The first Consular Agent of Nuevo Laredo was commissioned on November 15, 1871. He was Mr. Thomas Gilgan, an American Citizen and a storekeeper in Nuevo Laredo. Just six months after he began his new job, Mr. Gilgan was asked by the Secretary of State to live in Laredo, TX due to the closure of businesses in Nuevo Laredo from political unrest and military occupation.
By 1889, Nuevo Laredo became the second most important port for all of Mexico. The office was subsequently elevated to a Consulate General with supervision over all Consular establishments in Northern Mexico including Monterrey, Saltillo, Mier, Matamoros, Piedras Negras, Guerrero, Camargo, Paso del Norte, Victoria, Sierra Mojada, Chihuahua, and others. During this period the office was located at the corner of Bravo and Matamoros streets. A year later the office was moved to an upgraded facility and location on the Plaza Hidalgo.
The early history of the Consulate is studded with colorful episodes of unrest. Many Americans of ill repute gravitated to Nuevo Laredo. Gamblers, gunmen, smugglers and fugitives from justice were rumored to be more numerous in northern Mexico than legitimate American businessmen. Forays on either side of the border by armed bandits and revolutionists were common occurrences. Consulate property and the life of the Consul were frequently endangered by revolutions and uprisings in Mexico. Because of that, the Consul had to flee more than one time across the border and take refuge in Laredo, TX, taking with him all the confidential archives. On one such occasion in 1914, the revolutionists burned the Consulate along with several other important buildings in the city. The unrest and arson persisted until finally, in June 1916, the Consul was ordered to move to Laredo, TX because of a plot discovered to burn the city yet again and to blow up the bridge. During this time there was even a plot to kidnap the Consul! With the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917, the Consulate’s workload increased dramatically. New border control regulations came into effect that year with the passage of the first Immigration Act and Citizenship Laws by Congress. This added considerably to passport and visa work, and the economic boom from the war increased the workloads even more. In 1918 the Consulate handled more than 100 passports and 200 shipping declarations daily. In addition, the Consulate changed its location in the city in several occasions; in 1922 it was moved to the corner of Allende and Dr. Mier and then moved again in February 1922, to Matamoros Street. In 1927 another move was made to the corner of Gonzales and Morelos. There it remained until 1941 when it moved to Plaza Hidalgo across the street from the imposing Federal Palace. Currently the Consulate is located at Allende between Guanajuato and Nayarit Streets.
Following the revolutionary period of the first twenty years of the 1900s, Nuevo Laredo prospered until recently with the very few interruptions. One was the summer of 1920 when the forces of General Alvaro Obregon occupied the city on his path to becoming President of Mexico. Another major incident was the flood of 1954. The International Bridge I was intentionally destroyed to better drain the engorged Rio Grande, but it still became one of the worst disasters in Nuevo Laredo’s history. Utility services were cut for days and the entire downtown area was flooded. The most recent interruption to prosperity and growth has been the violence of the past decade. Drug trafficking continues to be a major problem and the warring cartels have claimed many victims. While the security situation has improved in the past year, people are still hesitant to say that the drug war is over.
Popular pastimes in Nuevo Laredo include bullfighting and baseball. Bullfighting has existed in Nuevo Laredo for the past century and baseball has been around for almost 70 years. The first professional baseball team for the Mexican League was formed here in 1940. The team, Tecolotes, is the longest running professional team in Mexico. It ran until 10 years ago and is now in the process of being relaunched. In addition to these favorite past times, Nuevo Laredo has hosted a renowned cultural festival for the past ten years, bringing in performers from all over the world.
San Agustín de Laredo, a colonial city of New Spain founded in 1755, was named for a town in Santander, situated on the north coast of Spain. Nuevo Santander, one of the last northern provinces of New Spain, was established by the Spaniard José de Escandón as part of the efforts to colonize northern México. Appointed governor, Escandón was responsible for colonization along the Río Grande, and a chain of six settlements were established, with Camargo being the earliest in 1749. The other outposts included Reynosa (1749), Dolores (1750), Revilla (1750), and Mier (1752). Since no missions or presidios were associated with its founding, Laredo is considered the oldest independent settlement in Texas and is the only remaining Spanish colonial settlement on the north bank of the lower Río Grande (Laredo Convention and Visitor’s Bureau).
Nuevo Laredo was born as a result of the treaty “Tratado de Guadalupe-Hidalgo” entered into by México and United States in February 1848 – ending the war between the two nations. Yet, in reality, the formal foundation of the city was on May 15th, 1755.
On May 30th, 1848, México and the United States established a new international boundary. The new border divided in two the “Villa de San Agustín de Laredo” and what is now known as Nuevo Laredo. This treaty divided Tamaulipas territory – which lost all territory north of “Río Bravo de la Villa de Laredo”. The then Governor Vital Fernández declared that, south of the river, the name of the new city would be called “Villa de Nuevo Laredo”. Older accounts relate that habitants from San Agustín De Laredo, after realizing they were going to wind up on the U.S. side and lose their Mexican citizenship, moved back to the Mexican side with all their belonging – including their buried loved ones.
The name of Laredo stems from the Glaretum language and means “sandy, rocky place”. Other opinions state that Laredo stems from Euskaro language and means “beautiful prairies”.
In 1891, Mexican State Congress changed the status from Village to City thus naming the city “Ciudad Laredo de Tamaulipas”. Nonetheless, tradition continued among people in simply calling the new city Nuevo Laredo to differentiate the American Laredo from the Mexican Laredo. After the Mexican Revolution, the name was changed back to Nuevo Laredo (Municipio Nuevo Laredo).
Nuevo Laredo has gone through a lot of dramatic changes. From its conception to date, this city has suffered major flood damages (1932) to great commercial improvements. The explosion of international trade has made Nuevo Laredo grow at an exponential rate, changing its economy, culture, and foremost, border crossing. Nuevo Laredo has three international bridges – two for pedestrian and light commercial crossings and one for Commercial Trade.
Trade has been the raison d’etre for both Laredos. At first the trade routes were over land in horsedrawn carriages. Some of the goods being imported into the U.S. were hides, furs, gold and silver ores, firearms, and manufactured goods like harnesses and saddles. Eventually a railway was built from Corpus Christi to Monterrey and the new railway bridge at Laredo was opened for service on July 1, 1881. This increased business for the Consulate to such an extent that the Consul was placed on a salary rather than merely taking in fees.
From the building of the railway into Mexico until about 1897, there was a great increase in trade that allowed both cities to grow and prosper. In 1895, a report from the Consul showed that imports into Mexico through Nuevo Laredo exceeded those of Matamoros, Piedras Negras, and Nogales combined. In 1922, the U.S. moved 70 percent of its exports to Mexico through both Laredos. At that time, the Mexican Consulate stationed in Laredo, TX was the second largest in the U.S. after New York City.
Nuevo Laredo has had consistent economic growth throughout the 1900s. There was a minor recession in the 1940s when the price of cotton on the world market collapsed. The economy eventually recovered, though, and then boomed as Nuevo Laredo became a hub for the maquiladoras. Maquiladoras are essentially factories built by multinational companies to take advantage of México’s lower labor costs. The first maquiladora in México was built here in 1962. What followed was a period of intense industrialization with many factories being built in the area. This period of economic growth and development continued through the 1980s. In order to help promote economic development, several business leaders got together in 1986 to form CODEIN, the Committee for Industrial Development of Nuevo Laredo. In the 1990s the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed, ensuring sustained economic growth. Entering into the new millennium, Nuevo Laredo had over 20,000 people employed at almost 60 maquiladoras.