Tag Archives: killings

Profiling the drug wars

The Los Angeles Times’ Richard Marosi writes about one of the people believed to be responsible for a whole lot of killings in Tijuana: Teodoro Garcia Simental. You can read and learn more here about the suspected drug trafficker, who is also known as “El Teo.” 

These guys don’t like being placed in the spotlight, speaking from personal experience from my days of covering this sort of thing for The San Diego Union-Tribune. But perhaps “Teo” feels a little better with the attention since he was overlooked on  Detail magazine’s blog of “Most Influential” people of the year. (His nemesis –  suspected trafficker Francisco Sanchez Arellano  – made the list).

If you are looking for more information on the personalities behind the big guns, you can read this story by Tracy Wilkinson, also of the Los Angeles Times, about Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the suspected head of a drug group that is battling the Tijuana region’s once-dominant Arellano-Felix cartel.

I wish I could link to an indepth profile of the former head of the Arellano cartel – the now-imprisoned Benjamin Arellano-Felix –  that was written by S. Lynne Walker. She wrote it when she was based out of Mexico City for Copley News Service, but it doesn’t seem to be available online. If anyone finds that story, or any other noteworthy profiles, let me know.

Tijuana safety tips

picture-3This month, many government agencies and businesses in the Southern California area are educating people to “drop, cover and hold on” when they feel the first tremors of an earthquake. It’s all leading up to an earthquake preparedness drill on Nov 13 dubbed The Great Southern California Shakeout.

South of the border, where earthquakes are the least of the region’s concerns these days,  the Baja California State Preventive Police force is sharing some tips with residents in the event they get caught in the middle of a shooting.

It’s been a particularly violent October in the Tijuana/Rosarito Beach area with reportedly an unprecedented number of dumped bodies and shootings, and in a few cases  the attacks have claimed the lives of  innocent bystanders (a Zeta article profiles four of them). This, of course, isn’t scaring me from going there.  In fact, I feel safer traveling there now than I did when I wrote about the drug cartels as a reporter. Still,  it never hurts to be prepared – for an earthquake or a shootout. Here are some recommendations printed in Tijuana’s Frontera newspaper about what to do if you hear gunfire:

1) Keep at least 100 meters (330 feet) away from police operations and seek out alternative routes.

2) If you are in a car, “duck down, stay calm…and avoid escaping at a high speed,” presumably to prevent losing control of your own car.

3) If you are in the street, “throw yourself on the floor and hide behind trees, posts or cars.”

4) If you are inside a house, “hide behind furniture” and “stay away from the windows” (just like in an earthquake).


Screenshot from Frontera newspaper.

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Tijuana’s broken heart

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.

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Border journalism’s risks

People occasionally ask whether my life was ever in danger from writing about drug-related border shenanigans, like this one.

Aside from a few odd situations, I like to think that I was more at risk of being in an auto accident driving through one of the city’s infamous traffic circles (left) than being gunned down by drug lords. But that general sense of security may have been because I was being careful – or realistic –  about how I managed information.


The Los Angeles Times reported last week that 30 reporters (presumably most of them Mexican) have died or disappeared in Mexico since 2000, and notes that the job can be particularly risky for border reporters. The statistics come from  Reporters Without Borders.

“Journalists who want to report on crime are increasingly forced to weigh the risk of retribution by gangsters employing ever more gruesome methods,” according to the article by Ken Ellingwood.

That goes for U.S. journalists as well, I believe. The difference is they get to operate under a different set of rules and have some additional institutional protections. They aren’t usuallly competing against their Mexican counterparts who may feel pressured to divulge sensitive information to beat their competitors. U.S. media also tends to shy away from rumor-based reporting. My frustration was that often times I suspected the rumors were closer to the truth than any official version.

On those Tijuana killings

Walking near a news stand in Los Angeles this morning, I couldn’t miss this front-page headline (left) about Tijuana’s latest troubles with violence. Yet another indication of how I keep on bumping into the border up here. 

English-language media are reporting that more than a dozen people were killed in Tijuana over the weekend, and it appears that some of those victims were killed execution style and then lit on fire. That seems to be a pretty high body count to me as I jog my memory.  This story from 2006 was about six bodies being found in a two-day time period and seven bodies found in a two-day period just prior to to that. 

I’m not going to dwell too much on this latest story. I’ll leave it to the reporters trying to sort out exactly how many bodies were found and what was done to them. Suffice to say that drug groups do this kind of thing and that after covering seven years of crazy murders that involved beheadings in Rosarito Beach and a guy who took a ride on his motorcycle with a corpse strapped to his back, nothing really amazes me much. Violence is symptomatic,  and here the deeper story has to do with the demand for drugs north of the border and Mexico’s struggles to address social inequalities and corruption while creating a democracy that can stand up to these challenges. Scary headlines aside, the drug cartels could care less about the typical tourist going to Tijuana for “two for one” margaritas and donkey/zebra photos.

For more on the killings:

The San Diego Union-Tribune,   KPBS-San Diego,      The Los Angeles Times