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.
Posted in Crime & public security, Musings
Tagged baja, Baja California, border, border inspections, drug trafficking, drug violence, mexican soldiers, mexico, public security, soldiers, Tijuana
KPBS video (via YouTube) of Car Armoring Service’s Tijuana plant
As the border region enters its second year of what I would describe as sustained drug warfare, some people have decided to simply stop going to border cities like Tijuana.
Other people – who have reasons to take extra-precautions for their safety because they own a business in Mexico or are part of a criminal group – make sure they go there as if prepared for battle. I don’t have any statistics on the numbers of armored vehicles being used in these border cities, but I recently noticed full-page newspaper advertisements for several Tijuana region services so there must be a demand for the extra protection that can cost upwards of $50,000.
One of them, Car Armoring Service, is a company I profiled in 2006 for The San Diego Union-Tribune when the business was using its original name of Total Shield-Blindado Seguro. You can read the story here. Amy Isackson of KPBS-San Diego radio did a more recent story in December about armored cars that you can access here. It has an interesting video of Car Armoring’s Tijuana factory that has also been posted on YouTube.
Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security has a listing of 45 car armoring services, according to this online document, but it isn’t broken down by region. One of them, Blindajes Goldman, opened up shop in Tijuana recently. Carlos Guerrero, who runs Car Armoring Service, told me that more competitors have tried to nose their way into the border region. Despite that, he said, business is brisk and his company – which already has offices in Mexicali and San Diego – will be soon opening another branch in the city of El Paso, Texas.
Posted in Crime & public security
Tagged armored cars, blindajes goldman, border, border violence, car armoring, car armoring service, crime, el paso, mexico, public security, safety, security, Tijuana, violence
The Ciclopista Tijuana bicyclists – who I wrote about in this previous blog posting- are the source of inspiration for a story in The San Diego Union-Tribune/SignOnSanDiego this weekend. The bicyclists’ determination to continue with their regular cycling activities despite an uptick in drug-related violence (for the most recent development, go here) provides a very real and symbolic depiction of the ways that people find normality during trying times.
At least 150 riders of all ages participate in the Wednesday night ritual, even though they have had to adapt their routes to avoid sections of the city due to crime scenes, according to the article by my former colleague Sandra Dibble. I still have a pending invitation from the group to join them, and I’m hoping to saddle up for one of their Sunday events.
To learn more about the Ciclopista Tijuana group, read the article here.
YouTube video courtesy of AdictusTJ
You won’t find a lot of publicity in Tijuana about the controversial art exhibit, Navajas, in which ostrich parts, images of executions, and dangling dollar bills represent the victims and conspirators of drug trafficking activities and other violent acts. The exhibit, by Rosa Maria Robles, is running through Oct. 3 at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California.
“What I’m trying to do with Navajas isn’t to create a scandal, nor to provoke just to provoke,” she told the Tijuana weekly Zeta recently. Instead, she said, it’s to “shake up the public…because the violence is growing so terribly.” (read a story here about the most recent outbreak in Mexico’s interior.)
Robles got into a lot of heat last year when she held the original Navajas exhibit in Culiacan, Sinaloa, where she is from. She included blankets that had presumably been used to wrap up and dump victims, a practice that has become so common in border cities like Tijuana that a word was created to describe the body finds: encobijados. Robles’ blood-stained blankets were confiscated by law enforcement authorities, who wanted to know how she got them (she later replaced them with blankets decorated with her own blood). In her interview with the Tijuana weekly Zeta, Robles said she was hoping to get the original blankets back on loan for the exhibit’s future showing in Mexico City.
I get the feeling that Tijuana is understandably sensitive about airing topics like this and scaring off tourists, so I find it somewhat amazing that Navajas (which means ‘knives’ or ‘razors’ in English) is even here. As someone who has written extensively about border crime and violence (and lived in Tijuana safely for two years), I wanted to see the exhibit for myself. I learned later that it’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. If you read Spanish, you can see a copy of the Zeta article here, which includes some pictures.
Screenshot from Rosa Maria Robles’ website
This is the infamous Tijuana mug shot. When authorities capture suspects here, the detainees are often paraded in front of news photographers. This typically involves a whole level of theatrics with the suspects being forced to stand before their stash of stolen goods or to wield the (presumably unloaded) weapons used to commit the crimes. Sometimes a weak smile emerges in the photos, but most of the time the suspects stare stone-like at the cameras in their awkward poses.
Screenshot from Frontera newspaper.