The End of the World
A mile east of
the Tijuana International Airport is an area police call
El Fin del Mundo, the End of the World, where
drug-cartel assassins dump their victims. Both Mexican
and American citizens have been found there. On December
18, 2004, according to Sergeant Tom Bulow of the San
Diego County Sheriff's Department, San Marcos resident
Noé Chávez García was lured to Tijuana by two
acquaintances who shot him several times and left him in
this corpse-disposal zone. He survived his wounds to
tell his story to the FBI and Mexican officials. His is
a rare case — he lived.
"A total of more than 4,800 Mexicans were slain in
2006 and 2007," reports the Washington Post on
March 16, 2008, "making the murder rate in each of those
years twice that of 2005. Law enforcement officials and
journalists, politicians and peasants have been gunned
down in the wave of violence."
"What affects one side affects the other," Mayor
Jerry Sanders tells USA Today on February 5,
2007. "We're literally one region with a fence down the
"The murder rate in Tijuana is certainly not more
than about 500 per year," states USBorderPatrol.com,
which is not an official government website. Maintained
by "supporters of the United States Border Patrol,"
apparently Minutemen-friendly watchdogs, the site has an
in-your-face manner that a government site cannot. It
asks, "Of course, when is a body count an actual body
count?" and adds, "This is the number of people
discovered on the street, in cars, in houses, or
mysteriously plopped at Tijuana's city dump within a
dozen miles or so of the city center. The 500 does not
include the vast numbers of 'others' who find their way
into shallow graves scattered across the 10,000 square
miles of desert sands from Tijuana to the Sea of
A Violent Timeline
1985 — Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo, a former police
officer from the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, is the
first Mexican drug czar to link up with Colombia's
cocaine cartels. He is known as "El Padrino." "He and
other druglords shared the Tijuana corridor," writes
Time magazine. After the February 9 murder of
Enrique Camarena, an undercover agent for the Drug
Enforcement Administration, the Reagan administration
pressures Mexican authorities to take action.
April 8, 1989 — Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo is
apprehended in Sinaloa. The New York Times
reports, "Hours after he was arrested… army
troops…rounded up the entire city police force — about
300 men — for questioning about possible links to Mr.
Félix Gallardo, who American officials believe smuggled
as much as two tons of cocaine into the United States
each month." Many police officers defect from the force.
1990–1993 — Gallardo's organization breaks into two
factions: the Tijuana cartel, led by his seven nephews
and four nieces, the Arellano Félix family; and the
Sinaloa cartel, run by former lieutenants Héctor Luís
Palma Salazar and Joaquín Guzmán Loera. Both
organized-crime syndicates engage in kidnap for ransom,
assassinations, and drug transportation. "Into Tijuana
roared the seven Arellano brothers," states a Time
article, describing the brothers as "handsome Benjamín,
their CEO; chubby Ramón, the enforcer; finance-whiz
Eduardo, 44, the money launderer; and the eldest,
Francisco, 51, the gregarious, cross-dressing pitchman
who, say officials, cemented the clan's top-drawer
political and police alliances, usually out of his
Mazatlán discotheque, Frankie O's."
December 3, 1993 — Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix
(aka "El Comandante Mon") is arrested by the Mexican
Federal Judicial Police in Tijuana. The Mexico City
newspaper Reforma notes he was once arrested in
San Diego in 1980 for selling 250 grams of cocaine to an
undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent. He is
incarcerated on drug charges, for illegal arms
possession, and for complicity in the murder of Catholic
Church cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo as the
cardinal stepped out of his car at the Guadalajara
March 23, 1994 — At a campaign rally in Tijuana,
presidential candidate Luís Donaldo Colosio is killed by
bullets to the head and abdomen. An article, "Mexico's
Fiesta of Assassins," posted at meta-religion.com,
states that "the first official explanation has it that
the gunman, Mario Aburto Martínez, is a deranged loner
craving notoriety," although "a preponderance [of]
evidence does indeed point to a conspiracy: Colosio's
autopsy would show that he had been shot twice and that
bullets had entered opposite sides of his body.
Videotapes of the shooting show that Colosio did not
turn after the first shot, which suggests a second
Tijuana police arrest a second man on March 23,
caught running from the rally with blood on his clothes.
According to the Federal News Service, Tijuana's
municipal police chief, José Federico Benítez López, has
posted his men at the rally in defiance of "PRI
operatives, who counseled him to let them handle
security." The man Tijuana police arrest, Jorge Antonio
Sánchez, tests positive for powder burns. However,
federal authorities release him. "According to the
weekly news magazine Proceso," the Federal News
Service article continues, "Sánchez turned out to be an
agent of the Center of Investigations and National
Security (CISEN), Mexico's counterpart to the CIA."
April 28, 1994 — Police chief José Federico Benítez
López is assassinated "in a meticulously planned ambush
on a Tijuana street," according to the Federal News
Service. Not satisfied with the official explanations of
the Colosio assassination, and against political party
objections, Benítez has been investigating Colosio's PRI
security team, looking for other conspirators. "He
discovered that the team leader, José Rodolfo
Rivapalacio, was a former state police commander who had
been accused of torture by the federal government's
human rights commission… whose own daughter described
him as 'a very violent man' who beat his wife and
children, and who San Diego police suspect of hiring a
hit man in a botched attempt to murder his estranged
wife in the United States." Benítez's files on
Rivapalacio disappear from police headquarters days
before Benítez is gunned down. Anna Cearley of the
San Diego Union-Tribune reports that
shortly before his death, Benítez apparently turns down
a $100,000 bribe from drug traffickers.
January 3, 1997 — Baja California state prosecutor
Hodín Armando Gutiérrez Rico is shot more than 100 times
outside his home and then run over by a van. Tijuana
paper Frontera reports that this is "just one
in a string of unsolved murders of law enforcement
authorities over the past year. It was the eighth
killing in 11 months of prosecutors or police commanders
involved in drug-related investigations." Government
reports state there were 800 murders in Tijuana in 1996,
75 percent of them executions between drug traffickers.
A former commander of the federal police, Rodolfo
García Gaxiola, is believed to have ordered the
Gutiérrez assassination. "Gutiérrez had moved to
arrest…Rodolfo García Gaxiola," according to the Los
Angeles Times, "in the killing of [police chief
Benítez], but a Mazatlán judge canceled the arrest
warrant in October." States Frontera, "Witness
testimony placed the federal commander García at the
scene of Benítez' assassination."
March 5, 1997 — Alejandro Hodoyán, a witness to
cartel violence, disappears. "His mother watched
helplessly as her eldest son was kidnapped at gunpoint
in broad daylight in downtown Tijuana five years ago,"
notes the Los Angeles Times. "She had been
driving him to San Diego, where Hodoyán was to enter the
U.S. federal witness-protection program."
September 18, 1997 — In a press release issued by the
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Ramón Arellano
Félix is named as the 451st person added to the FBI's
Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list and "has been charged in
a sealed indictment in U.S. District Court, Southern
District of California, with Conspiracy to Import
Cocaine and Marijuana."
October 1997 — Mexico's federal attorney general's
office freezes the assets of Aero Postal de Mexico after
seizing a shipment of cocaine from one of its planes.
The Arizona Daily Star reports that "Mexican
federal officials suspect the cargo-carrying company of
transporting drugs for the Tijuana-based cartel of the
Arellano Félix family, an unidentified official told
Reforma. Aero Postal's owner, Jesús Villegas
Covallos, became one of the principal allies of the
organization in the transfer of drugs outside Mexico."
1998 — According to USBorderPatrol.com, in
an effort to consolidate power, the Arellano Félix
cartel of Tijuana and the Sonora cartel (aka the
Caro-Quintero cartel) of Juárez form the "Federation."
September 17, 1998 — Ramón Arellano Félix orders a
hit that results in the mass murder of 18 people near
Ensenada. The Los Angeles Times reports that
the hit was punishment for "rival, upstart drug
traffickers who failed to pay the Arellano Félixes for
transit rights through the Baja corridor." Eighteen men,
women, and children are lined up and executed one by
February 27, 2000 — Tijuana's police chief, Alfredo
de la Torre Márquez, is murdered. The New York Times
reports that "gunmen in cars ambushed and killed [the
police chief] as he drove on a highway. Dozens of
bullets hit him." Governor Alejandro González Alcocer of
Baja California claims the violence and drug traffic are
out of control because many federales are on
the cartel's payroll. "The drugs are coming in by land,
sea and air," González tells the New York Times.
Attempts to combat trafficking are compromised, he says,
stating, "We worry that if we try to coordinate
operations with [the federales], our plans will
be communicated to the traffickers."
March 12, 2000 — Mexican soldiers apprehend Jesús
Labra Avilés (aka "El Chuy"), the Arellano Félixes'
"financial mastermind," according to Frontline,
at pbs.org, "as he watched his son play
football in Tijuana." A few days later, Labra's lawyer,
Gustavo Gálvez Reyes, is found tortured and slain.
May 4, 2000 — The Arellano Félix cartel's top
lieutenant, Ismael Higuera Guerrero (aka "El Mayel"), is
arrested during a raid on his beachfront home in
Ensenada. The Frontline website notes,
"Following his arrest, federal prosecutors in San Diego
unsealed an indictment against Higuera, accusing him of
drug trafficking and money laundering.… [He] also faces
a homicide charge in a Baja California state court for
his role in the 1994 slaying of Tijuana's [police chief]
Federico Benítez López. He has also been linked to the
slayings of the three anti-drug agents in Tijuana…as
well as the murder of Tijuana's police chief, Alfredo de
la Torre Márquez."
May 11, 2000 — The U.S. Department of Justice sends
out a news release unsealing a ten-count indictment
charging Benjamín Arellano Félix and his brother Ramón.
A $2 million reward is offered for information leading
to the arrest of Ramón.
February 10, 2002 — Ramón Arellano Félix is killed in
a gun battle with police in Mazatlán, Sinaloa.
March 11, 2002 — The U.S. Department of the State
announces, "On March 10, the Government of Mexico
arrested Benjamín Arellano-Felix…[who] was named on the
Department of Treasury's drug kingpin list" and adds
that this "is the most significant arrest ever of a
wanted drug trafficker in Mexico. It also advances the
bilateral Mexico-U.S. effort to dismantle a violent and
powerful transborder criminal organization." With Ramón
dead and Francisco Rafael and Benjamín in custody, the
youngest brother, Francisco Javier, becomes leader of
the cartel. Analyzing the situation, Strategic
Forecasting, Inc., at stratfor.com, suggests
"that a shake-up in the administration is what was
needed to make the family business more lucrative."
Mexico refuses to extradite Benjamín to the United
June 22, 2004 — Editor and reporter for Tijuana's
"muckraking" tabloid Zeta, Francisco Ortíz
Franco, is gunned down two blocks from state police
headquarters. He had been writing about the drug trade
and the Arellano Félix cartel's turf battles. The
assassination takes place outside his doctor's office in
downtown Tijuana. He has two children with him.
Joel Simon and Carlos Lauría, on the Committee to
Protect Journalists website (cpj.org),
describe the incident: "[Ortíz] buckled 11-year-old
Héctor Daniel and 9-year-old Andrea into the backseat,
walked around the car, and got in. Before he could start
the engine, a black Jeep Grand Cherokee pulled
alongside, and a man wearing a black wool ski mask
jumped out. The gunman fired four times from a
.380-caliber handgun through the driver's side window,
hitting Ortíz Franco in the chest, head, and neck and
killing him instantly, according to the editor's widow,
who has reviewed the case file. The killer climbed back
into the Jeep Cherokee and sped away. The murder took
June 28, 2004 — The U-T reports that Jaime
Ocampo, a suspected hit man for the Tijuana cartel, is
arrested in Rosarito Beach. "He and his wife had moved
into a brand new house in a rapidly growing east Chula
Vista subdivision where homes go for $600,000 to $1
April 27–May 4, 2005 — Comandos Negros, "or Black
Commandos, are part of a dark season of violence that
has set new standards for brazenness and frequency in
this crime-weary city" of Tijuana, reports the Los
Angeles Times. On April 27, "waving AK-47 rifles,
the black-hooded force of 10 assailants barged into [a]
hacienda-style restaurant" in Zona Rio, kidnapping
Adolfo Fregoso, co-owner of the upscale Carnitas Quiroga
Restaurant. On May 4, ten men dressed similarly converge
on Club Campestre and grab 30-year-old Iván Escobosa. "Escobosa
was dragged off the staircase entrance…at an hour when
many parents are dropping off their children for
swimming and tennis lessons. A club supervisor said
Escobosa's screams were heard in the chandeliered dining
room nearby," according to the L.A. Times
story. Both these men, who have drug-smuggling
connections, are later found dead, "tortured, strangled
and shot execution style."
August 17, 2005 — At the United Nations, Mexican
president Vicente Fox tells the Bush administration to
stop complaining about Mexico's record in the drug war;
he requests assistance to fight dominant cocaine
June 21, 2006 — Three police officers in Rosarito
Beach are beheaded. Ismael Arellano Torres, 36, Jesús
Hernández Ballesteros, 42, and Benjamín Fabián Ventura,
35, are "slain after an armed group surrounded their
cars…in a remote part of the city," reports the U-T,
adding that while their bodies are recovered in Rosarito,
their heads are found in Tijuana.
August 14, 2006 — The U.S. Justice Department
announces that the United States Coast Guard has
apprehended Francisco Javier Arellano Félix in the
waters of Baja California Sur on his yacht, Dock
Holiday. While Francisco Javier is being moved to
San Diego's federal detention center, the San Diego
Harbor is heavily patrolled by the Coast Guard and
Harbor Police, in case the Arellano Félix family's
private mercenary army attempts a rescue, according to
the Associated Press.
September 16, 2006 — Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix
finishes his sentence in a Mexican prison; he is
extradited to the United States to face charges.
September 24, 2006 — The body of Miguel Angel Ramos
Pintado, a cousin of former Institutional Revolutionary
Party presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo, is found
near Tecate. Ramos has been missing since September 14.
The U-T reports that his daughter, Nadia Karina
Ramos Robles, a contestant for the Miss Mexico beauty
contest, withdraws from the pageant.
September 26, 2006 — Julieta Martínez reports in
El Sol de Tijuana: "Despite the enhanced police
presence in Tijuana, an armed commando kidnapped five
persons, four men and a woman, in broad daylight…in
front of the city's Pacific Industrial Park."
January 3, 2007 — Newly elected Mexico president
Felipe Calderón sends 3300 army troops and federal
police into Tijuana to help combat drug violence and
weed out corrupt police officers.
January 5, 2007 — Suspecting corruption, President
Calderón orders 2000 Tijuana police officers stripped of
their guns so the weapons can be matched to recent
homicides. Police are issued slingshots and bags of ball
bearings. This incident makes international news, from
the BBC to NPR to China's Beijing-based news service
Xinhua, which opens a January 23 article: "In the Old
Testament of the Christian Bible a young boy named David
killed a giant enemy warrior named Goliath with a stone
hurled from a sling. Tijuana, Mexico police may be
praying they will be so lucky." Most officers refuse to
patrol their usual routes, staying home, quitting, or
joining the drug gangs, reports the Associated Press.
Those who show up for work (around 60) stick close to
the army troops and federales. Cartel members
broadcast threats and ridicule over police radios.
January 13, 2007 — The Tijuana cops get their guns
back, and they are patrolling once again.
February 3, 2007 — If President Calderón does not
have enough problems with the drug cartels, Prensa
Latina — the Latin American news network — reports that
he is "a president under siege," opposed by factions
within his party. "Calderón has not only had to face his
political adversaries but also the 'friendly fire' from
within his own Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). It is even
said that his worst enemy, the most aggressive and
unscrupulous, is the PAN, whose president Manuel Espino
is a furious nationalist who also leads the Christian
Democrat Organization of America."
April 18, 2007 — Tijuana police engage in a shootout
with drug traffickers near the downtown bus station.
"Police tried to stop a truck carrying two alleged
Arellano Félix gunmen suspected of plotting to attack
members of a rival [Milenio] cartel," reports the
Associated Press. One suspect is killed, and another,
Javier Estrada Dominguez, is wounded. The injured gunman
is transported to the General Hospital in Rio Tijuana, a
quarter mile from the U.S.-Mexico border. Four armed men
storm into the hospital looking for Estrada. A second
gun battle breaks out between police and this gang of
four. Two state officers are killed. Twenty people are
allegedly taken hostage, but Tijuana officials later
claim no hostages were taken. Police and army troops are
dispatched to the hospital. Patients and hospital staff
are evacuated. One of the suspects is apprehended; the
other three apparently escape.
May 10, 2007 — Reporters Without Borders voices
concern about "gruesome threatening messages aimed at
journalists and the fact that one of the latest
messages, which are being blamed on drug traffickers,
was followed four days later by an apparent attempt to
kill a leading investigative journalist by sabotaging
her car." On May 7, as the reporter and her three police
bodyguards drive away from the airport in Mexico City,
the driver loses control and nearly crashes. The lug
nuts have been loosened on one of the wheels. "On May 3,
World Press Freedom Day, the head of a corpse was left
on a street in the eastern city of Veracruz along with
the message: 'Here is a gift for journalists, and other
heads will fall, as Milo Vela well knows.' Vela is a
columnist who writes for the Veracruz-based daily
Notiver." Such communiqués are termed "narco-messages."
June 18, 2007 — Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix
pleads guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute and
possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He serves
time in a prison in El Paso, Texas.
September 13, 2007 — The U.S. Department of State
issues a "Consular Information Sheet" on Mexico that
says: "Mexican police regularly obtain
information through torture and prosecutors use this
evidence in courts. The Mexican Constitution and the law
prohibit torture, and Mexico is party to several
international anti-torture conventions, but courts
continue to admit as evidence confessions extracted
under torture. Authorities rarely punish officials for
torture, which continues to occur in large part because
confessions are the primary evidence in many criminal
convictions. U.S. citizens have been brutalized, beaten,
and even raped while in police custody. Since the
beginning of 2002, 21 U.S. citizens have died in Mexican
prisons, including five apparent homicides."
September 17, 2007 — Francisco Javier Arellano Félix
pleads guilty in a San Diego federal court to "operating
a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiring to
launder monetary instruments," according to the
Department of Justice. The plea deal includes lifting
the death penalty.
September 24, 2007 — Gunmen fire automatic weapons
from several vehicles, attacking a post manned by
federales in the Francisco Villa neighborhood. The
battle lasts ten minutes. One civilian passerby is
killed, two others wounded, and two federal agents are
injured. "The windows of seven government vehicles and
the metal fence of a nearby school are destroyed by the
storm of bullets," Frontera states, reporting
that citizen Alfredo Luna Raye, walking with his
girlfriend in front of the targeted building, is killed
when he enters the line of fire. His girlfriend is
Two hours before the Francisco Villa assault, officer
Ricardo Rosas Alvarado, assigned to a "special
intelligence unit," is murdered in a parking lot in
Tijuana. Baja California state policeman Carlos Horacio
Morales Méndez is also murdered.
The Associated Press reports that 680 additional
federales are dispatched to Tijuana.
September 25, 2007 — A Tijuana police officer is
arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for
attempting to smuggle cocaine worth $50,000 across the
border. The 35-year-old Mexican cop resists arrest as
agents try to handcuff him. He attempts to flee back
into Mexico and is apprehended before he makes it,
Customs and Border Protection states in a news release.
September 27, 2007 — Five hundred additional army
troops are sent into Tijuana, in anticipation of violent
reactions to the sentencing of Francisco Javier Arellano
Félix, according to the Associated Press.
October 13, 2007 — The Sánchez family of San Diego is
in Baja, driving their van toward the border, when they
are approached by a group of armed men dressed as police
officers. The family believes the men are indeed police
officers, but they are kidnappers. The family's van is
peppered with gunfire. Robert and Rosa Sánchez, as well
as his mother, are injured by bullets, according to the
U-T. Their two-year-old daughter is not hurt.
Robert's 68-year-old father, José Maria Sánchez, is
The FBI reports that it is investigating 26
kidnapping cases of American citizens in 2007, compared
to 11 in 2006 and 10 in 2005. The number of Mexican
citizens kidnapped is high and unknown, because many are
October 16, 2007 — José Maria Sánchez is found
wandering along a highway outside Tijuana, hands bound
and eyes blindfolded, according to wire news service
EFE. He has been beaten by his captors. He is returned
to his family in San Ysidro. The Associated Press
reports that police and the family will not confirm
whether a ransom has been paid; authorities suggest his
safe release may be a result of broad international
media coverage of his kidnapping, as well as pressure on
the kidnappers from the U.S. and Mexican governments.
October 23, 2007 — A woman from Encinitas reports
that gunmen dressed as police raped her in front of her
boyfriend. They're in Mexico after evacuating their home
during the San Diego wildfires. The Associated Press
covers the story, stating, "Lori Hoffman and her
boyfriend, surf school owner Pat Weber, were robbed at a
beach south of Ensenada.… [They] were in a recreational
vehicle when they were attacked by two men wearing masks
and combat boots. The attackers shot up the RV when
Weber initially refused to open the door and then
terrorized the couple. Hoffman said she was sexually
assaulted in front of her boyfriend before the men fled
with $8,000 worth of laptop computers, jewelry, tools,
and Weber's guitar."
November 5, 2007 — Francisco Javier Arellano Félix is
sentenced to life in prison. The Imperial Valley
News reports, "At the sentencing hearing at federal
court in San Diego… U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns
also ordered Arellano Félix, 37, to forfeit $50 million
and his interest in a yacht, the Dock Holiday."
At a press conference, acting deputy attorney general
Craig S. Morford states, "Francisco Javier Arellano
Félix will spend the rest of his life in prison for
leading a violent Mexican drug cartel that was
responsible for trafficking hundreds of tons of cocaine
and marijuana, and committing countless acts of violence
November 2007 — An El Cajon family claims they are
held hostage in a Tijuana carjacking. The Associated
Press reports that "Christopher and Debra Hall, their
16-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter were returning
from taking part in the Baja 1000 off-road race when a
car with flashing red lights and a siren pulled up
behind them as they entered Tijuana.… [Ten] men jumped
out of two cars. Five got into their pickup truck and
pointed guns at their heads. The men then drove the
truck into isolated hills." One of the men orders the
family to get on their knees. They think they are going
to be executed. They are let go and cross back into the
United States "with just the clothes on their back,"
according to San Diego police.
November–December 2007 — Many news outlets report
that violence is escalating in Tijuana as rival gangs
try to take over drug routes operated by the Arellano
Félix family. In other border cities, notes the El
Paso Journal — such as Ciudad Juárez, Reynosa, and
Nuevo Laredo — similar turf wars are fought between
rival gangs who perceive the end of the Arellano Félix
The region south of the Texas border is dominated by
the Gulf cartel's private army, Los Zetas. "Led by
Heriberto Lazcano, Los Zetas are a highly disciplined
mercenary squad composed of former elite Mexican troops,
including officers trained by the U.S. military before
they deserted," according to the Washington Post.
Anticipating battles with the Mexican armed forces, Los
Zetas have stocked safe houses with antitank missiles,
assault rifles, and grenade launchers — weapons believed
by the Mexican government to have been stolen from the
December 1, 2007 — Jorge Ramos is sworn in as the new
mayor of Tijuana. A new police chief, Jesús Alberto
Capella Ibarra, takes over the force. Capella is
nicknamed "Tijuana Rambo" after he fights his way out of
an assassination attempt before taking office. Richard
Marosi of the Los Angeles Times reports, "The
bullet holes pockmarking the walls of his home were just
three days old when Alberto Capella Ibarra took over the
police force of this violence-plagued city. Twenty
gunmen dressed in black had swarmed his yard in the
middle of the night, and he'd fought them off, firing an
Capella admits to the press that an estimated 15
percent of the city's 2300 police officers work for the
drug cartels, earning wages as bodyguards, kidnappers,
and assassins. "We have the enemy in our house," Capella
dramatically tells the international press.
The L.A. Times describes Capella as "a
chubby, soft-spoken 36-year-old with no police
training.… He moves around the city in a six-car convoy
with 20 bodyguards. He can't even stop at a taco stand
without scaring off customers who fear gunmen will drive
up and blast away."
Both Ramos and Capella wish to make the city "look
safe" so tourists will return. Reports state that
tourism has declined 90 percent; many businesses are
suffering, and poverty is rampant. "The violence is
marring a city that has been going through an
architectural and artistic renaissance," reports the
Associated Press. The New York Times notes that
desperate people agree to become "mules," ingesting
drugs to smuggle across the San Ysidro and Otay borders
at $500 a trip.
December 1, 2007 — The Associated Press states,
"Masked bandits have attacked and robbed Baja California
tourists at least seven times in recent months, acting
with paramilitary precision." The decline in tourism has
January 1, 2008 — Veteran Tijuana police officers
Jesús Alberto Rodríguez Meraz and Saúl Ovalle Guerrero
hatch a get-rich-quick plan that goes south. During the
New Year's festivities, reports Mario Gonzáles-Román in
his blog at securitycornermexico.com/index.php,
the officers pilfer one ton of marijuana from the
Arellano Félix cartel. But before they can sell the
booty, they are kidnapped. Four days later their bodies
January 2, 2008 — Al Jazeera foreign
correspondent Franc Contreras writes from Morelia, in
southwest Mexico, that a growing number of musicians are
also being caught in the crossfire between drug cartels
and Mexican authorities. No one is safe, not even an
January 8, 2008 — Reuters reports that 1000
federales are dispatched to Tijuana as
January 14, 2008 — Assassins converge on the Loma
Bonita neighborhood of Tijuana. Their target:
"easygoing" district police commander Margarito Saldaña,
43, according to the Minneapolis-St. Paul
Star-Telegram. The killers enter the Saldaña house.
The family is sleeping. Using AK-47s, the bad guys shoot
and kill Saldaña, along with his wife Sandra and
11-year-old daughter Valeria. The Washington Post
notes that the "gunmen violated a rarely broken rule of
Mexico's drug cartel underworld: Family should remain
free from harm."
January 15, 2008 — The assassins hunt down and kill
two other Tijuana police officers and "mistakenly"
(according to various news reports) kill a
three-year-old boy and his mother.
January 17, 2008 — As Tijuana mayor Jorge Ramos
attends a memorial for three slain police officers, a
battle breaks out in another part of the city between
members of the Mexican army, the federales, and
local police and members of the Arellano Félix cartel.
The three-hour gunfight occurs in La Mesa, a
middle-class neighborhood. One suspect is killed, and
six bodies — gagged, blindfolded, and shot in the head —
are found in a house.
"That night, my mother called from San Ysidro looking
for me," writes Daniel Hernández in his blog,
danielhernandez.typepad.com, "and left a message
with the worried but calming voice that parents usually
reserve for news that is sad and frightening. She said
the city was 'turning into Baghdad.' On Friday morning,
commuters in the Mexico City metro huddled around
station newsstands to read the screaming headlines:
'Tijuana burns with killings,' 'War in Tijuana,' 'And
now, even kindergartens.' That last one referred to
startling images of small schoolchildren in gray
uniforms rushing away from the shootout, their little
hands clasped over their ears."
January 19, 2008 — In the upscale Independencia
neighborhood of Tijuana, Mexican federales raid
a home that they believe has been used as an urban
battle training center for Arellano Félix gunmen. They
find "two armored pickups at the home, along with two
other vehicles that had hidden compartments," according
to the U-T. A weapons machine shop and a
below-ground shooting range are discovered, along with
30,000 spent cartridges "collected in bins along one
February 1, 2008 — Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix is
released from the Texas prison. "He received a six-year
sentence, which he began serving in January, and was
paroled" weeks later, according to Reuters. He received
credit toward his U.S. sentence for time served while
awaiting extradition in Mexico. "Because his case dates
back to 1980, he was eligible for parole under laws that
were on the books at that time," states Reuters. With
the cartel weakened, he is expected to take a hands-off
"godfather" role rather than take over from his sister
February 7, 2008 — Mexican soldiers converge on El
Mezquito Ranch outside Miguel Alemán, west of Reynosa.
The Associated Press reports the recovery of "89 assault
rifles, 83,355 rounds of ammunition, and plastic
explosives capable of destroying multiple buildings."
Also found, two days later in nearby Nuevo Laredo, are
eight military uniforms used as disguises. According to
numerous news agencies, this and other evidence leads
many to believe that the cartels have infiltrated border
police forces, including Tijuana's, with spies and
February 9, 2008 — Reuters and the Associated Press
run stories saying that a Mexican army senior officer
commanding troops in Baja California confirms that the
Arellano Félix cartel is trying to bribe Mexican
soldiers. "The officer said that drug gang members are
trying to buy off the military so they can continue
shipping drugs. Soldiers reported that they are offered
money, drugs and prostitutes."
February 15, 2008 — Six bodies are found with signs
attached to them that include "information such as the
phone number and address of the Mexican army office set
up to receive tips about organized crime," reports the
Austin American-Statesman. These
"narco-messages," sometimes carved into the body's
flesh, are intended to scare local residents from
February–March 2008 — The Arellano Félix family seems
to be losing its foothold on Tijuana, notes the New
York Times and many other news outlets. Enedina
Arellano Félix refuses to share territory with the
Sinaloa cartel. The numerous arrests of nearly 30 key
players in Tijuana hinders the organization. Officials
claim various Tijuana smugglers are breaking away from
Arellano Félix and teaming up with the Sinaloa cartel,
which took over Mexicali drug routes in 2007.
March 3, 2008 — Helicopters are in the night sky;
army troop transports rush down Avenida Constitución;
federales in trucks, machine guns mounted in
the bed, swerve through traffic. They converge on a
nearby suburban residence. In the distance, gunfire can
be heard. Suspects in a barricaded house fire upon an
army patrol unit, sending "residents of a well-to-do
neighborhood diving for cover late Sunday and early
Monday for more than five hours," says the U-T.
One person is killed. Soldiers recover rifles, shotguns,
handguns, bulletproof vests, ski masks, and uniforms
with the insignia of various Mexican police agencies.
The final unnerving discovery is a blue jacket labeled
"ICE," for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
March 4, 2008 — The U-T reports that "a
female between the ages of 16 and 18 was among the five
shooting victims found early Tuesday on a rural road in
eastern Tijuana.… The four others, all males, ranged in
age from 18 to 30, according to a statement from the
state office." One hundred fifty spent shell casings are
found near the bullet-ridden bodies.
March 11, 2008 — Gustavo Rivera Martínez, who handles
drug cargo movements and coordinates kidnapping in
Tijuana, is arrested and extradited to the United
States. The AFP news service reports that Martínez is a
U.S. citizen and a graduate of Bonita Vista High.
March 14, 2008 — Mexican army general Sergio Aponte
tells the international media that members of the
Arellano Félix cartel have attempted negotiations — they
will discontinue violence and kidnappings if the army
leaves them and their drug routes alone. "They are
losing the battle, and it's a desperate reaction,"
Aponte states at a press conference.
March 15, 2008 — Mexican authorities capture a
Tijuana-based hit man as a direct result of the Martínez
arrest. The hit man is Saúl Montes de Oca, aka "El
Ciego" (the blind guy), who works for Martínez. Montes
de Oca is a top killer for the Arellano Félix family.
The Taipei Times notes that he is "known for
gruesome torture and execution methods."
March 16, 2008 — "More than 20,000 Mexican troops and
federal police are engaged in a multi-front war with the
private armies of rival drug lords, a conflict that is
being waged most fiercely along the 2,000-mile length of
the U.S.-Mexico border," writes Manuel Roig-Franzia in
the Washington Post. "The proximity of the
violence has drawn in the Bush administration, which has
proposed a $500 million annual aid package to help
President Felipe Calderón combat what a Government
Accountability Office report estimates is Mexico's $23
billion a year drug trade."
April 4, 2008 — Los Zetas, formed by Mexican army
deserters, join forces with the Juárez cartel to wage
battle against the army. Two hundred people have been
killed in Juárez since January 1, reports the Las
Cruces Sun-News. Various Mexican newspapers state
that people are worried that Zeta commandos may set
their sights on Tijuana to disrupt the military presence
there so the Juárez cartel can take over what is left of
the Arellano Félix territories.
April 14, 2008 — The U.S. Department of State issues
the following travel alert: "Recent Mexican army and
police force conflicts with heavily-armed narcotics
cartels have escalated to levels equivalent to military
small-unit combat and have included use of machine guns
and fragmentation grenades. Confrontations have taken
place in numerous towns and cities in northern Mexico,
including Tijuana in the Mexican state of Baja
California, and Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juárez in the
state of Chihuahua.…
"Armed robberies and carjackings, apparently
unconnected to the narcotics-related violence, have
increased in Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. Dozens of U.S.
citizens were kidnapped and/or murdered in Tijuana in
2007. Public shootouts have occurred during daylight
hours near shopping areas.
"Criminals are armed with a wide array of
sophisticated weapons. In some cases, assailants have
worn full or partial police or military uniforms and
have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles.…
"Criminals have followed and harassed U.S. citizens
traveling in their vehicles, particularly in border
areas including Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, and Tijuana.…
"In recent years, dozens of U.S. citizens have been
kidnapped in Mexico and many cases remain unresolved.
Moreover, new cases of disappearances and
kidnap-for-ransom continue to be reported. No one can be
considered immune from kidnapping on the basis of
occupation, nationality, or other factors. U.S. citizens
who believe they are being followed should notify
Mexican officials as soon as possible.… It is preferable
for U.S. citizens to stay in well-known tourist
destinations and tourist areas of the cities with more
adequate security, and provide an itinerary to a friend
or family member not traveling with them. U.S. citizens
should avoid traveling alone as a means to better ensure
their safety. Refrain from displaying expensive-looking
jewelry, large amounts of money, or other valuable
The advisory recommends that "travelers avoid areas
where prostitution and drug dealing occur."
April 16, 2008 — Banners and posters urging Mexican
army soldiers to defect and join the cartels start to
appear around Juárez and Tijuana. Citizens are offered
jobs as well. The American Chronicle reports,
"Mexican drug cartels are now advertising for young men
to step up and come and join their ranks to fight the
Mexican army. The ads and banners [promise] those who
join will make good money, have food and a place to
stay, even while in training." Michael Webster writes at
borderfirereport.net that these training camps
employ military commandos from Afghanistan, and "Iran is
believed providing at least some of the money for this
recruiting and training program. The training camps are
teaching hit and run [guerilla] techniques."
Advertisements for recruits appear on the Internet as
"Reforma, a leading Mexican newspaper,
reported that U.S. intelligence agencies had detected a
partnership between the Tijuana-based Arellano-Félix
Organization (AFO) and Russian mafia groups based in
southern California," Webster continues at
borderfirereport.net. "Reforma reported
that members of the former KGB-affiliated Kurganskaya
group in San Diego had met with AFO operative Humberto
Rodríguez Bañuelos…[and] that for at least the last ten
years the Russian mafia was supplying Mexican drug
traffickers with radars, automatic weapons, grenade
launchers, and small submersibles."
April 20, 2008 — Guillermo Sánchez Lavenant, 19, an
employee of the Hotel del Coronado, is kidnapped in
Tijuana. Interviewing the young man's father, Angel
Sánchez Pérez, the U-T reports, "Guillermo
Sánchez and one of his brothers were driving in Tijuana
in a 2002 Mercedes-Benz with tinted windows. That was
not a sign of wealth, their father said." The two
brothers are stopped by the Tijuana police for alleged
traffic violations and speeding. The Tijuana police say
that one of the brothers lifts his sweatshirt and
displays a handgun. The brothers are arrested and held.
Two days later, Guillermo is released and takes a taxi
to the border. "About a block from the police station…a
group of men with assault rifles surrounded the taxi and
forced Guillermo Sánchez out." Angel Sánchez receives
phone calls from the apparent kidnappers, asking for $1
million. He pleads that they have the wrong boy; his
family has no money. The ransom calls stop April 24, and
there is no indication of Guillermo's whereabouts. The
brother, Victor Adrián, 22, is later released on bond.
"A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's Office
in Tijuana said an investigation is open but declined to
comment further." The U-T article also reports,
"Miguel Angel Lavenant, the eldest son in the
family…said he was jailed in 2001 in connection with a
homicide in Tijuana and released five months later.… He
filed a complaint against authorities, and the case
closed in 2002."
April 26, 2008 — Gun battles all over Tijuana streets
leave 13 dead. "Gunmen began firing on each other with
rifles and automatic weapons in a light industrial area
east of the city," reports the Dallas Morning News,
"ultimately leaving a trail of corpses, spent shell
casings and bullet-riddled vehicles across Tijuana."
Agustín Pérez Aguilar, spokesman for the Mexican State
Public Safety Department, tells the press, "They are
under pressure and turning on each other." The Los
Angeles Times reports that one of the bodies had
three words written on it with a marker: " 'Traidor,
Enemigo, Objetivo,' or 'Traitor, Enemy, Target.'
The first letters of the three Spanish words spelled
'Teo,' the nickname of Teodoro García Simental, leader
of one of the warring factions."
May 8, 2008 — CNN reports that the chief of the
Federal Preventive Police, Edgar Eusebio Millán Gómez,
is shot nine times, "including in the throat" at 2:30
a.m. in Mexico City. Police arrest Alejandro Ramírez
Báez for the assassination. Later, José Montes, a
federal officer, is arrested in the conspiracy.
May 15–18, 2008 — Doctors at public and private
hospitals and clinics in Tijuana systematically stop
seeing nonemergency patients to protest the rise in
violence against medical professionals in the region.
"Three hundred to 400 people, including doctors,
engineers, lawyers and other professionals, gathered in
the glorieta where the statue of Cuauhtémoc stands,"
reports the U-T.
May 19, 2008 — Three hundred additional law
enforcement officers are sent to Tijuana.
May 20, 2008 — Mexican marines shoot and
wound in the eye Pfc. Joshua Kendall Monnett from Camp
Pendleton. Reports claim he was driving a vehicle near a
Rosarito checkpoint. The Mexican military claims Monnett
would not stop his car. Officials from Camp Pendleton
state Monnett has family in Rosarito and was not there
on official business. Fox 6 News reports, "Six charges
are expected to be filed…against Joshua Monnett,
including possession of an M16, a bulletproof vest and
May 20, 2008 — Twenty-eight-year-old Libby Gianna
Craig, from La Mesa, California, is among four people
found shot to death in a canyon near Rosarito Beach in
Baja California. She is in an area known as Morro Canyon
"along with three Afro-American males; Mexican police
described three of the dead men as 'Black Americans,' "
writes Michael Webster at right sidenews.com,
stating further that "early reports also said more
bodies were found in a separate location at different
points of Playas de Rosarito, reported some Mexican
papers. Shortly after the Baja Attorney General de
Justicia del Estado took over the investigation the
official word changed and the press was told of only
four people killed — three Mexican nationals and one
female of Mexican decent — and denied that the male
victims were Americans. This was a complete reversal
from the on-the-crime-scene investigating police
officers, who reported the three men were Afro-Americans
and the names were being withheld pending notification
of the next of kin in the States. A high ranking Mexican
army officer has told the Laguna Journal that
he and others have received word to not talk with or
report any American deaths to the media."
May 21, 2008 — Blogger Brett Malec writes at the
University of Southern California's Daily Trojan
website: "This past weekend, I took a trip to Rosarito
to escape the hectic and overwhelming antics of Los
Angeles.… During my trip, my mother sent me an e-mail
with a link to a San Diego local news website. The
header read, 'Four Americans Shot Dead Near Rosarito
Beach,' dated Sunday, the day we left the city to come
back home. Four bodies were found near a car outside
Rosarito along with an identification card belonging to
one of the victims: a woman from La Mesa, California.
All four were shot in the head."
May 21, 2008 — A demonstration protesting the wave of
kidnappings is held in Tijuana. USA Today runs
a photo of Diana Sánchez Lavenant wiping away tears. She
is the 21-year-old sister of Guillermo Sánchez Lavenant,
who was kidnapped on April 20 and is still missing.
May 22, 2008 — Texas Cable News reports that Mexican
police officers are starting to seek protection and
sanctuary in the United States.
May 23, 2008 — "A U.S. State Department report on
'non-natural deaths' of U.S. citizens abroad says that
128 Americans were victims of homicides or 'executions'
in Mexico between Jan. 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2007,"
writes CNSNews.com. A total of 667 Americans
were killed in Mexico by non-natural causes during that
period. "The State Department says the report 'is based
solely on cases reported by American citizens to our
posts abroad,' " which leaves open the question of how
complete or accurate it may be. Twenty-nine of the 128
murders occurred in Tijuana.
May 23, 2008 — The BBC reports that the drug cartels
have stopped fighting one another and have joined forces
to battle the Mexican army.
May 27, 2008 — Jo Tuckman from the U.K.'s
Guardian visits the Tijuana morgue and offers these
observations: "A coal-black scarcely human form lies
near the body of a young man riddled with bullets. Next
to him is another corpse with a single gunshot wound and
signs of torture. Half a dozen other bodies lie on slabs
and on the floor. Workers struggle to force a fat man
into a hardboard coffin destined for the common
municipal grave for the unidentified. One arm hangs over
the edge. The stench is overpowering." The morgue's
administrator, Federico Ortíz, tells the Guardian
that 1021 bodies have come through the morgue between
January and April, more than double the number in the
first four months of 2007.
June 7, 2008 — The Los Angeles Times points
out that many of Tijuana's upper middle class are
leaving the city and relocating in the suburbs of San
Diego, mostly in Otay Mesa, Nestor, and San Ysidro. The
article states, "Real estate agents, business owners and
victims groups estimate that more than 1,000 Tijuana
families — including those of doctors, lawyers, law
enforcement officials, Lucha Libre wrestlers and
business owners — have made this move in recent years as
the drug-fueled violence has worsened." Guillermo Alonso
Meneses, a professor of cultural studies at El Colegio
de la Frontera Norte, tells reporter Richard Marosi,
"San Diego is the only place you can forget the sense of
insecurity and fear. There, you can breathe.
Psychologically, crossing the border relieves the
June 8–9, 2008 — After a lull in homicides in May,
seven people are killed in Tijuana and three near
Rosarito Beach over the weekend; one is a police
officer. Five of them appear to be cartel executions.
"In the case of the Tijuana police officer," reports the
U-T, "the 16-year veteran was off-duty at a bar
when he argued with a patron, who fired five shots from
a .40-caliber handgun.… In two other cases, an
18-year-old man was killed after arguing with someone at
a quinceañera party, and a 45-year-old woman was shot in
the back during a carjacking.
June 19, 2008 — Reuters reports that a record number
of San Diegans are risking the dangers of Tijuana to
take advantage of the cheaper gas prices. A retired
California engineer tells a Reuters reporter, "It's
worth taking the risk even with the violence. I know
they could kill me or kidnap me, but the cost of filling
my tank in the United States is just too much." Diesel
fuel is half what it is in the United States, regular
gas $1.40 a gallon cheaper. Tijuana police now patrol
the gas stations to quell violent outbursts from
motorists waiting up to two hours in long lines.
June 21, 2008 — At a baptism party held at a Tijuana
event hall known as "the Little Rascal," the Mexican
army carries out a raid and finds ten members of the
Arellano Félix gang. According to an Associated Press
report, "A total of 61 people were arrested in the
sweep…including the band hired to play the party and
three city police officers." Also seized are "various
rifles and handguns, police uniforms, 460 grams of
methamphetamine and 5,000 rounds of ammunition."
June 25, 2008 — Mexican authorities acquiesce to U.S.
demands for the extradition of Benjamín Arellano Félix
("El Min"). The Washington Post notes,
"Mexico's Attorney General's office said Arellano Félix
will be tried in a Southern California court on charges
of smuggling tons of cocaine into California between
1990 and 2000."
July 5–7, 2008 — Six charred bodies, one still on
fire, are found in an alley on the eastern side of
Tijuana on the morning of July 7. Baja California's
deputy attorney general Salvador Ortíz Morales tells
news outlets that some are shot, some beaten, some have
their heads wrapped in plastic, one is in handcuffs.
"It's a situation that obviously worries us," Ortíz
says. This is, according to Reuters, "two days after
suspected drug hitmen in southern Mexico dumped a
severed human head inside a black bag in the tourist
city of Oaxaca, along with a threatening message for
Mexican law enforcement." Adding to the toll, eight
other bodies are found in Tijuana over the deadly
weekend. Ortíz indicates that a Tijuana police officer
is the chief suspect in a triple shooting. In addition,
ten decapitated bodies are found throughout the Pacific
coast city of Culiacán over the same week. The BBC
reports, "Mexico's most wanted man, Joaquín 'Shorty'
Guzmán, is trying to win control of smuggling routes
into California." NPR claims, "State law enforcement
officials say 272 people have been murdered in Tijuana
so far this year," whereas the Los Angeles Times
puts that number at 260 and Reuters puts it at "some 300
people." The total count across the nation for
drug-related homicides is 2000 compared to 1410 last
year, according to Mexico City's El Universal,
although Reuters contends the 2008 body count is 1700.
The conflicting numbers lead news outlets to question
the reliability of the Mexican government's reports,
which seem to be a result of bad record keeping,
erroneous interagency communication, the high turnover
of government employees, and the Mexican government's
dislike of the international media attention, which
inevitably has a negative effect on the tourist trade.
One journalist who has been covering the Tijuana beat
contends that "if the police or army comes across a body
and removes it before the press gets wind, that body
will most likely go unreported."
"In a city with a large tourism economy, Tijuana city
officials are scrambling for solutions," states the
Los Angeles Times, noting officials "blamed the
media for sensationalizing recent crimes." Victor Clark
Alfaro, director of Tijuana's Bi-National Center for
Human Rights, tells UPI.com, "In reality, the
violence isn't targeting tourists. It's between drug
traffickers, criminals and police. But the tourist
doesn't know the difference."
July 16, 2008 — The extradition of Benjamín Arellano
Félix has been suspended by a judge in the Mexican
court, announces the Mexican attorney general's office.
Benjamín's defense attorney, Américo Delgado, argues
that his client "cannot be sent to the United States for
trial until a court rules on the legality of the
government's extradition order," reports NBC News San
Diego. Mexico's attorney general's office states that it
could take months, if not years, for a decision.
A Personal Timeline
May 18, 2006 — A friend from Kentucky wants to go to
Tijuana. He has never been to Mexico and would like to
try the seafood at a Basque restaurant across from the
Jai Alai Palace. I have not been to Tijuana myself since
9/11. I go with him because he is a bit green and young
and I have been hearing bad news coming out of Tijuana.
The trip is uneventful, except for the
hour-and-15-minute wait to get back across the border.
The next day, Customs and Border Patrol agents shoot and
kill the driver of a sport utility vehicle headed for
the San Ysidro border crossing, backing up traffic both
ways for hours. "We should have gone that day," I tell
my friend. "You would've had a story to tell people back
September 9, 2006 — I am walking by
Revolución and First, past the silver arches. Three
Tijuana police officers standing by a parked truck order
me to come over. "You — come here! Yes, you!"
They ask me a lot of questions: what am I doing in
Tijuana, did I buy drugs, do I have a weapon, am I gay?
That's an odd question, I think. One keeps asking me, in
good English, if I am a homosexual, saying, "Are you
looking for a boyfriend? Are you a faggot?" The one
asking me this can't be more than 20 years old, and he
does not carry a gun like his older colleagues, who do
not speak English. His uniform is baggy on his thin
They have me assume the position against the truck.
Two local men sit in the truck's bed, looking forlorn,
wrists bound in plastic restraints. Two officers frisk
me; the young one keeps asking me questions while the
other places the things that are in my pockets,
including my money, on the hood of the truck. I am
afraid they will plant drugs on me as an excuse to
arrest or blackmail me (many Americans report that to
get out of the local jail, they have to ask family or
friends to wire several hundred dollars to a Mexican
They let me go. When I check my money, three 20s are
missing. I had $240; now I have $180. I realize what
they did — while the younger one distracted me with
questions and insults, his partner lifted $60.
October 1, 2006 — I tell a contact at the San Diego
Police Department about the theft. "All the times I've
been in TJ, I've never been rousted by the cops there,"
I say. He tells me I am lucky I did not get my ass
kicked. He has been working the border beat, he tells
me, and there has been a rash of Americans coming back
beaten up and robbed by the local police or men dressed
as such. This reminds me of a young woman I once knew, a
former SDSU student. She and two friends, drunk in
Tijuana, were stopped by the police; she said they had
the choice of going to jail or providing sexual favors
to the officers. They happened to have $250 among the
three of them, which the police accepted instead.
December 10, 2006 — I have never seen Tijuana so
empty, like a ghost town. On a Friday, usually the
busiest time, the main streets in downtown are empty of
clubgoing tourists and police. I cannot walk down a
single block without being grabbed by barkers from
clothing shops, bars, pharmacies, even fast-food
establishments such as Burger King and McDonald's.
People are desperate for money. Troop transports and
Humvees with gun mounts drive down the streets.
December 11, 2006 — In the Rio Verde bar, the music
is a narcocorrido — an evolution of the
norteño folk corrido custom, which uses
accordion-based polka, with a loud thump-thump
of bass as a rhythmic base. Corrido lyrics are
usually about the poor and destitute or noble banditos;
the narcocorrido focuses on drug smugglers —
their adventures, experiences, and killings.
Narcocorrido lyrics refer to specific events and
assassinations, including dates, places, and names of
the killers and the killed. Gangsters commission new
songs that document and glorify a drug deal turned
violent or a slaying and the reason for it — betrayal,
theft of drugs, being a witness or an informant.
Thousands of years ago, soldiers and warriors lived for
the day when a song or poem would be composed about
their battles and killings.
It is 4:00 a.m. in the Rio Verde. On the small,
circular stage, drunken men bounce up and down,
polka-style, with women young and old whom they have
paid $1 a song, the women standing on the feet of the
men, holding on, as they move fast in a semicircular
dance to music whose lyrics extol murder, dismemberment,
shallow graves, and heads chopped off.
January 13, 2007 — Five minutes after crossing the
border, I am stopped by police and searched.
"Please don't take my money," I say.
"We don't do that anymore," the officer replies.
January 28, 2008 — I am taking pictures in the Zona
Norte area when two police officers push me against the
wall of the Miami Club and take my camera. They say I
can't do this, gesturing toward the surveillance nodes
under the awnings along the block. One hits me in the
stomach, but not hard; it's just to startle me. They
confiscate my camera. I give them $120 in lieu of being
arrested. They don't find the emergency $100 I always
keep in my sock. I duck into the nearby Hong Kong Club,
afraid they may change their minds; a waiter I know
tells me I am lucky. "They usually take you down to the
jail, where you have to pay to get out, like $200 or
$300," says the waiter. "You're lucky those cops needed
some quick cash," he adds. I wonder how much they'll
sell my camera for. When I walk out, I nervously look
around for the two cops, then jump into a compact
Liberty Taxi and tell the driver, "La línea, fast."
February 17, 2008 — Los Angeles Times
reporter Richard Marosi visits Tijuana and writes,
"Tree-lined promenades feature repaved sidewalks and
roadways. Police sweeps have cleared out the drug
addicts. Gone too are most of the beggars and hookers.
At the balcony bars, club owners have turned down the
ear-splitting volume." He must have been in TJ on a good
day. The beggars and hookers are still around, not on
Revolución but a block northwest. The music coming out
of the bars and clubs is just as loud as ever.
March 5, 2008 — I'm near the McDonald's at the border
and can hear faint gunfire in the distance. Helicopters
are in the sky. People around me are nervous, especially
the shopkeepers, because they know this new incident of
urban warfare will mean a further drop in tourism, and
June 30, 2008 — An American couple who live in the
Zona Rio neighborhood of Tijuana and commute to San
Diego for work tell me the drug-related violence has not
come their way. "It's a whole different world," I'm
told. "Where we live is La Jolla — nice. We walk our dog
at midnight. A lot of Americans are here — no one is
afraid." They think the reports of American tourists
being in danger are "hype" but admit they do not go to
"the bad side" of town. "If you're looking for trouble
there, you'll find it. We stay away from that."
July 2, 2008 — At a restaurant in Tijuana I snag my
slacks on a nail under a table. My slacks rip at the
knee. When I cross the border, a customs agent points at
my torn pants and asks, "Were you hurt down there, sir?"
I say no, there was a snag. "If you were hurt or
attacked, you should report it," the agent says. I
insist it was just a snag. "Don't be afraid to report
it," the agent says.
July 6, 2008 — Ken Ellingwood of the Los Angeles
Times writes, "Mexico is considered the most
dangerous Latin American nation in which to be a
journalist, and one of the riskiest in the world.…
Reporters have been seized, held for hours and beaten.…
In a macabre twist on public relations, journalists have
been pressured to publicize decapitations or other
violent acts. Drug gangs view such publicity as a way to
scare rivals and enhance their own standing in the
I think about these things when I step through the
metal turnstile gate that delineates Tijuana from the
rest of the world.