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San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders on Tuesday urged Americans to visit Tijuana, saying it is safe for travel.
"I get asked by people all the time if I think it is safe to travel to Tijuana. I tell them yes. If you are not going to be going where they're selling drugs on the street, it is no different than San Diego. There are places you would go here and not feel safe," Sanders said at a Tequila Talk appearance with Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante at the Institute of the Americas on the UCSD campus.
Sanders said the San Diego police department has been working closely with the Tijuana police force. Indeed, last week, San Diego police, in a ceremony, formally recognized Tijuana police (PDF file, El Mexicano) for their February arrest of Armando Pérez, who was sought in the October 2010 stabbing death of his wife at San Diego City College. Sanders said Tuesday, "A safe Tijuana means a safe San Diego, and vice versa."
Bustamante said he had just received statistics on high-impact crime for the first quarter in Tijuana, and said such crime was "down 20% over the 40% (it was down) last year."
He said there were 19 registered kidnappings in the first quarter of 2011, but "We only had one this year. One's enough." However, Bustamante may have been talking about high-profile kidnappings. Tijuana's media has been full of stories about kidnappings of migrants and small business owners this year, and human rights activities say there have been a number of kidnappings.
Bustamante also said, "We are doing a good job of cleaning out the police who are in coordination with the criminals." Tijuana police have been arrested on two occasions in the last month in possession of drugs. A total of eight Tijuana police are believed to be involved in the cases; also, when another policeman was recently slain, drugs were found in his vehicle. Last week, Tijuana police were involved in a major confrontation with the military that wound up sending two city policemen to the hospital. After the Tequila Talk, Bustamante said the beating incident had been caused by a drunk military officer, and said that it was to be expected that there would be bad elements in a police department of 2,500. He said bad police are continually being weeded out, and that the numbers of dirty police "used to be a lot more." He said that overall, "I am very satisfied with the police department."
Update, May 10: Frontera reports that 54 police are under investigation (PDF).
PAN councilman faults police chief. El Mexicano (PDF). Jump.
Bustamante said, "We're not even on the list of the warnings any more." What he meant by this is that the State Department, in its latest warning, issued in February, does not recommend that Americans not visit Baja California, whereas it does warn against non-essential travel to all or parts of the states of Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Sinaloa, Michoacán, Guerrero, Aguascalientes, Nayarit and Jalisco.
The U.S. consul general in Tijuana, Steven Kashkett, who attended the Tequila Talk, said the U.S. warning "does not advise Americans to avoid travel to Tijuana." It also was announced that Kashkett would be leaving the consular post in August; he is to become an adviser to the U.S. Southern Command in Florida.
The State Department indicates that it is generally OK for people who take precautions to travel to Baja California. The State Department writes: "You should exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night. Targeted TCO assassinations continue to take place in Baja California. Turf battles between criminal groups proliferated and resulted in numerous assassinations in areas of Tijuana frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured, have occurred during daylight hours throughout the city. In one such incident, an U.S. citizen was shot and seriously wounded. According to the Government of Mexico, as of August 2011, the city’s murder rate was approximately 20 per 100,000. During 2011, 34 U.S. citizens were the victims of homicide in the state. In the majority of these cases, the killings appeared to be related to narcotics trafficking."
Both mayors also discussed the problems involved with the new ports of entry being built on the San Diego-Tijuana border. <<<Read more>>>.
Sanders said that if the border infrastructure can get up to speed (for example, the new San Ysidro crossing, a new proposed eastern toll crossing, and a pedestrian bridge crossing facility from the U.S. to the Tijuana airport), the region can become a real economic powerhouse.
Attendee Luz Dávila wanted more emphasis paid to Tecate, and Bustamante pointed out that he had negotiated a city limits agreement with Tecate last year that should help both cities prosper. When she said she wanted the Tecate border crossing to be open 24 hours again, he said he would bring that up with Tecate's mayor.
Update, May 11: Mexicali federal Deputy Juan Vargas Rodríguez asks Mexico's Foreign Ministry to work with U.S. to get Tecate crossing open 24 hours again. Story, El Mexicano (PDF).
Sanders was asked by border activist Enrique Morones to comment about the death of Anastacio Hernández after he was beaten and subject to Taser fire by border agents two years ago. Asked why a San Diego police department press release said Hernández had not been handcuffed during the incident, when he indeed had been bound, Sanders said, "I just don't know the issues. I can check with the (police) chief."