international, mexico, drug violence, marines ordered out of mexico
Guillermo Arias/AP
Police officers guard a crime scene where a woman was killed in Tijuana, Mexico, Tuesday, Jan.
2009. (AP)

US Marines Are Barred From Visiting Tijuana Due to Its Violent Instability

January 23, 2009 02:00 PM
by Christopher Coats
Spotlighting the impact of drug-related violence on Mexico’s economic and political stability, U.S. Marines in California have been ordered to stay away from border towns without prior approval.

Staying Away From Trouble

Following a year that saw over 5,300 murders in Mexico and a spike in cartel-related crime and kidnapping, marines have been warned that they stand to lose pay or rank should they venture south of the border.

The announcement comes two weeks after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that the threat of cartel violence spilling over the border could result in the deployment of federal troops to the region.

Despite the efforts of President Felipe Calderon, who took office in 2006 and deployed 45,000 soldiers and 5,000 federal police officers to the area, drug-related violence in Mexico has surged as a result of cartel turf wars, centered mostly around border towns, especially Ciudad de Juarez.

Calderon’s push to quell the violence has been hampered by local level corruption in a number of cities and towns along the border, with some police officers accepting bribes to look the other way, as well as high-level fraud.

In the last year, two of Calderon’s anti-drug chiefs have been arrested for accepting bribes from cartels.

According to MSNBC, should the marines be cleared to travel into Mexico, they will be given special safety training and be equipped with contact information if they encounter an emergency.

The security concerns that have led to the warning of U.S. marines appear to have spread to tourists as well, as towns across the country have witnessed sharp decreases in business, compounded by a weakened economy.

According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, tourist-friendly towns saw the number of visitors decline anywhere from 13 to 21 percent in 2008. In Tijuana, a town specifically mentioned in the warning to marines, recent violence has been the “final nail in the coffin,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Since 2005, when visitors numbered 4.5 million annually, Tijuana has witnessed a dramatic decline of 90 percent, leaving the once bustling town center nearly vacant.

While not mentioned specifically in the order to California marines, the new rules regarding Tijuana could be related to a spate of violence that saw 200 people killed in December alone, including 37 deaths in only three days.

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Response: Some exceptions to violence

Despite the growing reputation for violence and instability along the border, some towns have managed to reverse the trend, though not through traditional police and military efforts.

After reaching a peak of instability in 2006 that saw its new police chief gunned down just hours after taking office, the town of Nuevo Laredo saw their murder rate decrease from 180 to 55 in 2008.

However, the decline, which has resulted in a return of investment and tourism, came not from government efforts but only after the two cartels that had been violently fighting for control of the area called a truce.

Deciding that neither group was truly profiting in light of the violence and lives lost, the two established a tax system that saw the Sinaloa cartel pay the Gulf cartel for use of the area’s smuggling routes.

Unfortunately, the truce also sent the Sinaloa in search of expansion further up the Rio Grande River, resulting in the current explosion of violence in Ciudad de Juarez.

Opinion & Analysis: Mexico’s stability (or lack thereof)

Urging swift and comprehensive efforts to root out corruption within the Mexican government, Joel Kurtzman suggested that the stability of Mexico is in more danger than most realize, and could have a devastating effect on the United States should Calderon fail to get the cartels under control.

“Not only must Mexico fight its drug lords, it must do so while putting its institutional house in order,” Kurtzman wrote in the Wall Street Journal. ‘That means firing government employees who are either corrupt or not willing to do the job required to root out corruption.”

However, human rights advocates warn that whatever efforts are implemented to combat the cartel violence, they should be accompanied by safeguards to avoid the type of increase in mistreatment seen in Tijuana over the last year.

The town saw complaints to the Baja California Attorney General for Human Rights rise to 1,622—over 1,000 more than the year before, with most complaints aimed at state and federal authorities and police.

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