EL PASO, Texas – The University of Texas System chancellor announced Friday he will allow a high-profile boxing match to be held on the school's El Paso campus if law enforcement can ensure a safe environment, reversing a 3-day-old ban that had upset city leaders.
Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa had earlier canceled the June 16 fight between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Andy Lee at the Sun Bowl, citing only a "higher than normal" security risk. A law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Friday that a federal risk assessment had warned that leaders of warring Mexican drug cartels would attend.
Cigarroa set several conditions for the fight to go forward: State, local and federal law enforcement must promise they can handle any security measures, the contract with the promoter and the security plan must be approved by system officials in advance, and no alcohol can be served.
The chancellor said he met by teleconference with local and federal law enforcement and city leaders and they assured him they can provide proper security.
In a video statement, Cigarroa praised El Paso and the entire border region.
"This is a region that I grew up in, that I truly love, and that I admire," he said. "The process of my decision-making process resulted in angst and at times anger by the El Paso community, and I accept that."
Fight promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said he was surprised by Cigarroa's restrictions. Arum said he'll have to get assurances from the University of Texas at El Paso and local police by early next week that they can be met. If not, Arum said he'll move the fight to Houston.
"This is preposterous. We've never had one bit of problems in Los Angeles, Houston or San Antonio, which are all big Hispanic communities, on a Chavez fight," Arum said.
The risk report, done by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, had said leadership of both the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels would be present at the fight — but specified there were no specific threats to the city, the event or those attending it, according to the law enforcement official.
The cartels have waged a bloody war in Ciudad Juarez across the Rio Grande from El Paso for control of drug smuggling routes and other criminal enterprises in the city.
The official, who is familiar with the contents of the report, spoke on condition of anonymity because the official isn't authorized to release the information.
University of Texas at El Paso officials confirmed Friday that university police had received a federal report earlier this month, but declined to discuss its contents.
Homeland Security Investigations "sent a security assessment to UT System who sent it to us and it wasn't for another two weeks they (UT System) decided to cancel," said Veronique Masterson, a public information officer at UTEP.
Cigarroa's previous decision to cancel the fight without releasing any details angered El Paso officials and state lawmakers, who accused him of fostering a culture of fear that the city has been overrun by cartel-related violence. Despite the drug war raging in Mexico, El Paso ranks among the safest cities in the nation in terms of violent crime.
A day after the cancellation announcement, local, state and federal law enforcement officials in El Paso, including a representative of ICE, said they had picked up no intelligence of a credible threat or security risk associated with having the fight in El Paso.
State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, who had asked the Texas system Board of Regents to overrule Cigarroa, on Friday dismissed the cartel report as "incredulous."
The cartel leaders weren't likely to show up at a high-security, highly publicized event with a strong police presence, Rodriguez said.
"Logic tells us, common sense tells us, these people would stay away," Rodriguez said.
Arum laughed at the cartel warning.
"Of course members of the cartels will come. When I first started promoting, there were mafia families at Madison Square Garden," Arum said. "It would seem like a good place to arrest them."
Arum called El Paso a natural place to host a fight with a popular Mexican boxer like Chavez Jr. The 51,500-seat Sun Bowl drew more than 40,000 fans to watch Oscar de la Hoya fight in 1998.
Vertuno reported from Austin.