A taste of Tijuana

Here is the link to my article published last week in the Brentwood Press. I wrote about my experience and Tijuana–which took place in March–and what I took away from it. I should add I plan on going back to the city early next year to try and write a follow-up story. I’m hoping I can get the coveted interview I narrowly missed last time I was down there.

As I read the horrific details about the killing of four young Americans that emerged from Tijuana last week I felt a sense of horror … it was the second major attack in the city I had read about in less than two weeks, the most recent being a coordinated attack by drug gangs armed with AK-47s that left seven police officers dead and many more injured.

Having been to Tijuana myself, the brutal attacks did not surprise me – just days before I left for my trip, six people were brutally executed; three of them were found beheaded. What did surprise me was the overwhelming coverage of the swine flu outbreak that originated in Mexico City and brought the world to the brink of a “pandemic” just a couple weeks ago. I’m not one to compare tragedies and argue which is worse, but after a week of fear-mongering from media outlets all over the world, swine flu turned out to be far less threatening than we thought.

Meanwhile, the thousands of ruthless drug cartel fighters threatening Americans and Mexicans alike continue to run back and forth across the border, killing people and terrorizing entire cities to the point where mayors and police chiefs are afraid to go to work. In fact, more Americans died in the recent Tijuana attack than in the nationwide outbreak of the H1N1 virus.

Just two months earlier, I was in Tijuana, walking the streets of Avenida Revolucion and the city’s financial district. Common sense kept me away from the most dangerous parts of the city, like Zona Norte, which is arguably the most dangerous place imaginable for a lone traveler to mill about late at night.

I visited the city because I wanted to get an understanding of Mexico’s bloody and lengthy drug war, casualties of which are comparable to Iraq or Afghanistan. During my trip, I got to visit a police station in the center of the city and talk with some of the officers about Mexico’s progress in confronting the increasingly violent drug cartels. I had originally planned to have a solid interview, but the weekend, with its need for more men on the streets, made that very difficult.

Much like the consular official– Press attaché Jessica Lopez from Mexico’s San Francisco Consulate – with whom I had spoken over the phone, who acknowledged that Northern Mexico in general and the city in particular have problems. But Lopez did her best to assure me that Americans should not be discouraged from coming to Mexico despite the travel advisory that was issued.

Most officers were very friendly and I trust that they are doing their best to serve their city, but many were wary when I asked to take a few photos – something that required the consent of a higher-ranking officer at the scene. I assured him I only wanted to show my community how much courage and hard work is being done at the hands of police officers south of the border, which pleased him.

The Army soldiers who patrolled a government office not far from my hotel weren’t too anxious to have their photos taken either, a request I politely asked in my progressing Spanish. Four men occupied a Humvee, one of them sitting behind a .50 caliber machine gun and all of covering their faces in balaclava – I suspected this was out of fear that they would be identified by passersby associated with local cartels, who in turn would come after their families. Unfortunately, this is all too common in Mexico and I was quick to thank the soldiers for their service and apologize for inconveniencing them.

The rest of my story can be viewed here.

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