pablo De La Rosa

Story update, Friday, September 8, 2023 11:14 PM

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge will partially reopen to the public on Sunday, September 10, five days after a wildfire engulfed the southeast corner of the reserve on Tuesday night, early Wednesday morning this week.

Here’s the latest statement from Santa Ana:

As of today, Friday, September 8, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge wildfire is 75% contained. There are currently no threats to other parts of the Santa Ana refuge or facilities. The South Texas Refuge Complex Wildland Fire Program along with Wildland Fire Crew from the Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge, will continue to remain on the scene until the fire is 100% contained. The South Texas Refuge Complex Wildland Fire Program along with Wildland Fire Crew from the Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge, will continue to monitor and address the continuing smoke and burning in the interior of the wildfire’s footprint. The refuge is anticipated to partially reopen on Sunday, September 10.

Wildfire sparks at Santa Ana, the ‘jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System’

On Tuesday night and into early Wednesday morning, a wildfire ran through Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, Texas–one of the largest nature reserves protecting migratory birds in the Rio Grande Valley.

The reserve first became aware of the situation at 5:29 PM, according to a public statement. By 6:07 PM, the wildfire had already engulfed “25 to 30 acres”.

At 10:30 PM KRGV reported that at least 200 acres had been consumed by the wildfire.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is positioned along the juncture of two major migratory routes for many species of birds and is considered the ‘jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System.’ The refuge hosts birds, butterflies and many other species not found anywhere else in the United States.

The origin point of the wildfire was in the southeast corner of the refuge, but the cause is unknown

Urban Park Ranger Thamera Flores told KRGV that the fire started in the southeast corner of the refuge “between our river pump and Vireo trail”.

Local fire departments, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Texas Department of Public Safety, along with help from the U.S. Border Patrol responded to the blaze, but none of the agencies involved have issued any statements about the exact cause of the fire.

NIDIS, the National Integrated Drought Information System, is currently reporting that the Rio Grande Valley is experiencing “moderate drought” conditions, or category “D1”, in its monitoring system, which is updated weekly on Thursdays.

A recently updated may showing drought conditions in South Texas, from NIDIS, the National Integrated Drought Information System.

On Wednesday morning, The National Weather Service office in Brownsville tweeted that multiple cities in the Rio Grande Valley are coming close to breaking historical heat records.

According to the Western Fire Chiefs Association, most wildfires move at an average speed of 14 MPH but wind patterns can cause them to spread more quickly. The association says that 89% of wildfires are caused by humans.

Santa Ana is closed for now

Santa Ana issues a statement on their Facebook account that the refuge will be closed for 1 to 2 days, based on field assessments.

The wildfire continued moving northeast and west as of midnight, according to Santa Ana. The refuge issued a statement at 1:30 AM that it will be closed to the public for at least 72 hours, based on field assessments.

DHS photo by Tara A. Molle, Public Domain

Leadership from 11 human rights organizations will be present in Reynosa and Matamoros to witness and document the end of Title 42.

The Amnesty International delegation to the border will include leaders from the Haitian Bridge Alliance, Welcome With Dignity, National Immigration Law Center, National Immigrant Justice Center, and Human Rights First and will meet with partners and other groups in the region on May 11 during the visit.

On May 12, the delegation will hold a press conference on what they witness during the phasing out of Title 42–the Trump-era health code that has allowed the U.S. to expeditiously remove migrants who seek asylum at the border without legal due process since 2020.

From Amnesty International:

Representatives of different human and civil rights movements will participate in the delegation to demonstrate an intersectional approach to tackling racist and harmful border policies.

In recent years, in addition to the misuse of Title 42, the US government has committed a range of human rights violations against people seeking asylum at the border with Mexico, including illegal pushbacks, race-based torture and ill-treatment in immigration detention, and devastating policies such as family separation and detention.

The delegation will document the conditions at the shelters and encampments in Reynosa and Matamoros for families and individuals who have been waiting for the opportunity to exercise their right to seek asylum at the U.S. southern border.

On Friday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas spoke in Brownsville and confirmed that after Title 42, migrants will continue to be rapidly deported under Title 8.

Beginning on May 12, DHS plans to deny asylum to any migrant who has not already sought protection in another country before entering the United States.

Debris from the April 14 explosion of the Starship/Superheavy SpaceX rocket stack in Boca Chica, Texas. / Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program
Debris from the April 14 explosion of the Starship/Superheavy SpaceX rocket stack in Boca Chica, Texas. / Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program

A timeline of the first 18 days

Events are moving at a breakneck pace since Friday, April 14, when the FAA issued SpaceX its first ever license to launch the full Starship/Superheavy stack from its Starbase facility on Boca Chica Beach.

Here’s a recap of events so far.

The FAA finally gives SpaceX a license, environmentalists allege the agency may have “coordinated” the timing

Controversy around the inevitable launch began immediately

An anonymous source leaked internal SpaceX emails to Gaige Davila, my colleague at San Antonio’s NPR station Texas Public Radio (TPR).

The emails documented conversations at SpaceX about how the space startup was worried that a Starship launch would be delayed if environmental advocacy organizations had any opportunity to bring lawsuits.

When the time came to issue the license, the FAA did so just minutes before courts closed that Friday. Minutes after that, SpaceX announced they would launch Starship first thing Monday morning.

Environmentalists who saw the emails alleged that this timing seemed to signal coordination between SpaceX and the FAA, in order to prevent any environmental advocacy organizations from having the time to file a lawsuit.

Join the discussion on this and other stories in the Rio Grande Valley on the community Facebook Group RGV News, Politics and Culture.

Looking at the fragile ecosystem on Boca Chica Beach after the first launch attempt failed

The launch scheduled for the following Monday did not go according to plan. A frozen pressurant valve prevented Starship from getting off the launchpad, with Elon Musk tweeting that SpaceX would try again “in a few days”.

I wrote a quick update on this blog later that day in response to a multitude of posts on social media from some of the local community that seemed to reflect a new belief–that the FAA license meant that any negative environmental impact was now mitigated.

Rio Grande Valley locals and SpaceX supporters express dismissal of environmental concerns and some have interpreted the FAA's license as a guarantee against environmental disaster.
Rio Grande Valley locals and SpaceX supporters express dismissal of environmental concerns and some have interpreted the FAA’s license as a guarantee against environmental disaster.

Unfortunately, probably no one was prepared for just how quickly that false sense of security turned out to be.

As the public waited to hear back about when a second launch attempt might take place, Davila met with Coast Bend Bay and Estuaries, one of the organizations that would later be present at Boca Chica to survey the area post-launch.

The article he wrote from that conversation is a great explanation of the ecosystem that’s at stake at Boca Chica.

From Gaige Davila’s article:

“So we’ve got 15,000 shorebirds right in front of us here. And as I use my binoculars down the way, I can see a whole bunch more scattered way down that way to the south,” he said.

LeClaire said this is proof enough that this area is not an empty space prime for space colonization, as some say.

“So, if you don’t know what to look for or where to look, it’s going to look like a wasteland, but it’s not,” he said.

The fragile ecosystem on Boca Chica may not be obvious to people looking out on that beach, especially if they’ve never been here. But the algal flats are one of the most unique habitats on earth.

From UT-RGV’s Ancient Landscapes of South Texas Program:

Felt-like mats of microscopic, single-celled, blue-green algae or algal mats are prolific on the flats. They are most extensive on areas that alternate exposure and submergence in regular cycles. On the ground the algal mats appear as very dark areas surrounding the lagoon. With each tidal inundation, thin layers of clay are deposited from suspension. The algal mats that develop on the moist surface commonly crack and peel from the underlying sand and clay during drier periods between tidal floods.

The second attempt on 4/20: Starship lifts off and explodes

Left: SpaceX Starship lifting off from launchpad on Thursday morning. Right: Starship fails to detach from its booster four minutes after launch.
Left: SpaceX Starship lifting off from launchpad on Thursday morning. Right: Starship fails to detach from its booster four minutes after launch. / Reuters, Eyepress

On the morning of Thursday, April 20 the Starship/Super Heavy SpaceX rocket stack made liftoff in its full prototype configuration for the first time since receiving FAA approval the previous Friday. Four minutes later, the rocket exploded in mid air northeast of Boca Chica.

Local freelance journalism photographer Michael Gonzalez and Gaige Davila were at Boca Chica Beach that morning for Texas Public Radio.

From my article for Texas Public Radio:

Elma Arredondo, a retired school teacher, worked at Garriga Elementary in Port Isabel, just five miles from where SpaceX has its launch base.

“I was just told ‘ashes’ fell from the sky and on the Garriga Elementary kids that were outdoors,” she said. “They all ran inside when it started ‘raining.’ “

Arredondo said that she has been concerned about SpaceX “from the very beginning.”

“What kind of danger did Cameron County bring to our community when SpaceX was welcomed here?” she asked. “As a retired school teacher, I immediately thought of Garriga.”

Seeing a lot of confusion on social media about what happened that morning, I also went on YouTube to summarize my report from earlier that day.

Watch the video summary of my debris explosion report below:

I didn’t hear back from the FAA until a day later, when they confirmed that an “Anomaly Response Plan” was activated at Starbase at that time. We now know that the “anomaly” turned into an FAA “mishap”, a more serious incident requiring a more comprehensive response.

The FAA defines a mishap using multiple criteria, including whether a launch resulted in “unplanned substantial damage”, according to FAA documentation.

We also now know that three of 33 engines were shut down before liftoff, and that the destruction of the cement base that scattered debris over miles of federally protected wildlife habitat wasn’t something that SpaceX predicted.

SpaceX non-disclosure agreements with local public entities uncovered

Several entities in the Rio Grande Valley have challenged public information requests for non-disclosure agreements with SpaceX.
Several entities in the Rio Grande Valley have challenged public information requests for non-disclosure agreements with SpaceX. / Story: Erin Sheridan, Media Credit: Pablo De La Rosa

In the days after the Starship explosion, I reached out to Erin Sheridan on a story she’d been working on for some time. Erin has written for local publications in the Rio Grande Valley on the topic of SpaceX in the past, and now had what was essentially a collection of NDAs or challenges to public information requests for NDAs between SpaceX and local public entities.

From Sheridan’s article for Texas Public Radio:

Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) requests reveal that not only have public entities in Cameron County signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with SpaceX, but those entities have also sought to keep those NDAs private despite ongoing relationships with the company.

Two NDAs, one signed by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in April 2020 and another by the Brownsville Public Utilities Board (BPUB) in March 2017, were released only after the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in Texas ordered them to become public.

The city of Brownsville is currently fighting the release of any SpaceX-related NDAs. Cameron County previously acknowledged the existence of an NDA with SpaceX. However, that NDA was never released and has since disappeared.

This story could really have come out at any time, but coincided with the events after the FAA license was issued to SpaceX.

The FAA grounds Starship and a post-launch survey by Coast Bend Bay and Estuaries shows extensive damage

What the lift off and explosion at Starbase meant in terms of environmental regulation was not clear immediately after the event, and many questions about actual impact remain unanswered. What we now know for sure is that the FAA has grounded Starship in order to study those effects and learn more.

Coast Bend Bay and Estuaries is one of the organizations that was able to survey the damage at Boca Chica beach after the liftoff. Davila spoke to them about what they found in the days immediately after.

Watch Davila’s NPR radio feature on the post-launch survey below:

From Gaige Davila’s article for Texas Public Radio:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) documented that the debris cloud deposited material as far as six-and-a-half miles north of the launch pad. The agency said in a statement that the debris cloud was made of pulverized concrete.

The launch pad’s destruction could be seen in the mudflats and dunes south of it and in the algal flats to the north. Broken concrete — some pieces the size of golf balls, others the size of car engine blocks or larger — was spread out over nearly three-quarters of a mile in some directions.

Craters from large pieces of concrete were as large as six feet across and a few feet deep. Some pieces hit the ground so hard they were submerged in the sand, leaving only an empty crater with rebar jutting from it.

As part of Davila’s report, I generated a quick map of the damage from the information he was able to gather:

A map showing the debris field and extent of damage from the Starship/Superheavy launch on April 14, 2023.
A map showing the debris field and extent of damage from the Starship/Superheavy launch on April 14, 2023. / Source: Coast Bend Bay and Estuaries Program, Media Credit: Pablo De La Rosa

Environmentalist groups sue the FAA

On Monday, May 1 several environmentalist groups sued the FAA in federal court, saying the agency should have never let SpaceX launch Starship without an Environmental Impact Statement.

This is a developing story, and there will certainly be much more to report over the next few weeks on SpaceX, Starship, the FAA, the environmentalist groups, and the local Rio Grande Valley community around the launch base.

More to come.

Emma Guevara, known as "bestie emma" on Twitter, published the mother of all explainers on the industrialization happening in the Rio Grande Valley as a thread on Twitter.
Emma Guevara, known as “bestie emma” on Twitter, published the mother of all explainers on the industrialization happening in the Rio Grande Valley as a thread on Twitter.

Community opposition to the Starship launch

Emma Guevara, otherwise known as “Bestie Emma” on Twitter, is a member of the South Texas Environmental Justice Network and the local writer and activist who penned the now infamous “What journalists should know before reporting on the SpaceX at Boca Chica Beach” piece on the local journalism platform Trucha RGV.

From the 2021 Trucha RGV article:

Journalists need to make the distinction between elected officials’ opinions on this matter and our own as locals. Local elected officials, more specifically our mayor, city commission, county commissioners, and former State Rep Rene Oliveria have taken upon themselves to act like they are SpaceX influencers. They have continually refused to genuinely listen to community concerns, and other elected officials are not much different.

RGV Twitter makes an environmentalist’s thread viral on the eve of the Starship launch

Now, Guevara has published a 25-tweet thread on the eve of what could be the first full launch of Starbase/Superheavy, and RGV Twitter has given the post almost 40,000 impressions as of late Wednesday night, with hundreds of retweets and likes.

Read Guevara’s full Twitter thread here: So what the hell is happening on the gulf coast of the lower rio grande valley?

The community also saw a statement published on the same day by the Sierra Club, listing 27 organizations in the Rio Grande Valley opposing the launch, claiming that “routine operations are already destroying wildlife refuges and sacred lands.”

Guevara’s thread reviews the layout of both Starbase and the liquified natural gas project Rio Grande LNG, discussing its proximity and effects on the surrounding protected wildlife refuges and sacred Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas lands. She also reviews some of the local events and politics related to both projects in recent years.

Guevara’s thread starts below:

Under the proposed HB20, members of the Border Protection Unit would be responsible for returning illegal aliens to Mexico when they cross illegally during a declared invasion. / Used with permission.
Under the proposed HB20, members of the Border Protection Unit would be responsible for returning illegal aliens to Mexico when they cross illegally during a declared invasion. / Used with permission.

“Law-abiding” citizens with criminal immunity could be deputized to stop migrants at the Texas-Mexico border under HB 20

In case you missed it, Texas Public Radio’s daily call-in show The Source spoke with Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) on Monday about the new HB 20 bill in the Texas Legislature that would create a totallly new border security force.

From the Texas Public Radio episode page:

According to Human Rights Watch which testified against the bill, HB 20 would allow the administration to deputize any “law-abiding” citizen to serve in the unit. And people serving in the unit would be granted criminal and civil immunity against claims of wrongdoing.

Critics of the proposal say it would create an anti-migrant vigilante militia who would terrorize the border region including citizens and legal residents who might appear to be from Mexico.

Listen to the entire HB20 episode on The Source show page here: Does Texas need an anti-migrant border militia?

TCRP retweeted a portion of a Texas legislature session this week where Alexis Bay, Legislative Coordinator for the Beyond Borders program at TCRP and one of the guests on the episode, discusses the potential problems with a citizen militia that could set up check points anywhere in Texas at any time.

Watch the discussion below:

You can track the status of HB 20 on the Texas Legislature website here: HB20 Bill Stages