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Mexican President Sends Troops To Troubled Tijuana

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The new Mexican President has reportedly dispatched more than 3,000 troops and federal police into Tijuana to try controlling the chaotic situation in the city along the US border.  Fox News reported that the new Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior, Francisco Ramirez Acuña, told a news conference on Tuesday: "We will carry out all the necessary actions to retake every region of national territory… We will not allow any state to be a hostage of drug traffickers or organized crime."

He referred to the new action that started on Tuesday, to control violence that has stemmed from drug wars and people-traffic across the border in and around Tijuana. The new President – Felipe Calderon – also acted in his home state of Michoacan, where he dispatched 7,000 federal troops to control violence stemming from organized crime and kidnappings immediately on taking office. Calderon had promised decisive action to counter escalating violence. Once the brouhaha of the recent election was over and he donned his Presidential sash, he began to do what he had promised to do.

The Tijuana forces are said to include close to 3,000 troops, over 500 federal police, 28 boats, 21 planes and 9 helicopters. Secretary Acuña listed these assets in his statements to the press. The intention is to create checkpoints at one of the busiest border crossings in the world, and try to chase smugglers of all manner of contraband. Primarily the emphasis is said to be on controlling the crossing of cocaine from Columbia as well as marijuana and methamphetamines that are locally produced. Whether it will succeed or not remains to be seen.  

Turf battles

Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon welcomed the invasion: "I hope this will make Tijuana a safer place." His city saw 300 killings last year. The worst case:  three police and one civilian were abducted from the nearby tourist town Rosarito, with their severed heads dumped on a Tijuana beach. These crimes are thought to result from turf battles between rival drug gangs.

Calderon, in his New Year's address to the nation, said: "The operations will allow us to re-establish the minimal security conditions in different points of Mexico so we can recover, little by little, our streets, our parks and our schools."

The on-line edition of Frontera notes that the federal operation was "about time.” According the P.R.I. government, they have been asking for federal help for the last 10 years. The Mexican government is, however, trying to do what the American government has wanted it to do – without the need of a $2 billion border wall proposed by President Bush.

What does all this mean for visitors to the Tijuana area at the moment? Probably not much. The US Consulate's site does not mention the federal "invasion" or the crime wave. It does have a link to the Rosarito tourism site: "Welcome to the official Rosarito Beach Website. You have discovered a truly magical world just 20 scenic miles south from the U.S. border." It does not offer a look at any severed heads.

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About hfdratch

  • Fernando A. Ortiz

    I reside here in Tijuana, Mexico, and I’m a holder of dual Mexican and Mexican-American citizenship. As a native of Baja California, I have personally seen the increase of violence, insecurity, and general criminal activity along the border. While the U.S. continues to reinforce the border on the other side with the presence of the National Guard (logistically), the building of a fence, and more strict measures for border crossing, on this side of the border we see the gradual takeover of criminal gangs and the weakening of our police and security institutions. The recent measures and initiatives taken by Mexican President Calderon on national security are positive, but it is frustrating to see that they are primarily reactive and they lack concrete preventive steps. The Mexican government has conducted similar operations in the past, and they don’t seem to have any long lasting effects in curving criminal activity. They did it in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, in Laredo, previously in Baja California with the “Alacran Operation,” etc. Some critics have seen the “cockroach phenomenon,” that is, they aggresively target a problem in a very specific area, and the criminal infestation temporarily spreads to other areas, while the criminals and thugs momentarily retreat, and once all of these federal agents leave, the criminals (drug smugglers, gangs) return.

  • Howard Dratch

    The Mexican crack-down on Tijuana’s crime problem is now directed at the Tijuana police agencies. The federal authorities — soldiers and police — have targeted local police for inspection and disarmed them.

    The guns of the police force have been collected for investigation and are being held. Local police are rebelling against the idea of unarmed patrolling of the streets they allowed to become crime-ridden.

    This was the crux of the BBC’s report this morning.

    I received my personal news digest from my body-guard who reads the local papers and watches commercial TV news which I missed last night. I read Por Esto from Cancun or El Diario de Quintana Roo less often now. Since getting my first computer when internet connections were strung a few years ago the luxury of reading the BBC, NY Times, Globe & Mail and Guardian along with access to the entire Web, has made me neglect local news. I am told that the Tijuana police are having paraffin tests made, their guns examined and are being drug tested. It has not escaped the notice of Mexican authorities that a city does not become a center of crime and violence without help from the authorities.

    The Mexican government is not just fighting crime in a few locations. It has to change the traditions of a culture that has seen corruption and violence since Cortez hit town — and probably before. Institutional change is difficult, cultural change must be nearly impossible. Witness Iraq and Afghanistan. Then watch the latest version of All The Kings’ Men with Sean Penn as Willy Stark standing in for Huey P. Long. Corruption and the power of power are not Latin American inventions.

    Señor Ortiz was helpful with his knowledge of living in Tijuana and added, “Some critics have seen the “cockroach phenomenon,” that is, they aggresively target a problem in a very specific area, and the criminal infestation temporarily spreads to other areas, while the criminals and thugs momentarily retreat, and once all of these federal agents leave, the criminals (drug smugglers, gangs) return.”

    I hope that the spill-over of cockroaches doesn’t come this way, which may well be the case. The return of problems depends on the efficiency of the “operation” and the basic desires of the population — will they or won’t they demand freedom from violence and corruption?