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Top Stories Of 2009: Drug Wars In Tijuana

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Video published December 30, 2009 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson looks at the impact the Tijuana drug cartels have made on both sides of the border through the past year.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): The crackdown on Mexico’s drug cartels this past year brought hope to many people on both sides of the border. KPBS border reporter, Amy Isackson, is here to tell us how that story is playing out. Welcome, Amy. So you think the war against Mexico’s drug cartels is your top story for 2009?

AMY ISACKSON (KPBS Border Reporter): I think it is. And looking in the last three years since president Calderon took office it’s claimed about 14,000 lives within Mexico, and by some account, this year’s death toll is actually more than last year according to a Mexico newspaper. President Obama has entered the scene; he's made it a national priority in the US and really changed the discourse in terms of looking at this from a bi-national perspective. The US Congress may also be considering an overhaul of drug policy this year after 40 years of the war on drugs. And I think another aspect that makes this important is the alleged human rights abuses that have surged in Mexico since President Calderon has sent the army around the country.

PENNER: So have we seen any actual progress or areal these steps sort of getting us in place to see progress in the future?

ISACKSON: Authorities on both sides of the border talk about progress in terms of fighting the drug war as something that’s going to take generations. Alan Bersin, the border czar for the US, compares it to what happened with the mob in cracking down on the mob. This doesn’t happen overnight. However, the goal isn’t necessarily to shut down. Mexico’s goal isn’t to shut down the cartels but to really break them up into manageable pieces. Now there's been an upswing in violence as we’ve said, but authorities in Mexico will say that’s because they are cracking down. A positive thing on the US side and with Mexico is that they say they're having bi-national cooperation, especially here in the San Diego/Tijuana area like they never have before. Mexico has arrested many high level people, the number of drug seizures increased this year, however there's still tons and tons of drugs that are coming across the border. And also I think something that is important to look at this year is the US discourse. There are signs that the US discourse in terms of drug policy in the US may be changing to look at enforcement but also to look at treatment and prevention.

PENNER: And how would that change what's going on in Mexico? The discourse in this country?

ISACKSON: The discourse in this country has been enforcement.

PENNER: Right.

ISACKSON: Enforcement with just a little bit of treatment. And so if the US starts to look at it in a more whole form, I think that it will change what's going on with enforcement – which we’ve seen that the enforcement only approach hasn’t done what it was expected to do.

PENNER: But now the story has gotten complicated because there have been human rights abuse allegations. How does that play into the story?

ISACKSON: The human rights abuse allegations have come up because President Calderon has sent the Mexican Army around the country to crackdown. And there were concerns that the Mexican Army isn’t trained for this kind of work and that these human rights abuses, the claims, were going to come up and they have. There's a report by Amnesty International that says 2,000 claims have been filed in the last about year and a half compared to just hundreds before.

PENNER: So it’s increasing?

ISACKSON: It is increasing.

PENNER: Alright. So now we are looking at the year 2010. What are you going to be looking for as a major story in this year ahead?

ISACKSON: Again, going back to the drug war here in Tijuana we’ve seen in the last few weeks an upsurge in the violence that we had been seeing at the end of last year. So I think it’s very important to look at that. People on both sides of the border – including the US ambassador to Mexico – look at Tijuana as a model, as a test case for the rest of the country. It looked like authorities in Tijuana had made progress. They have in some ways, but now the drug violence is up again and I think it’s very important to keep an eye on that and see what happens.

PENNER: Thank you so much, Amy Isackson.

ISACKSON: Thank you.

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