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Violence In Mexico

Audio

Aired 3/19/10

The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for three states in Mexico after three people attached to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez were killed there. Why should we avoid northern Baja California and Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada?

GLORIA PENNER (Host): And let’s move on because this week the State Department issued a travel warning for the states of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua, Mexico after three people attached to the U.S. consulate in Cuidad Juarez were killed. So, Vicente, we think of drug gangs immediately in these kinds of deaths. What evidence is there to back up that assumption that drugs gangs are responsible?

VICENTE CALDERON (Editor, Tijuanapress.com): In the case of Cuidad Juarez, it’s very likely even when you cannot see it clearly. But everything is controlled in Cuidad Juarez from – every crime is controlled somehow with the main major groups that are fighting for that plaza as they call it in Cuidad Juarez, the Sina Loa cartel and the local gang who has been there, the Cuidad Juarez cartel. So even when we have to wait until who is exactly the perpetrator and what’s the line going out to these organizations, we can be sure that this house was somehow linked to organized crime.

PENNER: Well, I want to get some of the circumstances of the killings from you, Vicente. But before, let me ask our listeners, you’ve heard now that there are travel warnings about going into at least three Mexican states and just generally into Mexico. Are you going to heed them? If your kid’s going on spring break, are you going to forbid them to go into Mexico? I’d like to hear from you on this. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. What were the circumstances of the killings?

CALDERON: Well, so far what we know is that when they were coming back – when this couple was coming of em – She was an employee of the consulate and she was an American citizen. Her husband was another U.S. citizen that was somehow linked to the U.S. government in Cuidad Juarez or in the prison system in El Paso. They were gunned down when they were riding back from a birthday party. They were going back to El Paso. They were residents of El Paso, not Cuidad Juarez. And that’s when they were shot several times. Later, in another and separated incident that we are still trying to find out or waiting to find out how – what’s the link between those two, another employee, a Mexican employee of the U.S. consulate was killed, gunned down also.

PENNER: So two Americans, one Mexican…

CALDERON: Three…

PENNER: …all three associated with the…

CALDERON: With the U.S. consulate.

PENNER: …U.S. consulate. Okay, so, Tom, why did these most recent killings necessitate a travel warning to those states?

TOM YORK (Contributing Editor, San Diego Business Journal): Well, if you look at the, you know, the most recent – if you look at the most recent history of what’s happening in Mexico, there’s a drug war going on and there’s people being killed left and right, including, you know, Baja, California, right across the border. It’s a – it could be potentially a dangerous place for college students or for vacationers at this point. And I think a lot of people are taking heed and taking the warning seriously and making their plans appropriately.

PENNER: But what about the fact that the three people targeted were with the U.S. government? Are there reasons to believe that Mexican drug cartels have now launched an offensive against U.S. government employees?

YORK: Well, I don’t think you can make that assumption based on what’s happened. It could’ve been that the people involved in this shooting were somehow or the other involved in the drug gangs in some way or the other either on one side or the other, and that they were targeted because of their involvement. You know, one of the issues with the drug wars is there’s a lot of money that’s being bandied about and so people are being paid off right and left by the drug gangs and maybe these people were involved somehow in other – in payments and they were targeted for execution because of that.

PENNER: Kent.

KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): I don’t know that there’s any evidence at all that – of the truth of that assertion. I think that there is some speculation on the part of the FBI that this was mistaken identity perhaps. It’s not clear and I doubt that it’s going to be clear for any time exactly what’s going on. And it will be the events that occur in the next few months will tell you whether or not there’s a war against American consulate officials and other Americans.

CALDERON: I think we just – That’s what I say, we have to wait because prior to these killings some arrests of very important lieutenants of La Linea gang, which is one of the…

DAVY: Right.

CALDERON: …most violent and suspect probably, suspects here was issued. So we don’t know. You’re right. There’s no evidence so far that they are targeting Americans or U.S. employees. And I have to say also that, in general, there’s not – even when there’s a lot of people being killed in Mexico, in many states, in many cities where previously they didn’t have this problem of drug related violence, the number of Americans is very, very minimal, and there’s no proof that Americans are targeted because they are blond, blue-eyes. Americans are tourists so people coming from outside the country. There – Some of the instances for some of the cases in Baja, California when Americans have been killed is because somehow they were linked to drug trafficking or they were hanging out with the wrong crowd and not – We don’t have any evidence that they were targeted just because they were Americans.

PENNER: Okay. Back to the phones with Andrew in Ocean Beach. Andrew, you’re on with the editors.

ANDREW (Caller, Ocean Beach): Hi. Thank you very much for the call and your awesome program.

PENNER: Thank you.

ANDREW: I am a hard – well, I don’t want to say hardcore but I’m a very passionate advocate of Mexico and Baja, California. I have been surfing there all my life. I’ve sponsored a lot of the young surfers down there in Rosarito so they can, you know, have the opportunity to surf and, hopefully, have a better future. But I’m just concerned that the people are not getting what they can.

PENNER: I don’t understand what you mean, people not getting what they can. What do you mean?

ANDREW: Well, it’s just – it just to me seems like, you know, Bob Marley says a hungry mouth is an angry mouth, and now that we’re scaring a lot of the American tourist money away from the people, it’s just going to hurt the people a lot more. I think we need to not put so much scare tactics on people and just give them information instead of scaring them away from, you know, good, honest citizens there working hard in Mexico, trying to make a living.

PENNER: Thank you, Andrew. And let me turn to Vicente on this. What additional burden will all this news, this latest news, impose on Mexico’s economy and what Andrew was talking about, just the people surviving?

CALDERON: Well, it will make it more difficult for the tourist industry just to begin with. I mean, for – one of the things that, for example, they will not go to places where normally they felt safe like Acapulco for – well, that’s a good example because they were not – used to not be as part of this drug war and now it is due to this warning. And also but we have to accept that in Guerrero, during that same weekend with this place where the consuls were killed, they have a terrible rush of killings, over 20 killings in that weekend. But I have to say something because I think he make a good – the listener make a good point. It’s not necessarily scare tactics but it’s bad journalism. Many of the people they’re reporting on, the warning, they did not even read the whole warning. The beginning of this warning, the travel advisory, says that even when millions of people are going in and out to Mexico, Americans, without having any problem, and there’s about a million, I think, is the figure, there’s Americans residing in the whole country of Mexico, they’re having no problems. They’re basically immune to these problems of gang violence. They are exercising their right to tell people, use common sense and be caution in certain areas, specific certain areas. They never told you to go – not to go to Cuidad Juarez. They tell you, even when the advisory includes Chihuahua, they say don’t go to certain areas where the balance has come out of control but the U.S. government sending people to Cuidad Juarez. Cuidad Juarez is the place where the U.S. consulate processes a lot of the visas from – to get into the U.S., not just from Mexicans, from people from all over the world.

PENNER: Yeah, just on that journalism question, I mean, Andrew raised that issue, are we scaring people and adding to this economic burden in Mexico? So, Tom, what is your feeling on that? What is our responsibility as journalists?

YORK: Well, I think that it’s not – You know, people read the news, they see this on television, and there’s a concern because it seems like that the civil authority in Mexico is breaking down and they don’t want to go to Mexico and get caught up in the crossfire, even though that’s very, very rare. I think there’s just a concern. You don’t want to put yourself in harm’s way and right now there seems to be a lot of problems in certain areas of Mexico such as Acapulco or Cuidad Juarez. And so you, you know, you just naturally – you want to be cautious and you want to stay away from those areas.

PENNER: Okay. And it’s true, San Diego State University is not planning to call students home from Mexico or cancel classes in Tijuana. So I think that’s also an indication of some moderation in response to this. And we’re going to come back and take more of your calls and more comments from the editors as we talk about what’s going on in Mexico with people associated with the U.S. consulate down there having been killed recently. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.

PENNER: I’m Gloria Penner. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m at the table today with Vicente Calderon from Tijuanapress.com, and from the San Diego Business Journal, Tom York, Kent Davy from North County Times, and we are talking about the recent reports of killings in Mexico involving U.S. consulate employees. And we’re talking about whether the warnings are adequate, whether they’re insufficient, or whether they’re too much. And we’re going to go right to the phones and speak to Frederick in North County. Frederick, you’re on with the editors. Thanks for calling.

FREDERICK (Caller, North County): Thank you. This incident is a direct attack on the United States and I think the United – if the Mexican government is either unable or uninclined (sic) to correct their problem. I think the United States ought to give them a hand.

PENNER: In what way, Frederick? Give them a hand how?

FREDERICK: I’d send troops in there.

PENNER: Troops, okay. Thanks, Frederick.

FREDERICK: They can if they – The cartels, if you want to call them that, the gangs, the criminals, have already come into the United States in the border states and killed people, so when are we going to stop that?

PENNER: Okay.

FREDERICK: I’ll take my responses offline.

PENNER: All right, thanks. Thanks, Frederick. And you know what I’m going to do, I’m going to take a couple more calls and then we’re going to respond to everything that our listeners have said. But that certainly is a provocative statement. So let’s go now to Ian in Solana Beach. Ian, you’re on with the editors.

IAN (Caller, Solana Beach): Good morning, Gloria. I just wanted to say that I rent a house actually about 200 miles south of the border in San Quintin and I travel there about once a week, and I go down by bus, and have no difficulty at all. I’ve never seen a bandito or knock-off trafficante and to answer your caller Frederick’s observation, the military is very much in evidence out there. There are men standing with .30 caliber machine guns waiting for anybody who tries to do anything over there. And I would say it’s perfectly safe over there and it’s wonderful and the waves are wonderful and the wind is wonderful for windsurfing.

PENNER: Okay, well, thank you very much, Ian. You paint a lovely picture. And finally from Virginia in Del Cerro. Virginia, I’m going to ask you to keep it brief. We’re running out of time.

VIRGINIA (Caller, Del Cerro): And I’m sorry. I just wanted to support that it is – I consider myself safe going to Tijuana also. I belong to a nonprofit group that does tours down there with the workers in Tijuana or people who are trying to organize a unions. And I feel safe and I’m not going to stop going but what I wanted to comment on—and since it’s very fastly departing here—I’m reading a fictionalized version by an author named Mr. Bolano, Roberto Bolano, and I thought Mr. Calderon might know about him. He died. And he, in a recent interview, he wrote a fictionalized novel about a fictionalized town called Santa Teresa, which is really Cuidad Juarez and he holds the government complicit in that he had been receiving information. He lived in Italy but he was from Chile formerly. And he was receiving real facts about Cuidad Juarez all the way to Italy and everyone wonders – His book has just come out, 26/26…

PENNER: Right, Virginia, I’m…

VIRGINIA: …and he – and in this, he holds the government complicit but he also holds the United States complicit.

PENNER: Okay, well, thank you very much for your comment. So we – we’re all over the board on those comments and let’s start with you, Kent Davy. Frederick suggests controlling it with U.S. troops. Ian says it’s safe. Virginia sees some complicity between the United States government and Mexican government. Where are you on this?

DAVY: In general, going to Mexico is safe. There are places you don’t want to go but that’s kind of like there are places in Chicago you don’t want to go, too.

PENNER: Do you go to Chicago?

DAVY: Occasionally.

PENNER: Okay. And you go to Mexico.

DAVY: Yes.

PENNER: Okay, and Kent. I’m sorry, that was Kent. Tom.

YORK: Well, I would also second that. I think there are even places in San Diego that one might take second thoughts into going to. But I think, you know, what’s happened in Mexico, there’s a perception and I think people are reacting to the perception.

PENNER: One last thing. The U.S. State Department has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the last few years in a program. It’s called the Marita Initiative…

YORK: Umm-hmm.

PENNER: …to combat organized crime in Mexico. How effective has that been? Do you think that this latest incident, for example, might bring the United States to do more than it’s now doing to combat violence in Mexico?

CALDERON: I think they have to – they’re going to review the way they are putting this, not just this, everybody cooperation. I have to give you two examples. And the thing is, that situation in Baja, California is very, very different than in Cuidad Juarez. It’s a tragedy. We have a – we share a lot of the common causes. Of course, corruption in the government, the Mexican government, is – it’s a very big issue and it’s not solved completely. But, for example, in the case of Baja, California, due to the participation of the Mexican troops in Baja, California, with helping and coordinating with the local civilian agencies like the civilian police from Tijuana and the state attorney general’s office, are making some progress. Also, in this situation, the U.S. government is more confident in that they are being able to share information and this has produced very important arrests. In the beginning of this year, one of the most vicious gang leaders of the – and responsible for hundreds of killings, was arrested in La Paz.

PENNER: Right.

CALDERON: His arrest was the result of this cooperation between the Mexican army, the civilian authorities, and the U.S. intelligence agents from DEA and FBI. And among later, the probable successor of that gang was also arrested. So we can see that there’s a change of the tide and we are not over – out of the woods yet but things are getting a little bit better. In Baja, California, they are getting control. It’s not the same case in Cuidad Juarez because we can see that in Baja the number of homicide has been declining steadily but during the last year, at the end of the last year, we have an increase again because – and another one – somebody stole a load of drugs from the gang and they began killing each other again. That’s why we have it. But in Cuidad Juarez, they haven’t had the same result even when they send more troops, so the U.S. government will change. They will review their tactics.

PENNER: So there’s a message here, Vicente, and that is that agencies need to talk to each other, that governments need to talk to each other, and at least that gives them a leg up on the whole thing. All right, we’re going to change subjects now, and I thank all our callers. Again, remember, KPBS.org/editors, if we didn’t get to you, you can register your comments. We’d love to hear from you.

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