Friday, March 19, 2010
GLORIA PENNER (Host): This week, the US State Department issued a travel warning for Mexico. The warning follows the killing of three people with ties to the US Consulate in Ciudad Juárez. Joining me now to explain what happened and what we can expect are KPBS border reporter Amy Isackson, and Vicente Calderón, editor of Tijuanapress.com. Amy, what prompted the State Department to issue that travel warning this week?
AMY ISACKSON (KPBS News): The warning came out the day after three people tied to the US Consulate in Ciudad Juárez were murdered. However, State Department and US officials say talks about issuing some kind of warning were already being had, were already in the works. And that was due to a series of security warnings that had come out of places like Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, and Reynosa due to shootouts and carjackings that were happening that were thought to be affecting US citizens. They were happening along roads that were along the US border. But as I understand it, even though there have been 2,500 killings I believe in the last year and a half so far in Ciudad Juárez, the killings of the Americans and the other person who was tied to the consulate tipped the balance.
PENNER: Well people obviously are concerned about that. They hear warnings about… But they may not have read exactly what the warning said. What did the warning say?
ISACKSON: I think, in answer to that question, it’s important to what the warning did not say.
AMY ISACKSON (KPBS News): And that is it did not say don’t go to Mexico. It did not say don’t go to Tijuana. In fact, very little changed for Tijuana compared to the travel alert that had been issued for Mexico the previous month. What it did say is that US government officials, consulates in six border cities, if they felt like their families were in danger they had the option to be able to send their families to the United States and the government would cover the cost of that. And it also I think it’s significant that it’s a warning, which is more serious than an alert. So it upped the status for Mexico.
PENNER: Well let’s talk about the impact on our neighbor Tijuana, Vicente. The US Ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, called Tijuana a model for Mexico in the fight against drug related violence. So does that mean the Tijuana is safer?
VICENTE CALDERÓN (Tijuanapress.com): It’s safer because they were able to arrest some of the most important and dangerous criminals who were heading some of these gangs at the beginning of January and in February. It’s a continuous effort that is producing good results. And also we have a decrease in the number of drug related homicides since the beginning of the year last year. But we had a spike at the end of the year and it’s down again. It’s not over yet. We do have a big problem, but things are showing better result in the case of Baja and Tijuana than in other parts of the country.
PENNER: Like Ciudad Juárez?
CALDERÓN: Like Ciudad Juárez. I mean, they have deployed more soldiers there, but the results have not been nearly the same. They have an increase in the number of drug related homicides there. And the situation… they’ve pulled back the soldiers and this is what we’re seeing.
PENNER: So here we’ve had this travel warning that Amy has been talking about. How has it impacted the economy in Tijuana?
CALDERÓN: Well, the economy has been impacted since the beginning. Since 2001, and it’s been getting worse since 2008 and 2009. Not just for the public safety reasons, but also the economic downturn. But since Tijuana wasn’t a way to recover a little bit of that, this will be impacting more because people will not go to Mexico because of what they're hearing on the news about the travel warning. Even many of the reporters are not reading what Amy just explained to us, and they say all the government is saying take your families out of Mexico. That is not the case. And in the mind of the people it’s “don’t go to Tijuana,” “don’t go to Mexico,” because we do have a problem that’s very serious.
PENNER: The timing is kind of exquisite here because this is spring break time. And the universities have issued warnings to students who are planning to travel to Mexico. So how does this all fit in if you have the warnings to the kids who are going in for spring break, and then we have the warnings that concern the families? How does that work?
AMY ISACKSON (KPBS News): Well, SDSU didn’t actually issue its own warning to students. It emailed the State Department’s warning and said we suggest that you heed this advice and you don’t go to areas of Mexico in Durango, Chihuahua, Coahuila, which aren’t necessarily areas that students go to anyway for spring break fun. But classes and academic programs that San Diego State runs in Mexico, they're not calling students back and classes will continue to go to Tijuana. One interesting thing is that I think in the larger sense, just in the larger, national context of the US, it’s really forcing the US to take another look at Mexico. And Hillary Clinton, Janet Napolitano, and Secretary of Defense Gates will be in Mexico next week to talk about the drug war strategy there.
PENNER: And so very briefly, this means that perhaps relations between US and Mexico might even improve as a result?
ISACKSON: We can hope that they’ll improve. I think that it definitely makes the drug war something that the US has to look at even more so now.
PENNER: Thank you very much Amy Isackson, Vicente Calderón.