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Homicides in Tijuana continue to spike despite National Guard deployment

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks at a campaign rally in the city of Chihuahua, Mexico, on June 18, 2018. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Mexico’s president is expanding the use of a new national security force after claiming widespread success with the strategy in Tijuana.

However, data show homicides continue to spike in the border city, putting Tijuana on pace for another record-breaking year of violence.

The new security strategy — which included sending 2,000 federal military troops — launched Feb. 4 in certain areas of Tijuana and made significant progress reigning in skyrocketing drug violence, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador insisted during an April 12 news conference.

The pilot test program was initiated in Tijuana after 21 homicides were recorded here in a single day, state officials said.

Currently, there are about 2,331 federal troops working in the city — a number the president said he plans to expand to 21,000 within the next three months. Last week, he announced the newly created National Guard will also be deployed to Veracruz after 14 people died in a massacre there on April 19.

Made up of the Army, Navy, federal police, state police, civilians and municipal police, the troops have been working in 11 priority zones in Tijuana like the La Morrita and Mariano Matamoros neighborhoods.

“The operatives are all over the city, but more emphasis is placed on the areas of greatest conflict, precisely to increase the police presence in these areas and thereby inhibit crimes,” said Raul Gutierrez, a spokesman for the Procuraduria General de Justicia del Estado, or PGJE, of Baja California in Tijuana.

Gutierrez said there have been 660 people murdered in Tijuana so far in 2019, according to PGJE’s numbers.

The agency, which is basically the equivalent of the state’s Attorney General’s office, said there were 148 people murdered in Tijuana so far of April 25, the latest day the numbers were calculated.

If the current murder rate continues, Tijuana is on pace to record 2,640 homicides in 2019, compared with 2,506 for 2018, which was the highest number ever registered in a single year in the large border city.

The 2018 numbers earned Tijuana the title of the most violent city in the world, according a report by the Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, a Mexican nonprofit.

Mexico also recorded its most violent year in history in 2018 with more than 33,000 homicides reported.

At a news conference early last month, Lopez Obrador contended that, nationally, homicides had remained steady or fallen since he was sworn into office in December.

“We have maintained the levels that existed previously or reversed the trend,” he said.

But, publicly available statistics from Mexico’s Ministry of Public Security show that is not the case.

According to the ministry, homicides were up 18% during the first three months of Lopez Obrador’s term compared with the same period a year earlier.

Lopez Obrador said he had different statistics showing the situation is under control, but he did not provide them.

“We have controlled the situation, according to our data,” said Lopez Obrador.

In March, Lopez Obrador came to Tijuana with Mexico’s national Defense Secretary Luis Crescencio Sandoval to announce the use of the National Guard had resulted in a decline in the average daily number of homicides in Tijuana.

However, data show — and authorities confirmed — those reductions were only made in specific neighborhoods or city blocks, not in the larger municipality where at least 1.3 million people live.

For the city as a whole, the average daily number of homicides remained consistent at about 8 per day in 2019, the data show.

Experts say the fuller set of numbers for the whole city shows violence continues to rise.

“The presence of 2,000 federal agents … has not had the impact in the short-term that we expected,” said Victor Clark-Alfaro, an expert on crime in Tijuana and a professor at San Diego State University. “It’s visible part is the installation of checkpoints, especially in the eastern part of the city. “

Clark-Alfaro said the causes of the violence are not being addressed adequately and are not disappearing.

“The reason for the violence is intimately linked to the huge market of the sale of drugs in the streets of the city … If the presence of 2,000 agents is not accompanied by prevention and rehabilitation programs, I do not see the possibility that their presence will be successful in the long term.”

Creation of the new National Guard was widely criticized for continuing the legacy of militarizing Mexico to fight wars against drug cartels and for departing from Lopez Obrador’s campaign promises.

Lopez Obrador, a populist liberal, won office with campaign slogans like becarios si sicarios no — or scholarships yes, cartel hitmen, no.

Fighting drug violence was one of Lopez Obrador’s most frequently repeated campaign promises, but he proposed to do it by initiating social programs, not with a new militarized police team.

Lopez Obrador narrowly received approval from Mexico’s Congress in March for a constitutional amendment to create his National Guard. He did that by promising it would remain under civilian control rather than reporting to the defense ministry.

Brigadier General Luis Rodriguez, an army general, will command the 80,000-person force.


© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.