The biggest story coming out of Baja California right now may be the recent 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit near Mexicali, but I would like to talk about my experience, which happened a few days before the quake hit. Two weeks ago, I went down to Tijuana for a report I am putting together about the drug war and the effect it has had on Mexico, both culturally and in regards to tourism. I saw all of Tijuana’s major districts and neighborhoods — and the contrast between some of them is stunning. Zona Norte is a particularly unsafe area to be in Tijuana, largely due to its close proximity to the US border. In spite of this, my friend and I handed the driver of a taxi libre $20 and asked him to take us through the red light district, the border, and other neighborhoods for an hour.
Zona Norte begins just after passing through Tijuana’s famous arch, which stretches across Avenida Revolucion, the city’s main tourist district. It was nerve-wracking, especially since the driver of another cab I had taken to La Gloria earlier in the day said to me in a half-joking and half-serious way that I know too much information about the drug war. He had said this after two hours of conversation about the fall of the Arellano Felix Cartel, the capture of “El Teo”, and what is next for Tijuana and its role on the border between the United States and Mexico.
While in Tijuana, I made several videos with my friend Anthony, who is also a fellow journalist (We’re still trying to break them up and get them on our Youtube channel…should be soon). Before we spent the night exploring Zona Norte, we were able to visit a police station and interview several police officers, including the Tourist Zone Supervisor. While they acknowledged the levels of chaos facing cities like Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, they were adamant in saying that Tijuana is much safer today than in recent months and years. Hector, one of the officers, even said that Tijuana is not the 14th most dangerous city in Mexico, compared to the 2nd most dangerous just a few months ago, when violence was rising in the run-up to El Teo’s capture.
Tijuana is a fascinating and cultural city…and it’s definitely worth a visit. But if you decide to go, keep in mind what’s going on there. Violence still occurs, and the decline in violence may have less to do with police and military action and more to do with the violent power struggles emerging in central and eastern Mexico between the largest drug cartels. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is locked in a brutal fight with the Juarez Cartel and the Gulf Cartel is teaming up with the “La Familia” drug gang to finish off their former hitmen for hire, the Zetas. None of the big guns are likely to try and snatch the lucrative trade routes from Tijuana into the United States in the immediate future, seeing as they have enough on their hands already. However, splinter cartels and common criminals remain abundant and its best to keep this in mind, wherever you might be in Baja.
That said, try to appreciate the culture in Tijuana and remember that Avenida Revolucion and Playas De Tijuana are only tourist attractions.