Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Rising addiction rates and disputes among street-level drug dealers were key factors in driving up homicides in Tijuana last year, making 2016 the most violent in the city’s history, authorities said Tuesday.
The total for the year came to 910 for Tijuana, according to figures for the Baja California Attorney General’s Office. That represents a 36 percent increase over 2015, when authorities registered 670 homicides. The 2016 tally surpasses the city’s previous record in 2008, when authorities reported 844 killings.
“There is a tremendous conflict in the street over the sale of drugs,” said Miguel Angel Guerrero, coordinator for special investigations in the Baja California Attorney General’s Office in Tijuana. “Every day, we see more addicts, and as we see more addicts, there will be more drug consumption, more problems, and more deaths as a result.”
With a population of more than 1.7 million residents, Tijuana is Baja California’s largest city and has traditionally led the state in homicides. Last year was no exception: By comparison with Tijuana’s 910 killings, Mexicali, the state capital, had 112 homicides, Ensenada had 85, Rosarito Beach had 80 and Tecate had 77, according to the Attorney General’s figures
The violence has cast a cloud over Tijuana as it has struggled to shed its reputation for drug violence in recent years, with promoters striving to spread word of the city’s innovative cuisine, rich cultural life, booming manufacturing industry, and burgeoning startup sector.
Though homicides are higher than ever, the violence has not held the city in its grip as it did from 2008 to 2010, when rival drug gangs waged open warfare on the city’s streets, leaving mutilated corpses and threatening messages to their rivals. This was a period when the dominant Arellano Felix Cartel was fighting off a challenge from the Sinaloa Cartel for control of the Tijuana plaza, a key smuggling corridor to reach the lucrative U.S. market for illicit drugs.
“In those years, the executions were with the clear intention of sending messages of uncertainty to society and to rival groups,” said Victor Clark Alfaro, a Tijuana human rights activist who studies organized crime.
As the Sinaloa strengthened its control over the region, the violence subsided for a few years, but then began rising again, as Sinaloa itself became the target of a group from central Mexico, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion in alliance with the remnants of the Arellanos.
The violence of recent years has a different pattern, with most of the victims and perpetrators of the city’s homicides the lowest-ranking members of the drug trade, many of them addicts themselves.
“The leaders of the three groups that are present here no longer have control over the street trade. There is an enormous army of street dealers that they can no longer control,” Clark said.
The homicide victims are “people with a very low public profile, they’re drug dealers, not heads of cartels or important groups,” Clark said.
Guerrero of the Baja California Attorney General’s Office said that 85 to 90 percent of the homicide victims in 2016 were neighborhood drug dealers, often addicted to the drugs they sold.
“This is not going to end until there is a true policy in terms of addiction,” he said. “Until governments in large cities do something for addicts, this is going to continue. This is a health problem, it’s not a law enforcement problem.”
Tijuana’s homicides rose just as Mexico’s over-all homicide numbers increased in 2016, “but every story is local in the sense that the particular dynamics are playing out differently in different places,” said David Shirk, a political science professor at the University of San Diego who has studied trends of drug violence in Mexico.
But Shirk also sees the arrest last January of the Sinaloa Cartel leader, Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, as one factor driving a rise in drug violence in different parts of the country. Though “nobody is talking about it… it has to mean something in terms of the reaccomodation of drug trafficking networks in Mexico.”
Another factor that cuts across geographic regions, Shirk said, is “you’ve got to figure out what to do with young men ages 18 to 30.” Though civic groups have worked hard to improve Tijuana’s reputation, “and getting people to come out and shop and go to restaurants...what do you do with all those young men, and make sure that they are finding ways to engage either in their studies or gainful employment?” Shirk said. “That’s the heart of the matter for a lot of different parts of Mexico.”
The rise in violence has led business organizations in recent months to call for greater coordination among the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in the state. The high numbers numbers put pressure on Tijuana’s new mayor, Juan Manuel Gastelum, to come up with a plan to reduce the violence during his three-year term.
The mayor, who took office on Dec. 1, has appointed a new public safety secretary, Marco Antonio Sotomayor. “I feel he’s good, he’s got a good reputation, he has all the credentials to do a good job,” said Roberto Quijano, a Tijuana attorney and member of the City Council. “But in a month, I haven’t seen any strong plans or strong actions to fight crime.”
Quijano, who previously led the business group Coparmex and has been active in monitoring crime trends, said that many crimes are down, including kidnapping, extortion, car theft, bank robbery. “The only one that went up is homicides, and that no question is related to drugs,” Quijano said.
To combat that problem, the city’s residents have a responsibility as well, Quijano said. “We don’t have enough voices clamoring for security,” he said. “I don’t feel society and in particular the business community has been strong enough in calling on the mayor to and asking him, ‘What are you going to do about this?’”