TIJUANA, Mexico — Tijuana once again topped the list as the city in Mexico with the highest number of homicides in 2019, surpassing other municipalities across the country by hundreds of killings.
The city closed out the year with approximately 2,185 murders — a reduction of about 321 homicides from the record-breaking 2018, which earned Tijuana the title of most violent city in the world by a Mexican nonprofit advocacy group.
It’s the second year in a row there have been more than 2,000 murders in this border city of about 1.8 million people where small-time dealers fight and die for the right to sell drugs to a growing local market. Tijuana has also long been the battleground for international drug-trafficking organizations fighting for control of routes to the U.S.
On Tuesday, the last day of the year, the body of a young man between 25 and 30 years old was found around noon on Miguel Hidalgo Avenue in the Colonia 3 de Octubre neighborhood. He had been shot in the head, according to local police. Later in the afternoon, a man at the General Hospital of Tijuana succumbed to gunshot wounds he sustained earlier in the week.
Those two homicides were the last reported in 2019, but sometimes the numbers trickle upwards after the year’s official end because more victims are either discovered or identified.
Mexico’s Secretary of Public Safety Alfonso Durazo said at a news conference in mid-December that a special strategy backed by the newly-formed National Guard and the SEDENA, Mexico’s Army, has managed to slightly reduce the number of homicides in Tijuana. He said the strategy includes patrolling high-conflict priority zones within the city and manning checkpoints.
The trend is continuing downward, though that might not yet be fully reflected by the high year-end totals, he said.
For example, the death toll was two for the last day of the year in 2019, compared to seven killed on the last day of the year in 2018.
“That figure that had reached 24 homicides a day has gone down. Usually, (now) it is at three, four and sometimes it shoots at five cases … but we continue with the commitment to reduce them because even one homicide seems too high of a figure,” said Durazo.
Carlos Flores, commissioner of the State Security and Investigation Guard for Baja California, said the high number of homicides in Tijuana accounts for almost 75% of the killings across the entire state, pushing Baja California up in rank as the state with the second highest number of murders in Mexico for 2019.
“Tijuana has been representing between 70 to 75% of the problem, so our main focus is here,” said Flores. “When we talk about a second place, that is Ensenada, but it is a very far second place,” said Flores. Officials reported slightly more than 250 murders in Ensenada in 2019.
The total number of homicides for Baja California was 2,841 as of Dec. 27, according to Flores.
Though prosecutors were encouraged by any small dent in the skyrocketing homicide trends, Flores acknowledged they were not yet satisfied with their results, which he said “were obviously still way too high.”
He said there has been a 57% increase in arrest warrants issued in homicide cases last year when compared to 2018.
Authorities are trying to fight criminal groups by charging all those associated with a homicide, rather than just the person who pulled the trigger. But, in a country where 1 in 10 homicide crimes are solved and the conviction rate is less than 6 percent, it’s an uphill battle.
“We are focusing on fighting impunity in this crime,” Flores said.
According to data from Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography, the country had 154,557 murders between 2010 and 2016, and in 95% of those cases, no one has been convicted. In Baja California, 6,443 people were murdered during the same period and just 252 people were sentenced for those crimes — less than 4 percent.
Investigators said the root cause of the bloodshed follows trends from 2018 with lower-level drug dealers battling over street corners to control the local methamphetamine market in Tijuana.
Law enforcement officials also say the rise of the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, or CJNG, which has gained power by forging alliances with remnants of the once-powerful Arellano Felix Cartel, has contributed to the violence. This summer, the organization unsuccessfully tried to seize complete control of Tijuana from the weakened Sinaloa Cartel after the downfall of its leader, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
A March 2018 policy report from the University of San Diego’s Justice in Mexico project described the CJNG as “an offshoot of the Sinaloa Cartel that has managed to re-brand itself, consolidate splintered criminal networks and emerge as one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.”
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