Tag Archives: drug violence

San Diego Magazine revisits 2006 Rosarito beheadings

 

felixSan Diego Magazine is publishing a series of stories about drug trafficking along the border. In the first installment, S.D. Liddick explores the case of the 2006 beheadings of the Rosarito Beach police officers, which was linked to the Arellano-Felix drug organization. It’s well worth the read. Liddick spent considerable time collecting information for this story. I know because at one point when I still worked at The San Diego Union-Tribune, he lost the cell phone number for the former Rosarito police chief Valente Montijo-Pompa  – and I helped him get back in touch with the chief.

The story is skillfully written with powerful insights into the corruptible forces of drug trafficking, including some fascinating quotes by realist Montijo-Pompa, who freely admits “I’m not going to fight with somebody whose circumstances are 1,000 to my one. I’m not going to be a hero—to kill my people. I’m not going to sacrifice others or convert Rosarito into a battleground or put innocents in the middle.”

With Mexican drug trafficking violence the “hot” topic over the past year or so,  many media groups are jostling for a chance to claim their stake in this story. Of course, the story has been going on for years but the degree of attention tends to correspond to body counts. It’s no surprise that San Diego Magazine would explore this issue in depth, and kudos to the magazine for investing the time and resources in doing so. I look forward to reading the upcoming installments. My only issue with the first article is that I think it takes an unwarranted and unsubstantiated swipe at the quality of border coverage by other media groups in a curious attempt to elevate the article’s authority. You can read my opinion in the story’s online comments section.

Read the first installment of “Blood of Their Brothers: The Border Trilogy”  here.

 

Photo of car dealership in Los Angeles with no apparent link to the Arellano-Felix organization whatsoever.

Mexico’s drug trafficking violence gets U.S. attention

Almost overnight, Mexico has jumped  to the top of the U.S. diplomatic agenda – at least momentarily overshadowing Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Mexico this week, paving the way for a scheduled visit next month by President Obama. 

It appears that part of the attention comes from a heightened awareness of the cross-border threat of drug-related violence.  The rhetoric got especially charged in recent months as Spring Breakers were warned to avoid Mexico (The ATF, in an odd move for an agency whose role seems mismatched for such statements, warned students to avoid Mexico – and then later softened their stance).  The U.S. Joint Forces Command, meanwhile, identified Mexico as one of the two most critical states in danger of failing due to the havoc created by the region’s drug cartels. 

To be sure, the violence appears to have taken a particularly savage turn over the past few years. Missing in some of these assessments, however,  is that the backlash comes from the Mexican government’s own success in attacking the country’s drug cartels over the past eight years. Dismantling long-standing drug trafficking organizations, unfortunately, creates instability . Drug trafficking was a major problem during the 1990s but it may not have attracted this much attention because the drug groups operated with comparatively minimal meddling from the government. This created a false sense of order.

With so much attention on the violence in Mexico lately (I can’t seem to turn on the radio or read a news media source without hearing about it), Mexican authorities have lashed back. In recent weeks, they have pointed out that  the U.S. demand for drugs is fueling the drug trade. They have accused  the U.S. of not doing enough to curb the flow of firearms south of the border into the hands of drug traffickers. Mexican president Felipe Calderon also suggested that the U.S. do a better job of attacking drug corruption in its own agencies.

Things have gotten testy, and the visits by U.S. diplomats are clearly meant to soothe the bickering and focus on the cross-border collaboration efforts. Whether this actually translates to a reduction in the violence is unclear, especially when we consider the unabated demand for drugs in the United States. Instead, stability may be more dependent on the ability of Mexican drug groups to re-negotiate their roles in a way that gives us all the illusion that the underlying problem has been fixed. 

Read a story here in The New York Times, about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitting that the U.S. shares a responsibility in Mexico’s problems. Here’s another one by The Washington Post.

Here is an essay by Mexican scholar Enrique Krauze who argues that Mexico is not a “failed state” at risk of “imminent collapse.” 

Here is a story in The San Diego Union-Tribune about how Mexican drug trafficking groups get their guns from the U.S.

Blog essay by Anna Cearley, former border reporter

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Defying a Spring Break travel warning

 

People often ask me whether Tijuana is really dangerous. Well, the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives apparently thinks the drug violence is dangerous enough to warn university students about visiting Tijuana and Rosarito Beach during the popular Spring Break period. Some universities have also taken up the “don’t go south” mantra. I have mixed feelings about these advisories from my experience living and working in Tijuana as a reporter.  I wrote about some of the region’s most gruesome crimes – but I never got caught in the crossfire. Here is a recap of a recent, non-newsworthy Saturday evening spent in Tijuana.

 

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I arrived at Tijuana’s main cultural center, the CECUT, at 6 p.m. to attend a presentation by Mexican scholar Marco Antonio Samaniego on his new book, “Nationalism and Revolution: The events of 1911 in Baja California.” The presentation had a late start (Mexican time frames are typically looser than ours) so I wandered outside and bought some warm cooked corn, called elote or esquite. I like mine plain, but most Mexicans prefer the works: Chile, butter, cheese, lime, salt, you name it.

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Samaniego talked about the significance of the Mexican Revolution along the Baja border and how chaos basically created a volatile mix of interests that collided and intersected, and that some of this was fueled by the perceived or real threat of a U.S. invasion. More of that in a future blog posting…

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Afterwards, I went to the restaurant Tabule to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Tabule is located along the main entrance to the Beverly Hills of Tijuana, a neighborhood called Chapultepec. There is also a Tabule in San Diego. I munched on assorted cheese, duck tacos and a tasty mushroom appetizer. By the time we left at 11 p.m., the place was just starting to get busy (Night life starts late here).

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I think I saw some police sirens at one point during the evening – but they were way in the distance.

 

To get another glimpse of life in Tijuana during a typical weekend, check out Derrik Chinn’s blog where he recently posted an entry on what he did on a Saturday in Tijuana.

The blogger over at Tijuana Bible, Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson, recently went to a soccer game in Tijuana.

And Masa Assassin, an unidentified San Diego-based blogger, dishes about eating some birria tacos in Tijuana before heading to Ensenada this past weekend.

Narco tourism possibilities in Tijuana: Tijuana drug tunnel tours?

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There is a certain stigma attached to border cities where members of major drug trafficking groups regularly intimidate police, kill each other, and occasionally leave trails of dumped body parts.

In light of travel advisories like this one, cities like Tijuana have tried unsuccessfully over the past year to convince tourists that they aren’t likely to be the target of a narco shooting.  In Mazatlan, meanwhile, some taxi drivers are finding a niche in taking tourists to (the outside of) places believed to be owned by drug traffickers and to the crime scenes of famous drug battles, according to  this story by Marc Lacey of The New York Times.

While official tourism officials here might wince at the idea, other countries are employing narco tourism: In Colombia, you can visit a ranch used by now-deceased drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. It has been converted into a theme park.

Capitalizing on the narco phenomenom can be controversial, but a fair number of tourists would probably enjoy visiting the sites of one of Tijuana’s infamous drug tunnels (or others in Tecate and Mexicali). The art museum known as Casa del Tunel – the origin of one the city’s famous cross-border tunnels –  provides only passing recognition of its past incarnation.

Tijuana Tunnel Tours could be a mobile event, or it could become an actual museum. There is a warehouse east of the Tijuana airport that was the origin of a massive and incomplete tunnel said to have been built for Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman in the 1990s. This tunnel museum could include photos of other tunnels, explanations of how tunnels are found, and shovels and religious icons found at tunnel sites. Guzman, who remains at large, might be appeased with a VIP pass.

Photo of warehouse that was the entrance of a massive tunnel discovered in 1993, said to have been built by suspected trafficker Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman. The last time I visited the building, it was being used by Mexican federal authorities to hold confiscated cars.

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Soldier at the Mexican border: “May I please inspect your car?”

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There’s something both intimidating and reassuring about being greeted at the Tijuana border by a masked soldier with a very large rifle. They started showing up here en masse last year in response to a notable uptick of drug-related violence. Now the camouflaged greeters seem to have become the city’s unofficial mascot to city visitors, along the lines of the bomb-sniffing dogs I once encountered at a Bogota, Colombia mall.

Once you get behind their ski masks, though, the ones I’ve met appear to be quite polite. I had the opportunity to watch them up close during two recent visits to Tijuana when my car was pulled over for an inspection at the border. In the most recent case, a lanky soldier leaned down to my eye level and asked me for permission to inspect the car. Then he then asked politely if I would please exit the car while he searched behind the car seats, along the door interiors and in the trunk.

Finally, finding nothing of note, he thanked me.

The San Diego Union-Tribune has a story by Sandra Dibble about the military’s increased presence in the border region. 

Not everyone is pleased with the soldiers. The New York Times writes about how some Mexicans – some of whom may have questionable motives – have been protesting the military’s presence in certain drug trafficking hot spots. Read the story by Marc Lacey here.

Photo of soldiers at Tecate port of entry during an investigation in 2007.

More border coverage

picture-8KPBS San Diego released a multi-media project on border drug violence in collaboration with TijuanaPress.com: “Border Battle. Bringing the Drug War Home.” It includes a Google map mash-up that details suspected drug-related killings, statistics and trends  along the Tijuana-San Diego border in recent months. It also includes videos,  a glossary of lexicon inspired by drug violence, and explanations of some of the drug trafficking world’s players.  The site has links to topical KPBS articles and the multi-media component is done in both Spanish and English. I’m assuming that Amy Isackson, the KPBS San Diego border reporter, was actively involved in this impressive project. The Los Angeles Times has also created a multi-media website  to highlight its own impressive coverage of drug violence in Mexico,  though its site doesn’t have the same Tijuana focus.

Driving home from USC this evening,  I listened to more talk about the border on the radio show  “To the Point.” The topic: “Mexico’s Drug War: Mi Guerra es Tu Guerra.” The panel included Mexico specialists in academia as well as Newsweek’s Miami Bureau Chief Arian Campo-Flores and Los Angeles Times reporter Ken Ellingwood.  A few points brought up: Mexico’s development as a democracy has disrupted certain authoritarian tendencies that may have kept the violence in check in the past. The carnage can also be seen as the consequence of Mexico’s success in disrupting long-standing drug cartel groups.

To hear the discussion, as well as another report on “Is Mexico Losing Its War on Drugs?” you can go to KCRW’s web page

Screenshot of KPBS San Diego’s border violence map project

Tijuana drug cartel member makes “Most Influential” list

picture-3Tijuana is believed to have become a battleground between two drug factions that are the remnants of the original Arellano Felix cartel. To explain it simply, on one side you’ve got Francisco Sanchez Arellano (aka “El Ingeniero”) and on the other side is reportedly Teodoro Garcia Simentel (aka “El Teo”), a renegade cartel member working with other powerful Arellano rivals.

While the winner of this recently-escalated battle remains unclear, Details magazine  – via its blog,  The Provocateur – has apparently decided who is top drug thug for their so-called “Power List” of the 40 Most Influential Men in the World.  According to them, Francisco Sanchez Arellano and Heriberto Lazcano  (another suspected drug lord with a complicated history) obtained the #10 slot – ahead of Robert Downey Jr. (19), New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (25) and Clay Aiken (39).

The Top-40 appear to be chosen in some cases for their provocative nature, and Provocateur/Details acknowledges the #10 team may not be around for next year’s list: “But with an estimated 90 percent of U.S. cocaine coming in across the Mexican border and up to $25 billion being sent back each year, who can blame them for wanting to be drug kings for a day?”

I’m not sure how these two clinched this title with so much competition. Aside from the still-at-large “El Teo,” also on the loose are suspected Arellano rivals Joaquin Guzman, “El Chapo” and Ismael Zambada, “El Mayo.” No word as to how they feel about not making the list.

Screenshot from Drug Enforcement Administration website (click here for larger version). Poster is slightly dated and doesn’t include either Sanchez Arellano or Lazcano.


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