Guest Voz: The Border Violence Myth

LatinaLista — Gabriel Arana is a Spring 2009 intern at The Nation, as well as, a graduate student at Cornell University. Though Arana is based these days on the East Coast, he is a product of the U.S.-Mexico border region.
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Gabriel Arana
Arana is originally from Nogales, Arizona — a town that sits squarely on the Arizona-Mexico border. Being far from home, it’s natural that he keeps in frequent contact with his family. Yet, after speaking with his family about the lack of visible evidence of an all-out drug cartel war taking place on their doorstep, as many East Coast publications assert in sensational headlines, Arana wanted to investigate just how under siege the U.S.-Mexico border really is.
Arana explored the issue in a very well-researched piece that was published recently by The Nation. His research and gathering of law enforcement statistics and perspectives paint a much clearer picture of what is happening at the border and the true level of threat that exists.
With special permission from The Nation, Latina Lista is republishing Arana’s story in its entirety.
(One disclaimer — Latina Lista is quoted in Arana’s story.)

The Border Violence Myth

by GABRIEL ARANA
May 27, 2009
If media reports are to be believed, an Armageddon-like rash of drug-related violence–unlike any seen since “Miami Vice years of the 1980s”–has crossed from Mexico into the United States, “just as government officials had feared.” Even if you’ve never used or sold drugs, you’re not safe: kidnappers are breaking into the wrong houses and holding innocent civilians for ransom, putting guns in babies’ mouths. Severed heads might end up being rolled into dance clubs, beheadings might end up on YouTube. Television segments narrated like war documentaries broadcast dramatic footage of Border Patrol Humvees kicking up dust in the Southwest, Minutemen with binoculars overlooking the border and piles of confiscated drugs. In the national media, it’s become a foregone conclusion that Mexican drug violence has penetrated the United States.
But the numbers tell a different story. According to crime statistics for American cities along the US-Mexico border and major US metro areas along drug routes, violent crimes, including robberies, have either decreased in the first part of 2009 or remained relatively stable. This is not to say that the increased violence in Mexico has had no impact in the United States or that no violence in the United States can be traced to the conflict in Mexico. Rather the drive not to get “scooped” by competitors has led media outlets to conclude prematurely–based on hearsay and isolated incidents–that a wave of drug-related violence is upon us.
The increase in drug-related violence in Mexico over the past few years is well established, the result of a crackdown on drug cartels by President Felipe Calderón’s administration. By most accounts it began in December 2006 when 6,500 federal troops and police were dispatched to the Mexican state of Michoacán. In a series of gradual steps, this war on drugs broadened: over the past two years, 45,000 troops and 20,000 federal police have been dispatched to different regions of the country, primarily in northern Mexican cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. Almost 8,000 cartel-related deaths have been reported in Mexico, with a spike in the summer of 2008.
The situation, however, had been viewed from a distance in the United States until the media began raising the nightmarish scenario of a spillover across the border.

In January 2009, outlets like the Associated Press, Fox News, the New York Times and MSNBC reported on contingency plans drafted by the Department of Homeland Security to address such a spillover, but the consensus seemed to be then that these measures were a precaution rather than a response to any real threat. A policy paper from the libertarian Cato Institute on the threat posed to the United States by Mexican drug cartels sounded a similar precautionary note.
The AP reported that El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles said that he didn’t “anticipate the city or county being overwhelmed by border violence.” North Carolina Representative David Price said, “It appears so far that such violence is not yet systematically ‘spilling over’ as some have alleged.”
In February, however, something tipped, and the question mark in news headlines–”Border Violence Spilling into the US?”–disappeared. Among the earliest reports that potential violence had become actual violence was an AP story that credited unnamed “authorities” with the news. Tellingly, the story did not contain a single direct quote stating either that violence had increased or that it was linked to the drug trade. Rather, it juxtaposed its broad claims against gruesome descriptions of drug violence in Mexico or wildly speculative quotes about what could happen here.
One of its most fearmongering statements came from Rusty Payne, identified as a “Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman in Washington,” who said, “‘When you are willing to chop heads off, put them in an ice chest and drop them off at a police precinct, or roll a head into a disco, put beheadings on YouTube as a warning,’ very little is off limits.”
The only relevant statistics included in the piece were the number of “home invasions” in Phoenix for each of the past two years–about 350, “the majority…committed at the behest of the Mexican drug gangs”–and the number of drug-related killings in Mexico over the past year, 5,000. Besides the fact that the steady number of home invasions in Phoenix over the past two years suggests that there had not been a recent increase in violence, the piece also readily concedes that in El Paso, Texas–across the border from Ciudad Juárez, dubbed the epicenter of Mexico’s escalating drug war–has remained “one of America’s safest cities.”
Nevertheless, within weeks the New York Times jumped on the story: “Wave of Drug Violence Is Creeping Into Arizona From Mexico, Officials Say,” the paper reported on February 23 in an article by Randal Archibold, concentrating on an increase in the number of residential robberies and kidnappings in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located. This article and a mere handful of other reports shot through the media pipeline and were widely re-reported at places like CNN, Fox, USA Today and the Huffington Post, as well as in regional papers, a testament to the increasing paucity of firsthand news reporting.
The news reports on the increase in drug-related violence in the United States rely heavily on anecdotes, impressionistic quotes from police or politicians, and bare statistics presented without context. Most of the reporting examined violence in the border states of Arizona and Texas.
Tucson, Arizona, an hour’s drive north of the international border, served as the centerpiece for another New York Times report on March 22 (“Mexican Drug Cartel Violence Spills Over, Alarming U.S.,” also by Archibold). The story claimed that Tucson “is coping with a wave of drug crime the police suspect is tied to the bloody battles between Mexico’s drug cartels and the efforts to stamp them out.”
Public information officers who track crime statistics for the city say this is simply not true.
According to Chuck Rydzak, a public information officer with the Tucson Police Department, the number of violent crimes in the city from January to March of 2008–excluding robberies–was 651. For the same period this year, it’s 632. The number of robberies is also down, from 333 to 307. The home invasions have also decreased: from thirty-four in the first four months of 2008 to thirty-three for the same period this year. It is also difficult to assert that this is a Mexican problem affecting the United States: only 10 percent of those involved in home invasions thus far this year have been undocumented immigrants. Kidnappings, too, are holding steady: there were twenty-seven in 2008 and seven so far this year.
“The statistics speak for themselves and they are not indicative of a spike in violent crime,” said Sgt. Mark Robinson, another public information officer with the Tucson Police Department. “The violence is in Mexico.”
Representatives of the police department say they have spent the past few months trying to correct misperceptions stemming from sensational media reports. “[The reports] just cost us a bunch of trouble because of a misinterpretation of what somebody said,” Robinson added.
In theory, a precipitous drop in non-drug-related crime could mask an increase in drug-related crime, but officers at the Tucson Police Department and other municipalities say this is not the case. Even Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona and current secretary of homeland security, tried to allay public fear in February by saying that drug-related violence from Mexico had not spilled over to the United States.
An April 26 piece in the Arizona Daily Star also called reports of escalating violence in Tucson “more hype than reality.” In it, Tucson Assistant Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor, who was also quoted in the New York Times story, said “not one” of the arrests related to home invasions had involved “an active cartel member from Mexico.”
The February 23 report from the New York Times on the drug-related violence in Phoenix was notably devoid of statistics. According to the police department, the number of violent crimes in the Phoenix area is also down: there were 11,194 violent crimes in 2006, 11,168 in 2007 and 10,466 in 2008. The number of robberies in 2006 was 4,363, spiked to 4,924 in 2007, then decreased again to 4,835 in 2008.
The Times story, however, focused primarily on the supposed increase in the number of kidnappings and home invasions. It cites the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office as saying that “border-related kidnapping or hostage-taking in a home” increased from 48 in 2004 to 241 last year. Representatives for the County Attorney’s office said the spike only represents incidents reported to the prosecutor’s office–not the number reported to the police. Given the strong-arm anti-immigrant tactics of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his political allies in the prosecutor’s office, there is reason to question whether these numbers are indicative of a spike in crime or merely an increase in prosecution and enforcement, for which police departments across the state have received boosts in funding in the past few years. Both Tucson and Phoenix have set up special task forces to deal with home invasions in the last year or so.
None of the stories that report these statistics–and few do–bother to ask how much the statistical increase is due to improved reporting methods. Representatives from police departments across Arizona have lamented the difficulty of keeping accurate tabs on the number of kidnappings given that many go unreported.
Numbers for the Phoenix Police Department show that there has indeed been an increase in drug-related kidnappings, but it’s not as dramatic as the numbers from the prosecutor’s office might indicate. Since 2006, when the conflict in Mexico began to heat up, the number of drug-related kidnappings increased from 232 to 343 in 2007, to 359 in 2008. So far this year, there have been 140.
Even if it can be established that Phoenix is in the midst of a kidnapping crisis (and there are reasons to tread carefully here), linking this activity to drug cartels in Mexico is another matter. Sergeant Tommy Thompson, a public information officer with the Phoenix Police Department, told the student newspaper for Arizona State University that it has not been able to tie a single kidnapping to drug cartel activity in Mexico. Kidnappings and home invasions aside, crime in Phoenix has remained steady.
The violence isn’t farther south, either. On the Arizona-Mexico border is my small hometown of Nogales, Arizona, which shares a name with its sister city across the border. Residents and police seemed mystified when asked about an uptick in border violence. While the drug-related crime wave is a well-known fact in Nogales, Sonora, the American side has not seen a single murder this year; there were also none last year. Recently, there have been several more armed robberies in the area than in the past (three in 2007, ten in 2008, eight so far this year), but these have occurred primarily outside of town, among illegal immigrants in the forests and canyons used to cross into the country.
Life there, by all accounts, is as placid as it ever was.
The logic underpinning the New York Times’s and other reports shows the degree to which the media have strained to wrest a conclusion from data that do not support it. One statistic that is often thrown around involves the number of US cities where drug cartels “maintain drug distribution networks,” which increased from 100 cities in 2006 to 230 by the end of 2008. However, the Justice Department says this increase is the product of better data-collection methods and the broadening of antidrug efforts and does not necessarily reflect an increase in violence in the United States.
What is especially striking is that the February and March stories in the Times concede that violent crime is down in Arizona, but conclude nonetheless–even in the same sentence–that the state is “bearing the brunt of smuggling-related violence”:
Although overall violent crime has dropped in several cities on or near the border…Arizona appears to be bearing the brunt of smuggling-related violence. Some 60 percent of illicit drugs found in the United States–principally cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine–entered through the border in this state.
But the percentage of drugs that travel through Arizona has no bearing on whether the amount of drugs–or related violence–has increased.
Media reports on the supposed crime wave are riddled with these types of tenuous connections. They are held together with a string of conditional statements–”seems as though,” “might indicate.” Few contain police data, which is continuously available to those seeking public information. Barely any reports present the ample countervailing evidence that the United States has yet to be substantially affected by Mexican drug violence.
Arizona is not the only state where reporters have scraped for evidence of increased violence. In March, CNN host Anderson Cooper did a live broadcast from El Paso, Texas, dressed in military garb. El Paso Mayor John Cook, who spoke with several news organizations at the time, lamented the mischaracterization of crime in the city by the media.
“I’ll speak with [news reporters] and tell them there hasn’t been any spillover of violence into El Paso,” Cook told the Texas Observer, “and then they will turn around and report that there is. Mostly I feel like I’ve wasted my time.”
In one incident, Richard Cortez, the mayor of McAllen, Texas, told a CNN anchor that the violence had not spilled over to his city. Despite having elicited the information, the anchor, Don Lemon, refused to accept the response.
“Since you’re the mayor of the city, you have to put the best foot forward,” he said. “I know your city is affected, but you have to put a good face on it.”
Area journalists, while stressing the potential danger posed by violence in Mexico, said cartel-related crimes in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley have been isolated and that residents feel safe.
“As far as innocent people being pulled into it–not yet,” said Marisa Treviño, a veteran journalist and founder of news and analysis blog Latina Lista. “It’s a serious situation, but [these incidents] are isolated.”
“People don’t feel threatened at all,” she said.
Amid the symphony of national news media proclaiming an outbreak of violence over the past few months is one report from NPR’s Deborah Tedford that challenged what had become conventional wisdom. On May 15, she reported that the string of cities along the border between Texas and Mexico–El Paso, Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville–had seen no increase in drug-related crime. Brownsville Police Chief Carlos Garcia told Tedford that while some residents of the city worked for drug cartels, they conduct this business in Mexico, where “extensive networks…keep them safe if they are caught.”
“There, they have money, safe houses; if a member is captured, he can escape or buy his way out,” Garcia said.
The report, however, wasn’t picked up and disseminated by other outlets as the New York Times and AP stories were.
Looking at crime statistics for San Diego, Atlanta and other major drug transit cities casts similar doubt on drug violence reports. In San Diego, across the border from Tijuana, the rate of violent crime per 1,000 people has decreased slightly over the past few years, from 4.87 in 2006 to 4.5 in 2008. For the first two months of this year, the rate continued its slide, to 3.85. The same is true of robberies, the rate of which fell from 1.5 in 2008 to 1.19 through February. In Atlanta, there was one more homicide in January compared to last year and the number of robberies decreased from 288 in 2008 to 266 in the first month of 2009.
The hype has been enabled by a news apparatus that feeds sensationalism. As Treviño said, “The media take one incident and they blow it up; it makes for good copy.”
Melissa del Bosque, the journalist who originally reported on media misreprentation of US drug violence for the Texas Observer, attributed the appearance of sensationalistic stories to a number of factors, among them the agendas of what she has called “border-warrior politicians” who use neologisms like “narco-terrorism” in calling for the border to be militarized; the change in administrations; and budgeting concerns.
The formation of local, state and national budgets at the beginning of the year provides an opportunity for politicians to exaggerate the threat posed by Mexican drug cartels and thereby receive more funding for local police forces, del Bosque said. Indeed, Texas Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw stressed that the spillover had already occurred in asking state lawmakers to approve a $135 million increase in funding requested by Texas Governor Rick Perry. In Arizona, police readily admitted to the Arizona Daily Star that they welcomed more money.
The motive for exaggerating the effect of drug-related violence is not just monetary, though. “There are a lot of conservative legislators who want to look tough on border security,” del Bosque said.
Even a cursory online search bears out what del Bosque surmises: conservative commentators and politicians have used the news to call for tightened border security, in some cases even calling for the border to be “militarized.” For example, Fox News’ Sean Hannity recently warned that “the effect on our country may be just beginning” before telling viewers to shield their children’s eyes from the Mexican drug-violence footage that followed. He was not alone–as he did in the segment–in conflating US and Mexican drug-related violence.
Del Bosque and other journalists who report on and live near the border criticized the simplistic characterization of life there by the national media, one informed by “Wild West” and drug-movie caricatures. “The national media doesn’t really care about the border,” del Bosque said. “They hit it like a piñata and take off.”

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12 Comments

  1. Wilbur said:

    “The increase in drug-related violence in Mexico over the past few years is well established, the result of a crackdown on drug cartels by President Felipe Calderón’s administration. By most accounts it began in December 2006 when 6,500 federal troops and police were dispatched to the Mexican state of Michoacán. In a series of gradual steps, this war on drugs broadened: over the past two years, 45,000 troops and 20,000 federal police have been dispatched to different regions of the country, primarily in northern Mexican cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. Almost 8,000 cartel-related deaths have been reported in Mexico, with a spike in the summer of 2008.”
    Yeah, we should believe all is well, because all those resources devoted to this problem were motivated by ours and Mexico’s imaginings. Rather than be proactive, we should just wait until it does spill over into our country. Sorry, but that’s just playing to the denial of Latinos who can’t face the truth of the danger of a corrupt Mexico. If I remember correctly, our national security people listed Mexico and Pakistan as potentially failing under the pressure of terrorism and revolution. And we’re asked to believe some kid who’s collected a few open-source information and compiled into a rosy picture. Bull shit!

  2. Karen said:

    It’s amazing how facts don’t matter to some people. It’s also amazing how distorted a view people can have of their next door neighbors. One has to ask why the government and the media need to create this image of Mexico? The new ambassador to Mexico is a shock doctor who specializes in so-called failed states and the takeover of their assets and natural resources. Hmm…

  3. Traci said:

    I guess that these incidents are the sources of our deceptions, but what can one say when we have the guest’s paper research? I can go on and on and find so much evidence of chaos, corruption and murder in Mexico in a Google search. I really can’t believe you people, you’re always in the state of denial! All you seem to care about is covering Mexico’s butt. Try facing reality for once.
    ————————-
    http://penusa.org/go/news/comments/1311/
    MEXICO: Journalist killed on World Press Freedom Day
    May 07, 2009
    The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) protests in the strongest possible terms the murder of another Mexican journalist, Carlos Ortega Samper of El Tiempo de Durango, who was shot dead on 3 May – World Press Freedom Day. Ortega was known for his critical reporting on local government corruption and had reportedly been threatened by local officials a few days before he was killed. His death brings to 21 the number of writers and print journalists killed in Mexico since 2004. The WiPC calls on the Mexican authorities to carry out a full and impartial investigation into Ortega’s murder and all other unresolved journalist killings and to bring to justice those responsible. It also urges the authorities to fulfill promises to make such crimes against journalists a federal offense.
    Carlos Ortega Samper (52), columnist for the daily Durango City-based newspaper El Tiempo de Durango, was shot dead in Santa María El Oro, Durango State, northern Mexico, on 3 May 2009. The journalist was driving home when he was intercepted by four unidentified men who pulled him from his car and, after a heated argument, shot him three times in the head. He died at the scene.
    The previous day, 2 May, Ortega had published an article alleging that the town mayor and another local official had threatened him about a 28 April article that criticized poor hygiene standards in a local abattoir. In the 2 May article, Ortega also indicated that he was investigating allegations of corruption by a local policeman, and that these three men should be held responsible if anything happened to him.
    The state attorney’s office is in charge of the investigation into Ortega’s murder and has not yet made public any motive. However, the editor of El Tiempo de Durango reportedly believes that Ortega was killed in retaliation for his reporting on local government corruption.
    According to press reports, Ortega came under attack in early 2009, when his house was shot at and his car set on fire. He reported the incident to the authorities but no action was taken.
    Ortega, who was also a lawyer, had worked for El Tiempo de Durango for a year and for the five previous years for another regional daily, El Siglo de Durango.
    Background
    Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as a journalist. From 2004 to 2008, 20 writers – 19 print journalists and one author – were murdered, while four more journalists disappeared. Few if any of these crimes have been punished. International PEN believes that it is likely that these journalists were targeted in retaliation for their critical reporting, particularly on drug trafficking. While organized crime groups are responsible for many attacks, state agents, especially government officials and the police, are reportedly the main perpetrators of violence against journalists, and complicit in its continuance.
    —————————–
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30672334/
    Gunmen kill 9 in western Mexico, shoot horses
    Violence takes place in the drug-plagued western state of Michoacan
    Mexico under siege
    The death toll is spiraling throughout Mexico as a war between the country’s government and the drug cartels intensifies
    MORELIA, Mexico – Gunmen killed nine people in three separate attacks in the Mexico’s drug-plagued western state of Michoacan, authorities said Sunday.
    The state attorney general’s office said gunmen broke into a ranch in a rural area and shot dead five employees, along with four horses and a bull.
    Three brothers were shot to death in the Michoacan city of Zamora in a separate attack, and another was killed by gunmen in the city of Arteaga.
    —————————–
    http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7010987786
    Canadian Murdered in Mexico
    May 18, 2008 2:17 p.m. EST
    Jupiter Kalambakal – AHN News Writer
    Ottawa, Canada (AHN) -A Canadian tourist was killed in a hotel room in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on May 15, Foreign Affairs in Ottawa had confirmed.
    Bouabal Bounthavorn, 29, sustained three gunshot wounds, said Enrique Wuilar, state police commander in Cabo San Lucas.
    So far, investigators on the killing have no leads as to the murderer. The victim’s girlfriend Masha Heikali, 24, sustained one gunshot wound in one foot.
    This was not the first slaying of Canadian tourists in Mexico.
    In February 2006, Canadian couple Domenico Ianiero, 59, and Annunziata, 55, were found murdered at a hotel in a resort near Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The couple, who came from Woodbridge, Ont., was reported to have been stabbed to death.
    —————————-
    http://www.wtop.com/?nid=389&sid=1676986
    Killings of 4 Americans in Tijuana sow fear
    May 16, 2009 – 1:31am
    A street vendor walks next to a taco restaurant at the Revolucion street in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, May 15, 2009. Four U.S. citizens were found stabbed and strangled last Saturday in this border city, the latest deaths amid Mexico’s drug war and another blow to a tourist-based economy struggling from swine flu and the global economic recession. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)
    By GUILLERMO ARIAS and AMY TAXIN
    Associated Press Writers
    TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) – The slayings of four young Americans in Tijuana sowed fear in Southern California on Friday as Mexican prosecutors tried to determine whether the youths were involved in the country’s violent drug trade or innocent victims of a brutal crime.
    The victims, two men and two women in their teens and early 20s, said they were headed for a night of partying across the border only to be found strangled, stabbed and beaten a few days later.
    Mexican officials are investigating whether any of the four San Diego-area victims had ties to the drug trade, after a toxicology report tested positive for cocaine on the body of Brianna Hernandez, who was either 18 or 19.
    Another victim, Oscar Jorge Garcia, 23, was apprehended in the San Diego area in January 2008 with six illegal immigrants in the car, but never charged in the case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lauren Mack said.
    The parents of 20-year-old victim Carmen Jimena Ramos Chavez on Friday described a vibrant Chula Vista High graduate who worked at an amusement park for children and planned to become a hair stylist.
    “She was a happy girl, with a desire to explore the world,” said her father, Rogelio Ramos Camano, of Chula Vista. “Young people are like that. They think nothing will happen. I was like that, too.”
    Mexican prosecutors said the victims had been bound and tortured _ common tactics by Mexican drug gangs _ before being left in a van in a dusty slum on the outskirts of Tijuana.
    Jose Manuel Yepiz, a spokesman for the Baja California state prosecutor’s office, said investigators were examining a threatening letter to one of the victims from a jail inmate in San Diego.
    Prosecutors said they had ruled out the possibility that the killings were a case of drug gangs targeting tourists.
    Tijuana, which sits across the border from San Diego, has a reputation as one of Mexico’s most violent border cities. Authorities said 843 people were slain there in 2008, many in drug-related violence.
    Since taking office in December 2006, President Felipe Calderon has sent more than 45,000 soldiers to combat drug cartels in the country whose turf battles have killed more than 10,750 people over the last two-and-a-half years.
    Violence had diminished in Tijuana in recent months, only to pick up a few weeks ago with seven police officers killed in brazen attacks on one day.
    Victor Clark, a professor at San Diego State University’s Center for Latin American Studies, said criminal ties with any one of the Americans could have spelled disaster for the group.
    “Maybe they broke the rules, which means death” when dealing with Mexico’s drug cartels, said Clark, a Tijuana resident and native. “And they dragged their friends down with them.”
    Relatives said the victims were familiar with both sides of the border and navigating the area’s bilingual culture _ but may have taken their safety for granted.
    Ramos said he had often told his daughter, who was born in Tijuana but raised from a young age in the U.S., that Tijuana was too dangerous, and she assured him she was always careful.
    But Ramos said he didn’t offer any warnings as his daughter got ready to go out with her friend Brianna on May 7, even as he watched a news program about killings in Tijuana on Mexican television.
    “I think God put that out there so I would do something, but I didn’t dare,” he said in Spanish, shaking his head, recalling how they were already primped and ready to go.
    U.S. tourists, already warned by the U.S. State Department to be cautious in Mexico because foreign bystanders have been killed, now appear even less likely to visit once-popular destinations like Tijuana.
    “I’m not going to T.J. unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Amelia Lopez, a friend of a victim told television station San Diego 6. “Before, you know, you go to eat or have a good time or shopping. Nothing like that.”
    ___
    Arias reported from Tijuana and Taxin from Chula Vista, Calif. Associated Press Writer Solvej Schou in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
    (Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
    By GUILLERMO ARIAS and AMY TAXIN
    Associated Press Writers
    TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) – The slayings of four young Americans in Tijuana sowed fear in Southern California on Friday as Mexican prosecutors tried to determine whether the youths were involved in the country’s violent drug trade or innocent victims of a brutal crime.
    The victims, two men and two women in their teens and early 20s, said they were headed for a night of partying across the border only to be found strangled, stabbed and beaten a few days later.
    Mexican officials are investigating whether any of the four San Diego-area victims had ties to the drug trade, after a toxicology report tested positive for cocaine on the body of Brianna Hernandez, who was either 18 or 19.
    Another victim, Oscar Jorge Garcia, 23, was apprehended in the San Diego area in January 2008 with six illegal immigrants in the car, but never charged in the case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lauren Mack said.
    The parents of 20-year-old victim Carmen Jimena Ramos Chavez on Friday described a vibrant Chula Vista High graduate who worked at an amusement park for children and planned to become a hair stylist.
    “She was a happy girl, with a desire to explore the world,” said her father, Rogelio Ramos Camano, of Chula Vista. “Young people are like that. They think nothing will happen. I was like that, too.”
    Mexican prosecutors said the victims had been bound and tortured _ common tactics by Mexican drug gangs _ before being left in a van in a dusty slum on the outskirts of Tijuana.
    Jose Manuel Yepiz, a spokesman for the Baja California state prosecutor’s office, said investigators were examining a threatening letter to one of the victims from a jail inmate in San Diego.
    Prosecutors said they had ruled out the possibility that the killings were a case of drug gangs targeting tourists.
    Tijuana, which sits across the border from San Diego, has a reputation as one of Mexico’s most violent border cities. Authorities said 843 people were slain there in 2008, many in drug-related violence.
    Since taking office in December 2006, President Felipe Calderon has sent more than 45,000 soldiers to combat drug cartels in the country whose turf battles have killed more than 10,750 people over the last two-and-a-half years.
    Violence had diminished in Tijuana in recent months, only to pick up a few weeks ago with seven police officers killed in brazen attacks on one day.
    Victor Clark, a professor at San Diego State University’s Center for Latin American Studies, said criminal ties with any one of the Americans could have spelled disaster for the group.
    “Maybe they broke the rules, which means death” when dealing with Mexico’s drug cartels, said Clark, a Tijuana resident and native. “And they dragged their friends down with them.”
    Relatives said the victims were familiar with both sides of the border and navigating the area’s bilingual culture _ but may have taken their safety for granted.
    Ramos said he had often told his daughter, who was born in Tijuana but raised from a young age in the U.S., that Tijuana was too dangerous, and she assured him she was always careful.
    But Ramos said he didn’t offer any warnings as his daughter got ready to go out with her friend Brianna on May 7, even as he watched a news program about killings in Tijuana on Mexican television.
    “I think God put that out there so I would do something, but I didn’t dare,” he said in Spanish, shaking his head, recalling how they were already primped and ready to go.
    U.S. tourists, already warned by the U.S. State Department to be cautious in Mexico because foreign bystanders have been killed, now appear even less likely to visit once-popular destinations like Tijuana.
    “I’m not going to T.J. unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Amelia Lopez, a friend of a victim told television station San Diego 6. “Before, you know, you go to eat or have a good time or shopping. Nothing like that.”

  4. Horace said:

    Fell for another pretty face, eh, Marisa? Wilbur has got it right.

  5. Evelyn said:

    Traci :
    I guess that these incidents are the sources of our deceptions, but what can one say when we have the guest’s paper research? I can go on and on and find so much evidence of chaos, corruption and murder in Mexico in a Google search. I really can’t believe you people, you’re always in the state of denial! All you seem to care about is covering Mexico’s butt. Try facing reality for once.
    Get a clue….the article is in referance to crime on THIS SIDE OF THE BORDER, THE USA not Mexico! lmao!

  6. laura said:

    Why are the United States wreaking havoc on its Southern neighbors by refusing to address the enormous consumption of illegal drugs, and the enormous demand for illegal drugs, generated by its citizens?
    I will bet that many of the anti-Latina posters on this site are, or have been, themselves users of illegal drugs. They are making their own small contribution to keep this horrific market and, by extension, this horrific violence going.
    Why don’t we just clean up our own act? That would make many of the problems of Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and and and – simply go away.

  7. Marisa Treviño said:

    Nah Horace. The most attractive are the ones who back up their claims with solid research and/or first-person testimony — not hearsay or plain opinion.

  8. cookie said:

    Laura, please point out who the anti-Latinos are in this blog. Exaggerations and lies don’t count. The objection is to illegal immigration not Latinos who are legally here and respect our laws.

  9. Traci said:

    “Get a clue….the article is in referance to crime on THIS SIDE OF THE BORDER, THE USA not Mexico! lmao!”
    Get a clue, Phoenix is the kidnap capital of the U.S. and its all related to the violence across the border. Anyone who doesn’t think that the virus of violence on the Mexican side cannot spread is just kidding themselves or has an agenda to suppress the horrible truth. lmao!

  10. Evelyn said:

    Traci :
    Get a clue, Phoenix is the kidnap capital of the U.S. and its all related to the violence across the border. Anyone who doesn’t think that the virus of violence on the Mexican side cannot spread is just kidding themselves or has an agenda to suppress the horrible truth. lmao!
    ~
    No one is arguing that violance cant spread. Fact is it hasent spread!
    Intelligent people make decisions and guide their thought process by listening to facts. In this case facts prove your opinions are WRONG!
    Below are facts:
    What is especially striking is that the February and March stories in the Times concede that violent crime is down in Arizona, but conclude nonetheless–even in the same sentence–that the state is “bearing the brunt of smuggling-related violence”:
    Although overall violent crime has dropped in several cities on or near the border…Arizona appears to be bearing the brunt of smuggling-related violence. Some 60 percent of illicit drugs found in the United States–principally cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine–entered through the border in this state.
    But the percentage of drugs that travel through Arizona has no bearing on whether the amount of drugs–or related violence–has increased.
    Media reports on the supposed crime wave are riddled with these types of tenuous connections. They are held together with a string of conditional statements–”seems as though,” “might indicate.” Few contain police data, which is continuously available to those seeking public information. Barely any reports present the ample countervailing evidence that the United States has yet to be substantially affected by Mexican drug violence.

  11. Traci said:

    “Why are the United States wreaking havoc on its Southern neighbors by refusing to address the enormous consumption of illegal drugs, and the enormous demand for illegal drugs, generated by its citizens?”
    Well, this is an ignorant and naive remark. You talk as if it’s some kind of nefarious plot on the part of the U.S. government. Well, it’s not, and it’s not like that we haven’t been trying to defeat the drug problem. The taxpayers have been paying billions every year in the war on drugs, but to no avail. It’s easy to criticize this failure, but difficult to provide solutions. Got any ideas, Laura, or are you just being a critical bag of hot air. I suspect that you’ll just suggest that we put on our ruby slippers, click our heals and make it go away in wink of an eye.
    “I will bet that many of the anti-Latina posters on this site are, or have been, themselves users of illegal drugs. They are making their own small contribution to keep this horrific market and, by extension, this horrific violence going.”
    The same nasty remark could be applied to advocates of illegal aliens, but it’s notable that it was made by your side first.
    “Why don’t we just clean up our own act? That would make many of the problems of Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and and and – simply go away.”
    I like the exposure of your naivete in your use of the terms “just clean up our own act”. I’ve got news for you Laura, drugs are being used by the citizens of Mexico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic just as they are used in the U.S. Do you think they can make their problem simply go away?
    I find you very immature, Laura, in that you believe that the use of drugs by U.S. citizens is the cause of Latin American woes. Most of the problems are caused by internal politics which often results in internecine warfare. Latin American inter-tribal warfare would occur regardless of the existence of the U.S. The Latin Americans just like to scapegoat the U.S. because they can’t accept that they’re responsible from most of their pathetic plight. I suggest that you read more than just the propaganda put out by the governments of Latin America.

  12. Ricardo Sanchez said:

    Thought this would give good to discuss. Sadly, RACISM is alive and well on our shores of America, en Espanol. We could not believe our eyes/ears watching this on Spanish TV, so got it taped and translate/subtitled for ‘Mainstream USA’ to notice what slides by on our own ‘foreign-language’ media. WARNING: The jokes are offensive to most all races, except perhaps whatever you call Mexicans. Immigrants to this country get this catered to them, which is very shameful.
    On Google-YouTube, search for TELMEXUVISION, or click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ci1Q0T7kUY

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