Nov 162007

I have to admit, I was skeptical the first time I read SurferMags story, “I’ll Never Go to Baja Again” aka Carjacked in Baja. Three surfers losing everything in Baja to a group of professional and heavily armed carjacker-thieves sounded like the truth was a bit stretched. Bribes are not unheard of, but this was a whole different ball game.

Unfortunately it seems it was all too real. The UT reports:

“Southern California surfers have reason to be especially wary about venturing to Baja California after a spate of armed robberies by paramilitary-style criminals. About a half-dozen robberies and carjackings that targeted U.S. surfers en route to camping spots along the 780-mile Baja California peninsula have occurred since June… the perpetrators fooled tourists into pulling off the road by using flashing lights similar to those mounted on police cars. These thieves forced their victims to kneel and put firearms to their heads.”

Losing your car or your wallet is one thing, but there was also one report of sexual assault during the robbery. All of the victims did not report the crime in Mexico, as they were fearful of the local police force. The general distrust of Baja cops is certainly not helped by the continuing reports of corruption. Just this week I had a coworker tell me about her brush with the TJ police over the weekend. The extortion left her shaken, and unwilling to go to Baja again (she usually goes several times a month). Baja needs to crack down on this fast, or their tourist industry will die.

The UT gives some info on reporting an assault:

– While in Mexico, flag down a police officer or dial 066 on a local phone.

– People visiting Baja California can receive help by calling the office of the region’s secretary of tourism. The hotline is 078.

– Once back in the United States, people still can report crimes that occurred in Mexico by contacting the U.S. Consulate’s office in Tijuana, which channels complaints to the appropriate Mexican agency and assists U.S. citizens with follow-up investigations. E-mail

– The San Diego Police Department, which takes courtesy reports and forwards them to the consulate’s office. Call (619) 531-2000.

Aug 242007

The LA times has a story on the latest attempt to root out corruption in the Baja police force:

They’re installing cameras to catch extortion attempts, publicizing that people can pay tickets with credit cards and transferring corrupt cops. They’ve deployed a squad of female traffic officers to offer courteous help to tourists. They’ve even declared the stretch of road a “no-ticket” highway.

Many police officers turn to extortion, he said, because their supervisors threaten to transfer them to dangerous neighborhoods if they don’t fork over a daily share of cash from bribes. Officers usually don’t demand cash from the drivers they stop, he said. Instead, they start asking a lot of questions and reviewing registration records. Most people are quick to offer a bribe to avoid long dealings with officers who seem to have nothing but time on their hands.

“For Americans, $20 is nothing,” said the former officer. “The American has money. The American doesn’t know the law. The American doesn’t want his vacation delayed.” The best way to avoid paying a bribe, he said, is to insist on being taken to the police station. “If the American wanted to go to the station, I would follow for a while, and then put on my lights and pretend I had an emergency. I didn’t want to get in trouble with my supervisors,” the former patrol officer said.

….After Julio Caesar Garcia, a 33-year-old police supervisor, gave driving directions to a saleswoman for the Trump development, he was given an award by Torres’ real estate association. “She was impressed that I didn’t ask for a bribe, but I was just doing my job,” said Garcia, who was a bit bewildered by the praise. “I never got an award for being shot at.”

The latest anti-corruption measures, say border experts, reflect Baja California’s growing commitment to professional law enforcement. Police salaries in Tijuana were recently doubled — to about $1,500 monthly — making the force the highest paid in Mexico, say officials who hope the increases also will make their officers the least likely to seek bribes. Serious problems remain, including a lack of professional training, minimum educational requirements and an entrenched culture of corruption that in some departments starts at the top.

There’s also the temptation of all the new money in the area. The former Rosarito Beach police officer said many cops viewed the building boom as a bribe-taking bonanza on par with the filming of “Titanic” in Baja in the mid-1990s, when he and other police regularly stopped studio workers and visiting Hollywood executives. “They were easy targets because of the language difference and because they were always in hurry,” the former patrol officer said. “Those were great days.”

Real estate professionals don’t see it that way. Their goal is to re-create the Southern California oceanfront experience in Mexico at a fraction of the price, without the problem of corrupt officers’ outstretched hands.

I found the whole thing worth a read to know what to expect on your next trip south, and get an update on the building boom. I wonder how the Baja condo and walled community boom will do over the next two years, assuming housing continues to dip up north…

Aug 252006

The NY times has put up a pretty good travel article about Tijuana. As expected, it focuses mostly on the newer art spots and trendy eateries. But it also goes a little further to talk about the city as a whole, the good and the bad. I’d bet the focus will continue to stoke the fires of change.

It’s Hot. It’s Hip. It’s Tijuana?

This is a Tijuana you don’t know. Most Mexicans, who don’t cut Tijuana much slack — dismissing it as a provincial backwater, a border badlands — don’t know it either. But Tijuana is Mexico’s fastest-growing city (a population of 750,000 in 1990, 1.2 million in 2000 and projected to be 2.2 million by 2010). And it is changing. Cosmopolitan by default because of its proximity to the United States — 60 million people cross the border there each year — Tijuana is developing a new identity that is bringing it out of the shadows of its own reputation. Its fabled lawlessness has become a kind of freedom and license for social mobility and entrepreneurship that has attracted artists and musicians, chefs and restaurateurs, and professionals from Mexico and elsewhere.

Bonus link – Ask San Diego Blog: Tijuana 101

May 032005

(Photos from this entry can be found here: Chicano Park 35 years, Tijuana Bullfight.)

First things first. Two weeks ago Anna and I went to the shindig for 35 years of Chicano Park. It was as we expected; lowriders, music, and street fair vendors. In other words, a good time.

While there we ran into some guys we recognized from other events. They make and sell t-shirts of their art and photos, including those from the bullfights in TJ. We started talking and they told us about the season opener on May 1st that featured ‘El Juli’. Supposedly one of the best matadors in the world. Their enthusiasm planted a seed that eventually sprouted with us hopping on the trolley for TJ on Sunday.

It was fairly easy to get there – we walked across and grabbed a cab to the bull ring. TJ has two rings, one downtown, and another right by the border and the sea. La Playa – you can see a picture of it here (love this photo), courtesy of the California Coastal Records Project. Coming back from the fight was a bit tougher. You could take the MexiCoach for 5 bucks, or try for a cab. The cabs were scarce (police were leaning on them for some reason) but we managed to split a cab with a Portuguese couple who told us about some interesting american-portuguese bull fights.

This was my first time to a bull fight. Though I had read up on it, it was still nice to have some guys next to us that could explain the little bits. The rough idea is that there is 3 matadors with 2 helpers each and 6 bulls. The bull comes out, and 3 guys dance with it for a little bit. Then the picadores (guys on blinded, padded horses with spears) come out and stab the bull in the neck to get it to drop its head. After that, one guy uses six brightly colored spears to weaken the neck some more. And finally the matador comes out with a red cape and sword. They tire the bull, then pull some risky moves before finishing the bull with a curved sword.

Nothing goes exactly to plan, and this day was no different. The bull took one of the picadores down, but everything seemed to be ok once they got the horse back up. The first fighter lost his cape a couple times (bad thing to loose your composure), but did a clean kill. The second fighter was El Juli. Again one of the picadores went down. He seemed to be slacking, and did not make a clean kill. The crowd ripped him a new one. The third fighter was a gutsy kid, he did some moves and got to run a victory lap.

With the next round of bulls, the first fighter did better but didn’t have a clean kill. El Juli had something to prove, so he did some amazing moves and had a clean kill. The crowd loved it and he got two ears and a victory lap. The 3rd guy came out for the last bull. The bull was too unpredictable and the crowd threw seat cushions to mark their disapproval. The judge ordered a new bull for him. After that he pulled some daring stunts and had the crowd going, unfortunately he did not make a clean stab with the sword. After the match everyone threw seat cushions. Hah.

It was an interesting experience, but I doubt I’m going to be buying season tickets. If I ever want to throw seat cushions, I know where to go. The part that was the strangest to me was the picadores – I didn’t expect to see the bulls take them & the horse down 3 times. I think the horses have the worst job ever: “Hey horse, we are going to blindfold you, then stab a bull so it rams you a bunch. Sound good?”

Mar 042003

The news is a bit surreal these days. It seems like bush is hell-bent on war. One day he says ‘We don’t need a regime change in Iraq, just that they comply with the UN.’ Iraq starts to destroy missiles and the next words out of his mouth are, ‘Iraq needs a regime change.’ I wish this Onion satire piece was a bit less realistic.

I went down to Tijuana to renew my TN1 VISA last weekend. What a nightmare. I was there for 6 hours trying to find a NAFTA agent to help me with my TN. I kept asking the INS staff ‘who can help me with my TN’. The answer was ‘you will have to wait for a NAFTA agent’. I heard this over and over for 6 hours until a man from Montreal, who was also waiting for his TN got fed up and marched inside the building. After he talked with the people inside, we finally were told we could see a NAFTA agent.

We went inside, and talked to a NAFTA agent that looked very familiar. He was one of the agents who didn’t seem to be doing much, other than telling us ‘you have to wait for a NAFTA agent’. As it turns out, he was the NAFTA agent. Infuriating. After 6 hours of waiting I decided to bite my tongue just get the damned TN done with.