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Tijuana’s Image Makeover Marred By Violence


On the heels of the recent Innovadora, the big conference in Tijuana designed to boost investment in the border city, drug-related violence flared in the city. We discuss these events and their meaning, as well as whether the passage of Proposition 19 will help or hurt the drug cartels.


The recent Tijuana Innovadora, a conference Tijuana designed to boost investment in the border city and which featured Vice President Al Gore and the founder of Twitter, drug-related violence flared in the city, marring much of the goodwill generated by the conference. We discuss these events and their meaning, as well as whether the passage of Proposition 19 will help or hurt the drug cartels.

GUESTS: Amy Isackson, KPBS Border Reporter

Vicente Calderon, editor,

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Hi, I’m Maureen Cavanaugh. You are listening to these days on KPBS. There has been glaring contradictions in the news lately about both the safety and progress of life in Baja California. Earlier this month Tijuana hosted a multimillion dollar conference to show off its international technical and cultural contributions, but last week reports of more gruesome violence in Baja were attributed to the drug cartels. And a study by the RAND Corp. is telling California voters that taking money away from those cartels was the reason they wanted to make marijuana legal and probably won't amount to much. Joining me for this Baja California update, my guests are KPBS reporter Amy Isackson. Good morning, Amy

AMY ISACKSON: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Vicente Calderon, editor of Tijuana Press, good morning.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Amy, let's start with the incidence of violence and tell us what happened last week.

AMY ISACKSON: Last week started out with a rash of killings and that kind of built on the killings that started before but this was more reminiscent of what we have seen back in 2008. So there were four kids who were on a patio in a working-class area of Tijuana in Sunday night and they were shot to death and about six hours later there were two bodies, headless bodies found hung from a bridge on the outskirts of Tijuana on the free road down to Rosarito. Heads were found on a pickup truck. There was a narco message on the pickup truck and the next day there was another head found, it was actually near one of the newspapers from (INAUDIBLE) newspaper in Tijuana and there was another body found that was hung from a bridge, headless. One head still yet to be found and it had fallen into traffic, got run over and that's what was going on.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We say gruesomely and we mean gruesome and I'm wondering Vicente, has Tijuana actually made progress in controlling drug violence recently?

VICENTE CALDERON: I think they have done it very much, very difficult progress, but this case should show you how fragile the level of safety is although we have to recognize that task of this powerful drug organizations that cartels that we were fighting before it is a very huge task so we have to give them credit but also give the pressure on the, because if I was somebody else waiting to get into the city (INAUDIBLE) to control not just the US access, access to the US market, but also the local drug consumption.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Amy, Pres. Felipe Calderon recently said Tijuana is a success story.

AMY ISACKSON: He gave the inaugural speech not last week but the week before at Tijuana Innovadora which is a big conference to show Tijuana to the world, $5 million spent on bringing people like Al Gore, Larry King, twitter, Wikipedia to Tijuana, and the president said Tijuana was evidence of the new image, or the conference was evidence of the new image and reality that exists in the city. He said it's an example that security problems can be solved and that it's possible to go from being a city like Tijuana, where Tijuana was solely focused on security to a city focused on being competitive. In Tijuana is a bright spot for Pres. Calderon, it is one of the only bright spots I believe within Mexico and it is an anomaly that violence has decreased in Tijuana, or at least the spectacular violence has decreased. As Vicente was saying it’s fragile and even though there weren't the shootouts that we had seen previously the murders grind on, and this year actually could be on par to surpass last year's total of murders which was very high. It just happens that the murders are taking place on the outskirts of Tijuana and it's about, the authorities say that control of the local drug market and not necessarily so much about crossing drugs to the US.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Before we talk more about Tijuana Innovadora I want to talk about the security measures that Tijuana has been emboldened to crack down on drug violence, Amy, and what toll is that taking on the city, what are those measures?

AMY ISACKSON: One of the two kind of stars in this have been the Army general who is in charge of Tijuana, and also the chief of police who we've talked a lot about on the show. He is an ex-Army person and he's kind of made him so for all intents and purposes the Gen. of the local police. He says he doesn't tolerate corruption he goes out and evangelizes this to people, to the officers out in other parts of the city and tells them how nicely they will sleep if they are not corrupt and he rules with a very stiff hand and once you kind of get the sense that once people cross the line with him, whether you are his own police officer or whether you are a drug trafficker, you kind of give up your status as a human being in some ways. He refers to them as scumbags, slime bags, and he has some major human rights violations against him. He said in order to talk to these people, in order to talk to the corrupt drug traffickers you have to speak their language and their language is violence and he takes a very heavy hand. And I think that he has gone a long way to showing his own forces that he's not going to tolerate corruption. Of course there is still corruption within his force, but according to reports it is not as flagrant. And he has showed the drug group said he is not going to tolerate them.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Vicente, the flareup of violence, these terrible incidents that we were talking about at the very beginning of our conversation, do people in Tijuana see this is perhaps the very beginning of a new flareup of violence, or something else?

VICENTE CALDERON: In a way they do, in a way the general population does but the authorities are very quick to respond to this series of incidents, first saying that most of the killing, it is among drug traffickers. We went to a press conference that they called recently as saying that at least 60% of the victims are somehow linked to drug trafficking on the streets mainly. But also, the situation is that, what they are saying is that these groups are not as powerful as linked to the drug cartels and they don't have the same level of impunity as the previous ones. So this is a criminal element to accommodate the new situations. The authorities have still allowed things to do, and there's a lot of, there is a big problem with corruption but nonetheless, very different and very low compared to what we were seeing in 2008 and let me just add this as a breaking news point that we are at Tijuana press reporting that at least eight people were arrested this morning with an unprecedented (feature) of drugs that the authority is going to be announcing later today after a shooting that happened in the early hours of this morning as another effort but still drugs are moving through this border but not with the same facility that they used to do.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Vicente and thank you for the breaking news. We have to take a short break, and when we return we are going to be talking more about the Tijuana Innovadora, the big event hosted to show off a Tijuana's technical innovations. And we will continue with my guests Amy Isackson and Vicente Calderon. You are listening to these days on KPBS.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I am Maureen Cavanaugh. You are listening to these days on KPBS. My guests are KPBS border reporter Amy Isackson and Vicente Calderon, editor of and we are talking about a Baja California update. We have been talking about the violence that interrupted last weekend we reported here on KPBS and did of course and now we are going to be talking about the Tijuana Innovadora and I'm going to let you explain Amy exactly what that was once again for us.

AMY ISACKSON: So it's a two-week conference that is still going on actually and it is a $5 million effort mostly by the private sector, though there were donations towards this from state, federal and local government and it is the brainchild of a man named José (Galicot) who is a longtime business man in Tijuana and he says the story, the story he tells is that he was in San Diego a couple years a ago and he was feeling bad, he was having heart troubles. He went to the doctor and the doctor said you need heart surgery and we’re going to need to put in a valve. And the man, the doctor said to José (Galicot) the valve is made in Tijuana. All the valves supposedly are made in Tijuana, which we'll get into in a second. It's not necessarily accurate. So Mr. Galicot went back to Tijuana. Tijuana was in a terrible depression with the violence, with the economy and he said he began talking with some friends of his and he said did you know that we make these heart valves, and we need to kind of let the world know all these things that are in Tijuana, the heart valves, sophisticated headphones for astronauts, for air traffic controllers, knee braces, the knee brace that Sean Merryman used, although that may not have served him so well, things like that, to show Tijuana to the world. So he has gotten this conference, $5 million, Al Gore, as we said the founder of twitter, the founder of Wikipedia, Larry King, Carlos Slim; the richest man in the world from Mexico, to come talk and José (Galicot) says it's not about making money it’s about getting respect and changing the image of Tijuana so Tijuana is looked at as somewhere that is Innovadora as the title suggests, productive.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I was reading about Mr. (Galicot) and his desire to put on this Innovadora, I was interested in the fact that he said that the people he talked to in Tijuana were not aware that this kind of technology, this kind of manufacture was going on in this city. Is this something that you find as well? Vicente are you there? We have lost Vincent. If he comes back I will ask him, but what is your take on that?

AMY ISACKSON: I think in part that is true. The products are for export and so it is not as apparent that those things are made in Tijuana and I certainly was surprised. I have a few years covering Tijuana. I was certainly surprised that things like press on nails that are sold at Wal-Mart are made in Tijuana. 20 million televisions.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly how this innovation we don't know about and apparently is not well known even in Tijuana. Now, you know this idea was tried to boost Tijuana's image, to try to showcase its emerging economy. What is the economy of Tijuana like these days?

AMY ISACKSON: The economy is struggling there. Unemployment is very high and the saying always goes that when the US sneezes, Mexico...

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Catches cold...

AMY ISACKSON: Catches cold and in some ways this sort of drove the economy in that they have been doubly hurt by the recession here and that's caused bad economic times in Mexico.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And as you said one of the reasons that this was, this Innovadora was made was because of how low Tijuana had sunk, with all the drug violence how much has the drug violence actually heard Tijuana's economy, do we know?

AMY ISACKSON: It's hard to ferret it out because the quadruple whammy of the drug violence, the economic recession in the US, the border wait, H1N1, there are all these things that have befallen Mexico and befallen the city of Tijuana. So it's hard to exactly ferret it out, but as Vicente has talked a lot about how many businesses in Tijuana have to pay more, it's very expensive to do business in Tijuana literally because you have to pay for extra security. So it is impossible to kind of analyze exactly how much drug violence has contributed to it but it's definitely been a contributor both in actual business costs and border wait costs and things coming back across the border it takes longer and that the cost also in terms of tourism dollars it loses out because people are scared to go to Mexico and Tijuana. Also tourists are not targeted in Tijuana and the violence that's taking place there now is far from anywhere that tourists would go.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Vicente are you with us again?

VICENTE CALDERON: Yes I'm sorry, I hung up.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's all right. Let me ask you quickly what I was going to ask before. Part of the spirit of this Innovadora that is taking place in Tijuana right now is that to let everyone including people in Tijuana know about all the technical manufacturing that is going on there etc. Are people in Tijuana aware of the fact that they make all this heart valve material and all these TVs? Is that sort of known in the city itself?

VICENTE CALDERON: No I think as far as the maquiladoras, they are foreign companies, are very, very tight about what you can know about they are not very much open to the public scrutiny here or the public image. The workers know. The workers know what kinds of things they produce and where these things are ending up in the US market, but no, and also the shows you that in the past for example there's a couple of things that are linked to the US military industry that are produced here in Tijuana. I tried to do, we try to do a couple of pieces, stories about the two or three years ago and they didn't want to know anything about us because they don't want any publicity. They were so scared that they don't want anything linked, the appearance that makes them look that they are sending out and I guess everything else because that will bring attention to them and I'm talking about the owners and the the executives of the maquiladoras and they don't want to be singled out because they would be targets of kidnapping.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We only have one minute left and I want to ask you, Amy, about what you reported on last week, the study by the RAND corporation of the potential effects of prop 19 on the pocketbooks of drug cartels.

AMY ISACKSON: The RAND study sort of pulled off what had been a popular notion that prop 19 which could lead to lives marijuana in California would hurt the drug cartels in Mexico and they didn't find it was a significant effect. They found that California accounts for 2 to 4% of cartel activities for marijuana sales in California so that if California legalizes marijuana the cartels could stand to lose 2 to 4%. They found also that the biggest way that it would hit the cartels is by 26% but that is banking on the fact that California would have to sell all the marijuana in the US and displace the Mexican cartels for marijuana in the US and that would have a 26% hit on the cartels.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are actually going to be talking much more about this tomorrow. We have a, KPBS is focusing on prop 19 and we will be talking with KPBS reporters after the nine o'clock hour here on these days tomorrow. Right now I want to thank my guests. Amy Isackson, thank you.

AMY ISACKSON: Thank you, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Vicente Calderón always good to hear from you.

VICENTE CALDERON: Likewise. Thank you, good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Good morning, and you've been listening to these days on KPBS.

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