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Drug War Escalates In Tijuana

Audio

Aired 12/18/09

More than 45 people have been killed in Tijuana over the last week. What's causing the dramatic increase in drug war killings? And, what are Baja California authorities doing to reduce the violence?

GLORIA PENNER (Host): There have been two major developments in Tijuana this week. There’s been a spate of killings attributed to renewed rivalry between drug lords, and there’ve also been stories of police tortured, not by drug trade criminals but by police chiefs and Mexican Army soldiers. So, Vicente, let’s start with the torture allegations. Where are those allegations coming from?

VICENTE CALDERON (Editor, TijuanaPress.com): Well, there’s a group of relatives of former police officers who are in jail. There’s about 150 that were as part of the cleaning efforts of the new chief of police of the corruption of the force – to getting rid of corruption of the force. There’s 150 that are in jail. But a group of about 36 and 4 civilians made complaints, were persistent in their complaints with human rights groups saying that the chief of police told them when they were active officers, told them to show up at his office and they turned them in to the military facilities where they were tortured in different, extremely horrible ways. That’s where the accounts of the officers.

PENNER: So they are blaming the police chief, Julian Leyzaola, for this?

CALDERON: Yes, because he is the one who turned them over without any warrants, they claim, to the military facilities. And, well, we began recently here at KPBS and this year, project with Tijuana presentation, talking about the new chief and how he’s seen as a hero for many of the people. He – Many people believe that he’s changing the tide and bringing the – taking the police department away from the hands of the drug traffickers…

PENNER: Right.

CALDERON: …and making it work towards the people. But these allegations really question the methods that he has been using. And you have to keep in mind that since President Calderon began his full – his new strategy against drug cartels, he brought in the military from the barracks to the – put them in the streets and make it police work or public safety work. And this is what we are seeing now. We were warned for many organizations and from the political opposition that if you put the military to do police jobs they are not trained for, and you will ended up seeing all these kind of abuses. And the thing is that now these guys do their complaints to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in Washington, D.C., the highest court in this matter in the hemisphere.

PENNER: So let me see if I understand. It sounds to me as though the police chief is adopting military methods. Does he have a relationship with the Army?

CALDERON: He’s a former military guy. He has spent 33 years in the Mexican Army. He’s proud of being a very Mexican Nationalist soldier and even though he has been trained in the U.S. a little bit but he’s just a product of the Mexican Army.

ANDREW DONOHUE (Editor, VoiceofSanDiego.org): And how long has he been police chief?

CALDERON: Two years. He has been since the beginning of this administration, first as director and the second year, completely in charge of the department.

RICKY YOUNG (Government Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): Vicente, how are the torture allegations going over? As you said, the last time I was on here with you, he did sound like a bit of a hero. But I just wonder how people are taking the latest allegations?

CALDERON: Well, most of the people is so fed up with totally safety problems and with the impunity of the drug traffickers that they do torture, they do decapitate people, they kill innocent bystanders, that they don’t really care. If there’s somebody able and capable to clean up, bring these criminals back to their holes, as he points it out, most of the people is not worried about human rights, only until they are the ones being affected by these type of tortures. They blindfolded these officers, since they put it in the military base, to not see who were their questioners. They claim that they were beaten, that they put up plastic bags on their heads to try to asphyxiate them to force them to sign confessions that they didn’t even read and also that even they apply electric shocks to their genitals.

PENNER: I’ve got to ask you this. Are you taking a point of view on this? Are you saying that there is rational – that there’s reason behind these accusations?

CALDERON: By the family members? Both…

PENNER: Yeah. Well, I mean, are you reporting it or are you taking a point of view?

CALDERON: No, no, I’m reporting that but the thing is we believe that Leyzaola is changing the course on the police activity in Tijuana. We reported that at the beginning. But we also have to see that there’s this allegation that they were insisting in not being taken but some of the human rights groups in Mexico, so that’s why they ended up going to the Inter-American Commission. Amnesty International thought that they have enough substance to be talking about those and in the national report that human – Amnesty International put on Mexico, they directly and specifically mentioned those allegations of these two groups. I’m not saying that, and as the human rights groups are saying, we are not talking that these guys are innocent or guilty…

PENNER: Okay.

CALDERON: …we are just putting attention on is they are really proven and what’s the due process, and are they compliant with. That’s where I have my questions.

PENNER: I find it interesting that the police chief says that these accusations are bogus, and the Army commander in charge of Tijuana also claims that the human rights groups are fake. So can the charges be believed?

CALDERON: Well, I think they – one of the main proof is that – well, that big 36 group that we were talking about, last week they released 12 of them. Why? For the lack of evidence. And the problem is we have been listening and getting complaints of the citizens in general, not only of the police officers. And the fact that these guys were able – their relatives were able to take all these complaints so high up in the hierarchy of the human rights organizations, we – gave us more elements to believe that if it’s not proven yet, we need to pay more attention to this because we also hear that some of the innocent citizens have been arrested because they were passing by where – in this place where there just happen to be a shootout between police and criminals. They were arrested and a couple of days later, they were let go. They were beaten but they don’t want to talk about their issue.

YOUNG: Vicente, another thing we talked about the last time you were here was – and part of his success, was murders were, you know, looking like they’d be down this year but suddenly there’s been quite an increase since – since you and I were last at this table. Does that indicate he’s losing grip?

CALDERON: Well, not necessarily because he’s – under Mexican law, his jurisdiction doesn’t have to deal with organized crime but it also show us – it’s a very worrisome issue, the fact that we were having a way better, quote, unquote, year in terms of the homicide rate, if you compare it to the previous year, was 84 – 843 homicides was the official count. And we were about 500 to December. But then the last week, we have about 60 killings, and today we just got information that there’s another decapitated body found in the streets of Tijuana.

PENNER: Well, you know, as we’re winding down this program, we’re almost out of time. And I just want to remind our listeners if they want to comment on any of this or anything you’ve heard on Editors Roundtable, simply go to KPBS.org/Editors and you can register your comment there. And, again, this is the final program that we’re going to have for 2009 on Editors Roundtable. We’re not going to be on on Christmas Day, so I’m going to ask you very briefly, Vicente, what is your projection for developments or changes in Tijuana in this whole issue for 2010? Do you think it’s going to escalate or calm down or what?

CALDERON: No, I really believe that things will get better. The problem is too difficult that it’s not just a police problem, it’s a social problem, it’s a cultural problem, and the police aspect is just the beginning of the change. Tijuana has been seen and even named by people like the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico as an example of the way this is – things are dealing with. The problem is it’s in many – not in all the country but in many key cities of – where there’s routes to the U.S. drug market. So – But I think things will change. I’m not saying that Leyzaola needs to be removed but they need to check how is he doing things because I think in general everybody tells you that he is doing good job.

PENNER: Vicente, thank you. And just briefly, Ricky, I’m going to give you the same opportunity. Any projections for the county for 2010?

YOUNG: For 2010, Gloria, I predict the number of elections on topics we’ve talked about on this program, not just term limits but a number of other civic projects and ideas.

PENNER: Okay, you know, I missed what you said because my director was talking in my ear. Just…

YOUNG: The elections. I predict a bunch of elections. Things are going to go to the ballot and voters are going to decide about some of the things we’ve talked about on this program.

PENNER: Really?

YOUNG: Yeah.

PENNER: In 2010.

YOUNG: Yes.

PENNER: Well, that, you know, hey, that’s what voters are all about and that’s what democracy is all about.

YOUNG: Indeed.

PENNER: Fix it at the ballot box. And for the city, Andrew, any projections for 2010?

DONOHUE: I think that the big thing to watch is how is the mayor going to juggle now even one more major project with the Chargers stadium, the city hall, library and the convention center. Are people going to be able to grasp an agenda that large and wide-ranging while people are talking about bankruptcy?

PENNER: Andrew, thank you. Thank you to Andrew Donohue, Vicente Calderon, Ricky Young and to you, our listeners. And I wish you happy holidays. And the next time we – you hear from us, it’ll be the first of January. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.

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