Tag Archives: los angeles

The Los Angeles connection to Mexico’s Arellano-Felix cartel

felixThe U.S. media gets  flack from some Mexicans for focusing so much attention on the drug violence that happens south of the border.

“Why doesn’t anyone write about the top-level drug traffickers in your own country?”  was a question posed to me once by Jesus Blancornelas, the editor of Tijuana’s muckracking weekly Zeta newspaper when I first started working as a border reporter with The San Diego Union-Tribune nine years ago. Blancornelas, who regularly wrote about the Arellanos and other drug groups operating along the Mexican border,  had almost been killed in an ambush in 1997 that was later tied to the Arellano-Felix drug cartel.

To him, it didn’t make sense that so much attention was placed on drug traffickers and violence south of the border when it appeared to him those drugs had to be distributed through a centralized system north of the border that would require some degree of institutional corruption. I replied that perhaps it was a question of the scope of the problem being much larger in Mexico – a valuable transit area with weaker institutions –  than in the United States: Mexico had its capos, and the U.S. had smaller-scale dealers with lower profiles.

Still, his question lingered with me over the years as I occasionally wrote about the Arellano-Felix drug group’s activities in San Diego and Chula Vista. Recently, I read a story in the Los Angeles Times that explored a connection with the Arellano-Felix drug cartel in a 101-Freeway shooting in December, 2008, that left the the driver of a $100,000 Bentley dead. According to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the paper, the victim “might have been selling drugs here for the notorious Arellano Felix cartel.” (Read the article here)

I thought that when I took a job in Los Angeles last year I had left the Arellanos behind, but I guess not. They are, in a sense, everywhere.

 

Photo of car dealership in Los Angeles that has no known connection to the Arellano-Felix drug group whatsoever.

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Get a taste of Baja in Los Angeles this weekend

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I usually get my taste of  Baja California south of the border, but this weekend  – Saturday, June 20 – the border is coming to those of us who live or work in the Los Angeles area.

Baja tourism officials are holding “El Sabor de Baja en LA,” which will feature food, music and artwork from the peninsula cities of Tijuana, Ensenada and Rosarito Beach. The event lasts from noon to 6 p.m. and it will take place at Plaza Mexico at 3100 E. Imperial Hwy, in Lynwood.

And, in case you didn’t know, some really good wine is produced in Baja that would be worth tasting.

Baja tourism officials did something like this in San Diego recently, too. I am all for promoting this event since it’s the yin to the yang of less savory subjects that make Baja such a fascinatingly complicated region. Thanks to Bill Esparza over at his blog, Street Gourmet LA, for the heads-up on this one.

Cell phones across borders

 

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    Screen shot from YouTube site that has video of Los Pikadientes de Caborca

I’ve been doing a masters program at USC that specializes in online social networks, so I’m always thrilled when that topic merges with my long-standing interest in border subjects.

Vozmob, or Mobile Voices, is a project that provides a platform for low-wage immigrants in Los Angeles to publish stories and photos about their lives and communities through cell phones. The idea is that “marginalized populations lack access to digital technology yet aspire to participate meaningfully in the digital public sphere,” according to a project summary.

Here is an interview with USC professor Francois Bar, who explains the project in more depth.

Meanwhile USC professor Josh Kun recently wrote in The New York Times about how cell phones are creating new conduits for Mexican regional bands. The songs are uploaded to the phones or are used as ring tones. Then they spread virally through communities, underscoring how the regional Mexican industry is utilizing the cell phone as a “one-stop music source and symbol of working-class immigrant identity,” according to Kun’s story.

Kun, an expert in border culture topics, profiles the success of one of these bands, Los Pikadientes de Caborca, one of whose members readily admits that “we wouldn’t exist without cell phones and ring tones.”

 

* I work for USC’s media relations department but haven’t worked directly with these two professors * 

Catching up with Tijuana singer Julieta Venegas in L.A.


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                   Screenshot of YouTube video of Venegas. Go here to see video

Artist Julieta Venegas is Tijuana’s pride and joy for her unique musical style that seems to transcend borders, genres and ages. She came to the University of Southern California last week as part of the USC Annenberg Distinguished Lecture Series on Latin American Art and Culture that is hosted by series director and USC professor Josh Kun, himself an expert in border arts and culture.

I wanted to attend the special “chat and sing” event on Feb.  12  – but I had a grad school class, so I caught up with the visit on the Los Angeles Times blog, Pop & Hiss. According to writer Margaret Wappler, “Venegas shared anecdotes about growing up in Tijuana, listening to her mother sing Jose Jose songs in the car, and later, as a teenager, crossing the border for drive-in movies in San Diego.” Read more of what Wappler has to say here.

To hear and see a music video of Venegas(above), go to this YouTube site.

Disclosure: I work in the media relations department at USC, though I wasn’t involved in this particular event.

Cross-border arrests of U.S. and Mexican officers

Location within MexicoImage via Wikipedia

U.S. and Mexican officials publicly define cross-border relations in positive terms such as “cooperation” and “strides.” I get the impression that things have improved, but behind the scenes Mexico still gets flak for not doing enough to stop drug trafficking while the United States is criticized for not doing enough to stop the southbound flow of guns.

Things get even touchier when officials are allegedly involved in the activities. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that last week U.S. authorities in the Los Angeles area arrested a Mexican federal investigator, Carlos Alberto Cedano Filippini, and several other people on drug related charges. Cedano oversaw the Mexicali (Baja California) office of a Mexican federal investigations unit (AFI) that’s often compared to the FBI.

Interestingly, several days later, two Monterey County police officers were detained in Tijuana by Mexican authorities after allegedly bringing guns and ammunition across the border, according to the Monterey County Herald.

The Los Angeles Times also ran a story of Cedano’s arrest here.

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Here or there?

Call it trial by tire. For five years my work week involved commuting into Tijuana from San Diego in the mornings, and then joining the line of cars back north in the evening. When I lived in Tijuana for two years after that, I continued to creep north slowly during weekend pilgrimages along with what seemed like half of Tijuana on their way to Kmart or Coach.

Over the years I came to accept that inching along at a snail’s pace is perfectly normal, and now everything seems to pale in comparison. My current commute into Los Angeles should take about 30 minutes when the traffic is moving normally but actually takes an hour. For some reason that doesn’t bother me, especially when I hear a familiar voice on the radio. This week, NPR in L.A. aired a report by Amy Isackson of KPBS-San Diego about a Tijuana woman who built a recycling machine that is used by former trash pickers – pepenadores – at the city’s trash dump. I almost felt like I was back in Tijuana again, as the stream of cars stretched out in front of me and sounds of Tijuana rushed through my car stereo.