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Cover Story May 8th, 2008

  Untitled Document

title

by lyle e davis

When a city, county, state or nation is unable to control its law enforcement . . . when its governing body is corrupt . . . when the thugs and bandits who live in these communities have taken over . . . it’s probably a wise thing to not go there anymore.

Our tourist dollars have a major impact on the Mexican economy. If we, collectively, withhold those tourist dollars and spend them here in America . . . the offending areas and their governments will get a very strong and quick message: “Get your acts together and make a safe place to visit . . . or we’re outta here!”

That time has come. We urge a boycott of the northern areas of Baja, Mexico. Principally, Northern Baja which comprises Tijuana, Tijuana Playas, Rosarito Beach and Ensenada.

Within these areas bandits are stopping American vehicles with Mexican vehicles that often resemble (or are) Mexican law enforcement vehicles. The occupants hop out, in uniform, weapons drawn, and then rob and/or rape the American citizens who are visiting.

We hear of the narcotics dealers who decide they want to settle scores and establish their “turf” and do so by driving up and down city streets, freeways, wherever, and rattle off machine gun fire.

Examples? You bet! There are plenty:

Fourteen killed in Mexico drug battle near U.S. border
26-Apr-2008
TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Fourteen Mexican drug gang members were killed and eight others were injured in a gun battle near the U.S. border on Saturday that was one of the bloodiest shootouts in Mexico's three-year-long narco-war.

Armed, Masked Bandits:
Masked bandits have attacked and robbed Baja California tourists at least seven times in recent months, acting with paramilitary precision and making off with cash and expensive vehicles, it was reported Saturday.

Local man attacked and robbed;
went on fishing trip: his girlfriend was sexually assaulted in front of him and in another incident, a family was held at gunpoint.

American Homes in Rosarito Taken Over:
Update March 8, 2008 – On Friday, March 7, The Gutierrez’ Brothers workers took over another home, looting it and even removing all the windows. They told some witnesses that they plan to tear down all the homes during the next few weeks, although this matter has yet to be decided in the Mexican court system. The Rosarito Police Department was contacted twice but never showed up to help the occupants and stop the looting.

Boycott Baja:
A separate movement has begun, urging all Americans to spend their tourist dollars in the US, as long as the Mexican government continues to interfere with the enforcement of US immigration law. They're also calling on Mexico to reimburse the US for half the costs of incarcerating illegal immigrants in US jails and prisons, and they want the consulate to stop issuing "matriculas" - or I.D. cards.

Stuart Hurlbert, with Californians for Population Stabilization explains: "The idea is to pose an economic threat to Mexico. So if the government of Mexico does not behave in a more reasonable and civilized manner, then Americans will stop going to Mexico as tourists."

An October 2007 warning issued by the U.S. State Department:

"Criminals have been known to follow and harass U.S. citizens traveling in their vehicles, particularly in border areas,"

Other reasons to boycott Northern Baja, California: The open toleration of teenage prostitution, open ownership of brothels by Mexican mobsters, . . . tacit approval of TJ cops who often are found in front of the brothels, not protecting the public but protecting the brothel owners. (For more on this story, go to our cover story of December 13th, 2007 “The Purple Palace” - http://thecommunitypaper.com/archive/2007/12_13/index.php)

Those are the headlines. Let’s look at the stories behind the headlines:

The Tijuana Drug Battle:
by Lizbeth Diaz: TIJUANA, Mexico.
Rival factions of the local Arellano Felix drug cartel in Tijuana on the Mexico-California border fought each other with rifles and machine guns in the early hours of the morning, police said.

The bodies lay in pools of blood, strewn along a road on the city’s eastern limits, surrounded by hundreds of bullet casings. Many of the victims’ faces were destroyed.

"By the way this happened and the guns used, we believe the men are from the same cartel, the Arellano Felix gang," said a senior police officer in Tijuana who declined to be named. Two of the dead are believed to be senior hitmen for the Arellano Felix cartel and were identified by the large gold rings on their fingers. The rings carried the icon of Saint Death, a ghoulish grim reaper figure that gangsters believe protects them, police said.

Officials also found police helmets and body armour that the two hitmen used for protection. Six men were arrested but the remaining survivors escaped, the office said. A source close to the Tijuana mayor’s office said local authorities had requested more troops for the city bordering San Diego, California, and that they could arrive this weekend.

President Felipe Calderon has sent thousands of troops to Tijuana and Baja California state on Mexico’s Pacific coast since taking office in December 2006. Some 25,000 soldiers and federal police are deployed to fight cartels in drug hot spots across Mexico.

The army in Tijuana said it was on high alert for reprisals against soldiers and federal police following the shootout and the ensuing arrest.

"The risk of attacks against our agents after an event like this is extremely high," said Lt. Col Julian Leyzaola, Tijuana’s police chief.

The Arellano Felix gang was long the dominant drug-trafficking organization in Tijuana, smuggling drugs into California. Recently the group has been under attack from a rival gang from the Pacific state of Sinaloa, led by Mexico’s most wanted man, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman.

The city's main hospital, where injured gang members are being treated, is now under armed guard to prevent them escaping or being subject to revenge attacks.

In the past three years around 25,000 soldiers and federal police have been assigned to fight drug cartels near the US border and in other hotspots across Mexico but violence has continued and even increased in some regions. Sadly, as violent as this battle was, it almost seems like a blip in Baja California's recent history of drug-war-related violence.

Northern Baja has become Mexico's most violent state (and that's saying a lot), with 400 gangland-style murders in 2007. More than 2,500 people were killed in all of Mexico in 2007 in drug turf wars.

Every Mexican president has promised to get serious about Mexico's drug-trafficking problems and the corruption of police and other government officials that go along with it. Every new president starts bravely. And every president has failed - and will fail so long as demand in the United States for certain illicit drugs is strong.

President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006 with similar promises. He almost immediately sent federal police to Tijuana to try to break the connection between corrupt local cops and drug traffickers. Violence increased. Just this January, he sent 500 more federales to Tijuana.

Local man attacked and robbed;
November 19, 2007

Lori Hoffman and her boyfriend, surf school owner Pat Weber, were robbed in October at a beach south of Ensenada within sight of 30 campsites. The couple evacuated their Encinitas home during recent wildfires and were in a recreational vehicle when they were attacked by two men wearing masks and combat boots.

The attackers shot up the RV when Weber initially refused to open the door and then terrorized the couple. Hoffman said she was sexually assaulted in front of her boyfriend before the men fled with $8,000 worth of laptop computers, jewelry, tools, and Weber's guitar.

"These guys were not novices," Hoffman said.

Weber, 47, had logged more than 500 days in Baja and has taken dozens of students there over the past 10 years. Now he vows to never return.

“I can't in good conscience take someone down there and say it's safe, because it's not,” he said. “For me, this is the end of an era.”

Another American Family Robbed:

Recently, an El Cajon family of four was robbed by men they at first thought were police looking for a bribe.

Christopher and Debra Hall, their 16-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter were returning from taking part in the Baja 1000 off-road race when a car with flashing red lights and a siren pulled up behind them as they entered Tijuana. On previous trips, such stops had meant paying police a small sum to be let go.
"We weren't concerned at all. You kind of expect it. It's part of the culture," Debra Hall said.

Instead, 10 men jumped out of two cars. Five got into their pickup truck and pointed guns at their heads. The men then drove the truck into isolated hills. They stole Hall's wedding ring and $1,000 in cash, along with other jewelry, a toolbox, and ransacked a 27-foot trailer. In English, one man ordered the family to kneel. Hall said her son's face was shoved in the dirt.

"I thought he was going to get executed right there," she said. She crawled over and covered him with her body.

"He was crying, and I was crying. I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me," she said.

The men eventually flung the family two sleeping bags and took off with the truck and trailer. The family eventually made it to a home where a woman phoned police, who took them to the U.S. border in San Ysidro. They crossed back into the United States wearing only flip-flops and the clothes on their backs.

American Homes in Rosarito Taken Over:
There are several scams targeting “rich Americans” in the (Northern Baja, Mexico area) and the law for real estate and property ownership is not the same as the United States. Corruption is rampant and many previous Americans have been burned by fraudulent real estate deals. In this case, however, occupants of the homes have been there for over thirty years and have been told that they do have a legal right to be in the homes and that no one has any right to come in, take possession or steal and destroy personal property.

The development of Baja Tradewinds, located in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, is the focus of the latest illegal property seizure in the area. The illegal seizure was conducted by the residential land developers of Rancho Del Mar. The Gutierrez brothers, Pablo and Luis, illegally seized several homes of Americans and Mexican-Americans on the afternoon of December 27, 2007, claiming the houses were abandoned. They changed the locks, stole thousands of dollars in liquor, money and electronics, destroyed property then had their workers take up residence in the homes and guard against entry by the homeowners. Personal threats against the homeowners have been made and homeowners have been told if they try to enter their homes, they will be arrested.

The illegal seizure was conducted in concert with Mr. Cachu from the SEMARNAT organization, headquartered in Mexico City. SEMARNAT is the government agency that regulates the use of land considered to be in the Federal Zone. The Federal Zone is land that is owned by the Mexican government and which is granted rights of use, or concessions to those living on the land. Fraudulent documents were presented and signed during a time when the Mexican government closes for the holiday season; December 21 – January 7; rendering homeowners helpless.

Information has spread quickly on the Internet throughout the United States and Mexico.

To date, homeowners have contacted the Tijuana Tourism Board, the Rosarito Tourism Board, Mayor Hugo Torres of Rosarito Beach, the Mexican Consulate and several attorneys. Each homeowner has provided evidence and testified to the damage to the Federal Prosecutor in Tijuana who should be investigating and pressing criminal charges against SEMARNAT and Pablo and Luis Guiterrez. Yet, homeowners are being treated like criminals, instead of victims. Although contact has been made with the office of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator John McCain, the United States Embassy and President Calderone’s office in Mexico City, there has been no response or offer of assistance. The United States Consulate in Tijuana has been looking into the situation.
U.S. authorities have long warned Americans to be careful when visiting Mexico because of threats ranging from kidnappings to drug-related violence.

The recent attacks, though, have been particularly harrowing, involving carjackings by heavily armed men who held their victims hostage for as long as several hours. Most took place at night along a 190-mile stretch of coastline between Tijuana and San Quintin.

The crimes have tarnished Baja's efforts to clean up its image and attract crucial tourist dollars. Concerns about kidnappings and shootings have caused tourism in Baja California to plummet over the past several months. And now that San Diego State is making students aware of a travel alert, there are concerns that Baja won't be a popular spring break destination.

Bye-bye Surfing Spots

The Oct. 23 attack was one of at least six armed robberies and carjackings in the past five months that targeted surfers en route to camping spots in northern Baja. Some of the victims reported their experiences to the police, while others posted their stories on surfing and travel Web sites.

Amid the rising concern about what some surfers see as sophisticated, paramilitary-style crimes in Baja, longtime visitors to the peninsula said tourists can take steps to reduce their chances of becoming victims. They advised people to travel in caravans of two or more vehicles and to stay in campgrounds that have security guards. Some surfers urged campers to bring a dog and said it's a good idea to have a cell phone or rent a satellite phone.

“When in Mexico at a remote site, you are vulnerable and you need to pay attention,” said Kent Layton, who operates a fenced-in surf camp at Cuatro Casas called the Boat Ranch. “Be proactive. Have a plan, and whenever possible, leave yourself an out.”

But these recommendations about cautionary steps to take begs the question: should we have to do all this just for the privilege of spending our tourist dollars in a state/country that can’t/won’t protect us?

We think not. More and more US citizens are beginning to take the attitude that Mexico is nothing more than a corrupt third world banana republic and Americans need to realize this before taking a vacation to this crime ridden area.

Americans have long tolerated shakedowns by police who boost salaries by pulling over motorists for alleged traffic violations, and tourists know parts of Baja are a hotbed of drug-related violence. But a handful of attacks since summer by masked, armed bandits—some of whom used flashing lights to appear like police — marks a new extreme that has spooked even longtime visitors.

Surfers and kayakers are frightened to hit the waters of the northern stretch of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, long popular as a weekend destination for U.S. tourists. Weddings have been canceled. Lobster joints a few steps from the Pacific were almost empty on the usually busy New Year’s weekend.
Assaults on American tourists have brought hard times to hotels and restaurants that dot Mexican beaches just south of the border from San Diego.

The Mayor of Rosarito Beach, Hugo Torres, acknowledges that 50% of Rosarito residents depend on tourism for their income. The Mayors of Rosarito, Tijuana and Ensenada are supposed to be working to develop a “tourist police” agency. Tijuana cops, in our judgment, are a joke. Corruption is rife. Long ago we stopped going to Tijuana, simply because we refuse to pay mordida (a bribe). We have always rejected the argument that “this is part of the culture; you just have to live with it.” No, I do not.

Torres, the Mayor, also owns the Rosarito Beach hotel. He confirms that rentals are running at 50% below the norm. Real estate is also down in Baja, Mexico. Level of violence so high, no American tourists can be considered safe nor should they feel safe. There is ample evidence within this article and on the Internet confirming this.

From the consulate General of the US re travel to Mexico:

Information for Travelers

Avoid being a victim of crime in Baja California.

Personal Safety: Visitors should be aware of their surroundings at all times, even in areas generally considered safe. Women traveling alone are especially vulnerable and should exercise caution, particularly at night. Victims, often those who are unaccompanied, have been raped, robbed of personal property, or abducted and then held while their credit cards were used at various businesses and Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). U.S. citizens should be very cautious in general when using ATMs in Mexico. If an ATM must be used, it should be accessed only during the business hours at large protected facilities (preferably inside commercial establishments, rather than at glass-enclosed, highly visible ATMs on streets). U.S. and Mexican citizens are sometimes accosted on the street and forced to withdraw money from their accounts using their ATM cards.

Kidnapping, including the kidnapping of non-Mexicans, continues at alarming rates. So-called "express kidnappings," attempts to get quick cash in exchange for the release of an individual, have occurred in almost all the large cities in Mexico and appear to target the middle class as well as the wealthy.

Criminal assaults occur on highways throughout Mexico; travelers should exercise caution at all times, avoid traveling at night, and may wish to use toll (“cuota”) roads rather than the less secure “free” (“libre”) roads whenever possible. Keep your car doors locked and your windows up while driving in town. When in heavy traffic or when stopped in traffic, leave enough room between vehicles to maneuver and escape, if necessary. In addition, U.S. citizens should not hitchhike with, accept rides from, or offer rides to, strangers anywhere in Mexico. Tourists should not hike alone in backcountry areas, nor walk alone on lightly-frequented beaches, ruins, or trails.

Harassment/Extortion: The U.S. Consulate General in Tijuana receives numerous reports of extortion by supposed police officers in Baja California. Sometimes the perpetrators are actual police officers, and sometimes they are criminals using fake police uniforms and credentials. You can minimize your vulnerability by obeying Mexican law. As in the United States, you can be arrested in Mexico for:

• Public drunkenness
• Drunken or reckless driving
• Public urination or indecent exposure
• Fighting
• Lewd or lascivious conduct
• Possession of illegal drugs, including marijuana


If you are stopped by a police officer in Mexico, be aware that they cannot legally accept cash payments for fines, and that offering a bribe to an officer is a serious crime. In addition, tourists should be wary of persons representing themselves as police officers or other officials. When in doubt, ask for identification.

If you are the victim of police extortion, please contact the U.S. Consulate. To file a complaint, it is helpful, but not absolutely necessary, to have the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number. If you were not able to obtain those, it may still be possible to identify the officer based on physical appearance and the time and place that the event occurred. If you file a complaint, Consulate staff will assist you in every step of the process.

It is increasingly common for extortionists to call prospective victims on the telephone, often posing as law enforcement or other officials, and demand payments in return for the release of an arrested family member, or to supposedly forestall a kidnapping. Prison inmates using smuggled cellular phones often place these calls. Persons receiving such calls should be wary, as many such demands or threats are baseless, and should attempt to contact the family member as soon as possible. If you cannot reach the missing individual, and believe he or she may have run afoul of criminals or of the law, you may contact the Consulate, the U.S. Embassy, or the Department of State for assistance.

Well, isn’t that just ducky?

Given the above, from our own State Department, we cannot fathom why people would want to travel to Northeren Baja, Mexico.

The Baja California peninsula is known worldwide for clean and sparsely populated beaches, lobster and margaritas and blue waters visited by whales and dolphins. Surfers love the waves; fishermen catch tuna, yellowtail and marlin. Food and hotels are cheap.

News of harrowing assaults on American tourists has begun to overshadow that appeal in the northern part of the peninsula. The comparatively isolated southern tip, with its tony Los Cabos resort, remains safer and is still popular with Hollywood celebrities, anglers and other foreign tourists.

Tourist visits to Baja totaled about 18 million in 2007, down from 21 million the previous year. Hotel occupancy dropped about 5 percentage points to 53 percent.

In the city’s Puerto Nuevo tourist enclave, which offers $20 lobster dinners and $1 margaritas, restaurant managers said sales were down as much as 80 percent from last year.

“I definitely have concerns about going down there” said P.J. Schramel, who lives in San Juan Capistrano and has been vacationing on the scenic peninsula since 1969. I have instituted my own personal boycott of Baja while all this is going down.

The owner of Baja Safari, a tour and travel agency based in San Diego, said he canceled several tours this week in the wake of the attack, only one in a series he said was under way by drug cartels trying to tell the government who’s in charge. We are recommending to the general public and our membership to avoid all travel to the Tijuana and Ensenada region for the next 30 days. Overcast said.

“(Mexican officials) have to realize that if this keeps happening, they will cut off their foot, and tourism will dwindle.” Northern Baja, Mexico is dangerous territory. Why do Americans insist on giving them tourist dollars?

In spite of the dangers, Mexico continues to attract U.S. citizens who want to visit relatives or buy cheaper medicines, have cut rate dental work done or prescription eyewear or just be a tourist. It is also a draw for young people who migrate there on weekends to party late and enjoy the lower drinking age of 18. Mexico has sent federal police officers and Mexican army personal to patrol the streets of most of their cities bordering the U.S. The officers were dispatched at the request of local authorities who said crime had spun out of control. Interior Secretary Santiago Creel said that Mexico "is determined to wage a head-on battle" against drug traffickers and organized crime in the country.

In more cases than not Mexican police report the women are raped and the victim tourists are abandoned far from their vehicle.

Kidnapped

The number of San Diego County residents kidnapped in Tijuana, Rosarito Beach and Ensenada rose sharply last year:

2008: 2, so far this year.
2007: 26
2006: 11
2005: 10
Source: FBI San Diego office

We rest our case.


 

 

 

 

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