Violence in Baja California Escalates
Friday, July 10, 2009
Violence escalated in Baja California this week as three police officers from Tijuana and Rosarito were killed in less than 24 hours. The killers have threatened to murder five police officers a week until Tijuana's police chief resigns.
GLORIA PENNER (Host): New violence has hit Tijuana and Rosarito. This time the target is the police. Several officers have been killed this week, so Vicente, first give us sort of a quick update on the latest numbers, how many so far, and why are these police being targeted?
VICENTE CALDERON (Editor, tijuanapress.com): Well, first in the case of Tijuana, we have like about 16… 18 police officers that were killed so far this year. This last incident what began – or series of incidents what began on Monday are completely different. They are completely different because this means a challenge sent by the one particular gang led by a lieutenant for Arellano Felix drug organization who broke apart from them, whose nickname is El Teo, Teodoro Garcia Simental. And he has been seeing his interests very much affected by the offensive. The alternative is not using the municipal police but the state and the federal and the military have been doing with, and they arrested a lot of important lieutenants, they arrested a lot of – they confiscated a lot of guns, a lot of drugs, and a lot of cash. So it's really affecting his operations. And what he says is, on this first incident, they kill one police officer who was not even from the main force of the police. This is a different division called the Auxillary Police or the Commercial Police, and they are less prepared and they are not always armed. So they went against this gentleman because he was a more vulnerable, or just to put it in more familiar terms, a soft target, and when they killed this officer, they left a note saying that if the People Police, Julian Leyzaola, doesn't resign, we're going to be killing five police officers per week until he resigns.
PENNER: And how many have they done this week so far?
CALDERON: So far, two in Tijuana in three attacks. One survived, was injured but survived. And one in Rosarito. But my sources are telling me that now they know for sure that even the case of Rosarito is the same group and it's probably the same offensive.
PENNER: Yeah, knowing that this is going on just south of the border, Scott, I mean, you cover local right down to the border and we just completed that border fence in the area around Smuggler's Gulch. How protected do we feel against this kind of violence coming across the border?
SCOTT LEWIS (CEO, voiceofsandiego.org): Well, I think San Diego's seen some effects from the gangs and other things that have been recruited to participate but that's a historical reality, that goes back decades, I mean, that sort of cooperation between people on this side of the border and elements on that side of the border. I think I – You know, I'm no expert on this and I think that one of the things I'm worried about, though, is the cross-cultural, cross-border cooperation that has existed for years, and is that being threatened by the violence? Is the travel being limited and is that being, you know, are our common interests not being pursued as effectively because there's so much terror as fear about, whether justified or not, about the violence down there. And I think that this community needs to redouble its effort to maintain those cultural, economic and cross-border ties because it's especially in these periods when they could be severed and, I think, crippled for the long term.
PENNER: Are you saying, Vicente, that there are any reaching out going on from this side of the border, let's say from San Diego Police or the sheriff or the Border Patrol or anything to help stifle what's going on there?
CALDERON: They try to cooperate but it's very difficult. I think there's a need for more cooperation, more intelligent cooperation, because, for example, one of the main liaison between the police department, the Tijuana Police Department, and the U.S. – the San Diego-based agencies, is now in jail accused of taking bribes and worked for the drug organization. The problem is – I think Scott is right on the mark but, also, we tend – With the media, many groups here tend to see the immediate results of this violence. It's spilling over the border. It's happening – We see killings, execution style killings, on this side of the border, yeah, that's an immediate effect and we have to do something about that. But the impact of this offensive from the government against the drug organizations, it has a bigger impact for the whole region, even the things that we were talking about, the economy. You don't see the same progress due to this heavy load of insecurity perception that is not bring the same amount of investment, for example. And we see a lot of vitality that is still surviving but is not growing at the same level because everybody thinks there is a war going on, we shouldn't go. But people or companies, like Sony for example, Sony just closed some plants in other parts of Mexico, at least one or two in the U.S., and it's relocating to the Tijuana plant.
CALDERON: So the perspective of what the impact of this violence is way broader than we…
CALDERON: …tend to communicate.
PENNER: Before I turn to you for your response, Kent, let me just throw it out quickly to the listeners. You've heard from Vicente Calderon and have a pretty good idea of what's happening just south of the border. I'd like to get your reaction to it. How concerned are you? Do you feel as though this is going to have some impact on this side of the border in terms of business, your willingness to travel, and just general commerce between the two countries. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. If you call in real quickly, we'll try to get your call in. Kent Davy.
KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): Businessmen generally look for certainty. They try and understand what the risk-reward ratio is for any capital investment. And, to some extent, that's true even of individual people as tourists and they go, what's the risk-reward of going to the beaches in Rosarito or staying home? Of investing capital in a plant in Tijuana or someplace else in Baja or not. To the extent that Calderon is successful with bringing his troops in and trying to combat these drug gangs and puts a stop to it, then things go back to a level of certainty where businessmen can understand their risk. To the extent that this continues, it exacerbates the problem and it – there is no way to solve it without something happening to end this kind of violence.
PENNER: Well, our listeners want to get in on it but I think my producer said that we don't have time to take a call? No, we don't. Okay, so, Vicente, Kent raised the issue of the president and his attempt to suppress drug trafficking with the military. He just suffered kind of a defeat in…
PENNER: …the mid-term elections.
PENNER: I mean, the ruling party has lost a lot and that's who…
CALDERON: Five out of six governor seats. The state overturned five of six states, and the congress, basically, will be controlled by the opposition.
PENNER: The opposition, and so what is this going to do to his ability to continue to suppress the drug lords?
CALDERON: Well, first I think it shows like it's kind of a referendum for the approach of government of President Calderon. I mean, people is not that happy. Probably it is because of the consequences. I think they are doing – they're making progress. I have to say that these attacks on the police is because they are really, really hitting the drug organizations, something that we haven't seen in many, many years. And we have to protect them.
LEWIS: For what purpose? What are they trying to achieve?
CALDERON: They want to try some level of control. I wouldn't say that they want to erase drug trafficking because that's a very naïve idea, I guess.
PENNER: Before you erase it, you have to erase the call for the drugs.
DAVY: Well, the language is breaking the economic backbone of the drug cartels.
CALDERON: Well, part – no, and also the level of immunity they were operating with. I mean, it's not – They've been affected economically but also in the power structure that they were able to establish in the last 20 years, for example. And, really, I see. I try not to be naïve because they have been telling us for so many other times that they were just trying to apply the rule of law and we find out later that they ended up working for a different drug organization, that we need to be very careful. But I really believe that these attacks on police is really a result that they are having some effect.
DAVY: How much of the election results tied to economics and the recession as opposed to this drug war, though?
CALDERON: I think it has to do more with politics than even with the strategy. I mean, we – People vote not really for PRI but against PAN and because they represent the hope and they are not delivering that hope.
PENNER: Gentlemen, thank you so much. We could keep on going but I'm afraid our time is up. I want to thank Vicente Calderon, Scott Lewis and Kent Davy. I want to thank our listeners, and I apologize to all the callers who tried to get through to us today and we just couldn't take all the calls. But there's always next week. This is the Editors Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner. Thanks for being with us.
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