By Luis Alonso Pérez
There’s a lot going on south of the border. Our neighbor Tijuana is one of the most violent, contaminated and fastest growing cities in México. Expanding more and more every year, as migrants arrive everyday by the hundreds, looking for an opportunity to cross the border or to find a job in a manufacturing plant.
2004 was a very intense year for the people of Tijuana. The city is starting to become small as the population grows twice as fast as San Diego’s. Crime, poverty and disorder rule the streets. Robbers, drug dealers and kidnappers often carry a police batch or use federal law enforcement officers as their private thugs.
Fear, anger and despair have made Tijuanenses act in response. Promises of a safer and well urbanized city, free of murders, corruption and drug “tienditas” (small stores) made multi-millionaire Jorge Hank Rhon win the mayor elections last summer. His six million dollar political campaign convinced the people of Tijuana to choose him as their leader and took the mayor seat from the National Action Party (PAN) which had been sitting in it since the early nineties.
Hank Rhon runs the local race track and the largest off-track betting network in the country and is well known for his personal scandals, like the murder of Hector “El Gato” Felix, a renowned Tijuana journalist by one of his bodyguards, and his arrest in a Mexican airport when trying to smuggle ivory and exotic furs into the country.
In spite of his personal reputation, he was absolutely unknown in the world of politics, but his father was. Jorge Hank is the youngest son of “El Profesor” Carlos Hank Gon-zales, one of the most rich and powerful politicians in Mexico’s history. He was considered one of the cornerstones of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who governed Mexico with an iron fist from 1929 to 2000.
Another event that caused big reaction was the 10th anniversary of the operation Gatekeeper in California’s border, which has caused the death of more than 3,000 immigrants who attempted to cross illegally into the United States. On Friday October 1st, a group of migrants and activists carried a coffin with the names of the three thousand deceased immigrants for more than nine miles, as a way of protesting against immigration policies in the United States and the pain and suffering Gatekeeper has caused to Latin America. The protests continued north of the border on Saturday October 2nd. Around 500 people marched through San Ysidro, asking authorities to put and end to the deadly operation.
On June 22 the editor of Tijuana’s weekly newspaper ZETA, Francisco Ortiz Franco, was shot in the head five times by a hooded man as he was getting into his car with his 8 and 10 year old children. The assassination caught the attention of local and international media because of its alleged relation with drug cartels, and caused the outrage of the journalistic community worldwide.
Eleven journalists have been murdered during the last four years. Ortiz Franco is one of the four killed in 2004. On October 11 a national nationwide protest took place in Mexico City and the main cities around the country like Mexicali, Baja California’s capital, demanding authorities the guarantee of freedom of expression and heavy punishments against journalist aggressors.
On November 2, Mexico’s Day of the Dead, a group of artists and graphic design college students prepared an installation art presentation in Tijuana’s Cultural Center by the name “Ni una muerta mas” (No more dead women) as a way of protesting against the violence towards women in Ciudad Juarez, a border city in northern Mexico, where for more than ten years now, a girl has been reported missing an average one a week. Most of those women are young maquiladora workers and are later found in the desert raped and brutally murdered.
Things are looking tough south of the border and as the New Year arrives Tijuanenses are wondering when things are finally going to look a little better?