How Texas Gov. Abbott Ruined Eclipse Bonanza For A Small Border Town

Greg Abbott
Gov. Greg Abbott
Youtube Screenshot

The local economy of Eagle Pass, Texas was all set to rake in a huge financial windfall this weekend, when the town was expected to play host to tens of thousands of visitors eager to be the first in the US to see Monday's solar eclipse. Instead, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's ongoing border standoff with the federal government ended up scaring most tourists away.

According to the Daily Beast, Aide Castano — the municipality's marketing and tourism director — told a meeting of the local Rotary Club last year that the town of 28,000 residents could expect to see its population temporarily swell to more than 100,000 people on the first weekend of April for the eclipse boom. The city scheduled a music festival to take place dubbed the "57 South Music Festival" set to last three nights, featuring 17 bands on two separate stages.

"If you’re a music lover and a celestial enthusiast, then there’s no better time to start planning your trip to Eagle Pass, Texas!" An advertisement from the city read.

"Mark your calendar for the eclipse, get your grocery shopping done, we’re gonna have 100,000 people in Eagle Pass, we’re gonna have millions of dollars in sales for downtown Eagle Pass," local resident Amerika Garcia-Grewell recalled Castano saying. In an interview with Texas Monthly, Castano said planning for this eclipse weekend first began in 2002, telling the publication that one of her coworkers said "this is like our Super Bowl."

"One of the real estate agents is like, ‘Airbnb will make $10,000 in the eclipse weekend,'" Garcia-Grewell recalled in an interview with the Beast.

However, Eagle Pass' economy became a secondary concern for Gov. Abbott, who heavily militarized the town's border crossing at the Rio Grande River center stage as part of his $10.5 billion Operation Lone Star protest of federal immigration policy under the Biden administration. Earlier this year, Abbott ordered a length of razor wire to be built along the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass to deter immigrants from crossing. The Supreme Court ordered Abbott to take it down, stating that international borders were under the jurisdiction of the federal government, not state governments.

After federal agents cut the razor wire, Abbott retaliated by building even more, and ordering national guardsmen to stand by at the border crossing in a show of force. Former President Donald Trump commended Abbott for his defiance of the Supreme Court, and posted a call to action to his Truth Social platform encouraging Republican governors to likewise deploy their national guard troops to the Southern border in Eagle Pass.

Meanwhile, the intimidating presence of troops and razor wire at the Rio Grande ended up scuttling the original plans for the 57 South Music Festival in Eagle Pass for the weekend of the solar eclipse. The Beast reported that the location for the festival was moved to the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino, which is a 20-minute drive by car. As a result of the change, tickets for the festival dropped significantly in price. And at a March 14 town hall meeting, the town lowered their expectations for eclipse visitors from more than 100,000 to approximately 50,000.

Garcia-Grewell, the Eagle Pass resident, recalled to the Beast that she was told the city spent roughly $3.5 million on the festival, yet sold only 2,500 tickets. She further elaborated that the city would have had to sell tickets at $1,400 apiece just to break even when accounting for the total cost.

The 57 South Music Festival kicked off Friday afternoon, though crowds were sparse. Local music producer Tony Rodriguez said that he counted just 30 people at 4 PM local time, and only 150 people by 6 o'clock.

"The worst flop ever," he said.

Garcia-Grewell maintained that despite the swarm of soldiers and razor wire barrier, Eagle Pass was safe. Border crossings went from 2,000 per day in December to just a few dozen months later. While some of that could be attributed to Operation Lone Star, Mexico's government also stepped up their efforts to stem migrant traffic into the US.

"The State of Texas is making it look like a war zone, even though we’re one of the safest places in Texas,” she said. “And the city of Eagle Pass was not able to counter that. They won’t say anything against the state of Texas because Eagle Pass is so dependent on state funding."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

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