Writing about drug trafficking along the border, I got used to meeting people who eventually ended up being killed. This didn’t happen frequently, thankfully, but it occurred enough times that it lost its initial element of surprise.
My first experience was meeting Tijuana’s top city police official, Alfredo de la Torre Marquez, soon after starting the border beat with The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2000. I caught up with him at the opening of a sub-station in one of Tijuana’s poorer neighborhoods. He gave me his card and joked that I should visit his office so he could practice his English. A few months later, sans those English lessons, he was gunned down by drug traffickers. The story was a crash-course lesson on the convoluted realities that lie beneath the surfaces of official explanations. (here is a Los Angeles Times story about the case, since I can’t find the UT’s version on the Internet)
This week, another high-ranking law enforcement official who made occasional pit stops in Tijuana died in what appears to have been an actual accident in Mexico City. Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, who once led Mexico’s organized crime investigations, perished in a plane crash along with Mexico’s Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino. That hasn’t, however, stopped Mexicans from coming up with unofficial explanations of what really happened, according to this story by Los Angeles Times reporter Ken Ellingwood. One theory is that the plane was actually shot down by drug traffickers, according to the report.
I used to think it a little strange that people here were so quick to view events through the lenses of government conspiracies. After seven years of working in Tijuana, however, I came to understand how people reach these seemingly far-fetched conclusions. Rumors and alternative explanations (some of them closer to the truth than the official versions) emerge when information is shrouded in government secrecy. Even as Mexico has made strides to become more democratic these old habits are hard to shake.
Photo of a 2007 Tijuana memorial service for two murdered law enforcement officials