January 05, 2007

Operation Tijuana: Armed forces arrive at the border

By Luis Alonso Pérez

Tijuana, the booming small town south of San Diego is considered the world’s busiest border crossing, but also one of the favorite drug smuggling routes to the United States.

For decades Tijuana has been the battleground for rivaling drug trafficking cartels looking to take over the territory, operating without difficulty through a circle of impunity supported by corrupt politicians and police officers.

An unidentified Mexican soldier reviews weapons and their registry to make sure that are in order at a local police station on Wednesday, January 3, 2007 in Tijuana, Mexico. The review is part of Operation Tijuana, which will eventually involve more than 3000 army and police being sent to the city to fight organized crime and drug trafficking. Photo/David Maung

Last year 23 police officers where shot dead and there were more than 350 civilian assassinations, most of them allegedly related to organized crime.

This week the Mexican government announced that it will send more than 3,000 soldiers and federal police as part of an operative aimed to regain control of Tijuana and disarticulate drug cartels.

300 federal police officers arrived at the border city Tuesday morning commanded by General Héctor Sánchez, an experienced senior officer who has headed similar operations throughout the country.

“At first we are going to do an intense intelligence work through mixed patrolling, so we can have presence and work on prevention, and intelligence work on specific targets we come across.”

The arrival of troops was applauded by local authorities and many sectors of the community, particularly prosperous business leaders, since they have been threatened by a recent wave of kidnappings supposedly perpetrated by members of drug trafficking cartels finding alternate means of financing for their operations.

Cesar Cazares, president of the Chamber of Commerce said that he expects quick results from this long awaited operative.

“Tijuana is in a hurry for safety, Tijuana is in a hurry for attention. This is where we must participate. The time it takes or the time necessary to carry out the operatives, should bring results soon.”

Yesterday, recently arrived federal police agents patrolled the streets of Tijuana and set up temporary random checkpoints throughout the city, where they searched vehicles and passengers looking to find weapons or narcotics, and at the same time running background checks and verifying vehicle registrations.

Meanwhile, armed forces elements inspected police weapons in two district stations, verifying registration and lawful ownership, as a way of investigating and cracking down on agents that might be involved in criminal activity.

At the same time soldiers set up their own vehicle checkpoints, a task that used to be limited to civilian police officers.

The sudden militarization of the streets of Tijuana has raised more than one eyebrow, and some people like Francisco Sanchez Corona, human rights district attorney, are worried that this operative might shorten people’s human and constitutional rights

“These types of actions sometimes demanded by the community and regulated by authorities, most of the time come very close to violating human rights. I believe that a higher number of delinquents in jails does not mean safer streets.”

Operation Tijuana has begun taking a toll in people’s everyday life. Mile-long lines caused by the checkpoints are upsetting commuters and the thorough searches have infuriated drivers who perceive this as unnecessary.

“Its good that they do these operatives, but I think this is a little exaggerated” said Raul Gonzales, a driver who was upset when federal officers conducted a body search in one of the inspection points.

“I’m driving with my family, we are going out and I don’t understand why they do this” said the angry citizen who was driving a luxury SUV.

Gonzales who claims that when he asked the officer why he was searching him he answered that there was no point in getting upset, that all operatives are going to be this way.

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