This pamphlet – with bullet holes piercing a heart – was distributed inside a program for the recent San Diego trolley dances. In addition to calling for cross-border artistic collaboration, it expresses succinctly the mood of the city these days.
Mexican media report that close to 60 people were killed this past week in the city, most of them presumably the result of feuding drug groups. Based on my previous experience reporting about crime south of the border, it was a bad month when 60 people were killed (the numbers usually ranged between 20 and 35).
Tijuana’s Frontera newspaper also reported that the city’s Secretary of Public Security, Alberto Capella, recommended residents sit tight – inside their homes – and have faith that law enforcement will restore the peace. An article this weekend in The San Diego Union-Tribune isn’t so optimistic.
To be sure, most of the cases involved dumped bodies. That has become somewhat more acceptable here since the killings are seen as a settling of scores among criminals and done behind closed doors. But this weekend, Frontera reported that three innocent bystanders were killed in a shootout.
As others have explained to me over the years, there will always be a certain level of drug-related violence here (as long as there is a demand for drugs in the U.S.), but in normal circumstances the outbreaks are controlled by the most powerful groups. When those traffickers are weakened, as has been the case in a prolonged government push against certain long-standing groups, a different level of violence is touched off by the entry of newer groups and internal rifts. That is the case for the region’s Arellano Felix drug cartel, which has been in a slow but steady downhill spiral since 2000.
This kind of violence targets people involved in drug cartel activities – not tourists. This is why you don’t hear about cartel-related shootings or dumped bodies on the popular tourist strip of Avenida Revolucion or near the cultural arts center. I’ve also found that moments of extreme violence can be followed by months of relative calm. This blog will continue to include noteworthy developments but postings like this one aren’t meant to be alarmist – unless you are involved in illicit activities. Tijuana may be going through some rough times, but she still has grit and pluck and I’ve learned from my experiences travelling in troubled countries that the rewards usually far outweigh the risks. For an example of that, read this story about Tijuana’s vibrant cultural scene.
For another analysis of the recent wave of drug violence, see this Los Angeles Time report.