01-01-2008, 03:17 PM #1
Travel: Assumption of Risk to Baja Mexico
Violence in Rosarito Beach keeps O.C. folks home
The Orange County Register
The mayor of Rosarito Beach has asked for additional state and federal troops to deal with escalating violence there that culminated most recently in a paramilitary attack Tuesday on the town's police station, apparently an attempt to assassinate the police chief, a spokesman said today.
Tuesday's commando-style attack killed one of the police chief's bodyguards and injured four other people. It was only the latest in a string of violent commando assaults on police in Baja California, apparently by drug cartels.
I definitely have concerns about going down there” said P.J. Schramel, who lives in San Juan Capistrano and has been vacationing on the scenic peninsula since 1969. I have instituted my own personal boycott of Baja while all this is going down.
Rosarito Beach, about 20 miles from the U.S. border, and the surrounding areas have been vacation and retirement destinations for Southern Californians for many years. The escalating violence has left some officials concerned, though tourism officials said people should not be unduly alarmed.
We believe the police chief was the main target of the attack, said Ron Raposa, city spokesman.
Basically, we would say this attack is targeted to law enforcement because of increasing enforcement on organized crime. It is not going to have an effect on the average person; for the most part they will not even be aware of the situation.
According to published reports in Mexican newspapers and the San Diego Union-Tribune, military police surrounded the police station Thursday while repairs were under way on the exterior damaged in the attack.
A funeral was being planned for the slain bodyguard; another is recovering from his injuries.
The city's police chief, Public Security Director Jorge Eduardo Montero Alvarez, took office on Dec.as part of a new city administration. He intends to continue to vigorously pursue cracking down on the problems, Raposa said.
During the attack, the mayor of Rosarito Beach was attending a meeting in Mexico City about security problems on the peninsula.
After the attack, the City Council issued a press release blaming the attacks on forces opposed to a crime cleanup launched by the new city administration.
To the people of Rosarito, we want to express that these violent acts are the result of the job that is being done in Public Security areas, in coordination with the State and Federal Government, and which will not stop until we all live in a secure city, the release states.These actions will not stop measures undertaken by the government in Playas de Rosarito
The owner of Baja Safari, a tour and travel agency based in San Diego, said he canceled several tours this week in the wake of the attack, only one in a series he said was under way by drug cartels trying to tell the government who’s in charge.
Their way of doing this is to go into public buildings in the middle of the day, break out their large-caliber weapons and shoot them up, owner Mike Overcast said.
We are recommending to the general public and our membership to avoid all travel to the Tijuana and Ensenada region for the next 30 days. Overcast said.
George Perez, who works for the Irvine-based Corazon de Vida charity that provides food and shelter for 700 children in 14 orphanages in Baja, said he hopes the violence won't discourage Americans from visiting the children's homes they support and helping the youngsters, who receive no government funding and would otherwise be homeless.
We’re just concerned about the children, Perez said.
The U.S. Department of State has a travel advisory for Mexico that includes border towns and warns about increasing violence including daytime shootouts related to drug trafficking in cities such as Tijuana.
Criminals, armed with an impressive array of weapons, know there is little chance they will be caught and punished, according to the advisory.
In some cases, assailants have been wearing full or partial police uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles, indicating some elements of the police might be involved.
01-01-2008, 03:19 PM #2
US Warning issued for boaters going to Baja Mexico
Staying Safe: Advice for Baja Boaters
Thursday, December 13, 2007
By Capt. Patricia Miller Rains
Be Prepared - Baja California's beautiful, isolated coastal areas beckon many boaters from the U.S. By taking basic precautions and knowing who to call for assistance, visitors can continue to cruise with confidence.
Photo by: yachtphotography.com
Additional Tips for Safety in Mexico
Gringo Gazette North editor Nancy Conroy offered these additional tips to help visiting trailerboaters and cruisers alike stay safe:
- Develop a "sense" of the situation, so you can quickly identify an assault attempt.
- To develop this "sense," study real police, military and construction crews in Mexico and notice their uniforms, insignia, vehicles, weapons (if applicable), locations and methods. Commandos and carjackers attempt to impersonate police or military, and early detection of an assault attempt is critical.
- Know what a real military checkpoint or construction roadblock looks like so you can "sense" a fake one.
- Never stop or pull over for any vehicle or individual that does not display police markings. Sirens, flashing lights and bullhorns are NOT indicators that the vehicle is a police cruiser. If an unmarked vehicle signals for you to pull over, DO NOT STOP. Quickly look around to see if there is another vehicle coming from another direction, and speed away.
- Be alert near overpasses, where someone could throw a rock at your windshield.
- Purchase a cell phone that works in Mexico, and keep a list of emergency numbers in your car, tow vehicle and boat.
- Capt. Pat Rains
Following recent incidents, Baja Tourism pledges to protect visitors.
BAJA CALIFORNIA, Mexico - No recreational boaters have been involved in any of the seven violent attacks targeting land-based tourists in northern Baja California since August. But that doesn't mean nautical tourists are immune.
During one dramatic attack Nov. 19, following the Baja 1000 offroad race, a group of armed men in black clothing used paramilitary tactics and fake police vehicles with flashing light bars to carjack a pickup towing a Baja 1000 race trailer at night, on the Tijuana-Ensenada toll road. The U.S. citizens were robbed and threatened with guns, but were not harmed.
A few days earlier, a gang of about 60 similar "men in black" reportedly stormed the Ensenada morgue and snatched the body of at least one reported drug cartel member who had died in a helicopter crash during the Baja 1000 race. Two Ensenada police officers died in the ensuing shootout.
Security in Baja California and on the Sea of Cortez quickly became the hottest topic on Mexico travel Web sites - and despite the fact that nearly all the incidents involving U.S. citizens occurred late at night along one 200-mile stretch of road, the normal flow of regional tourism dried to a trickle.
The attacks have been blamed on everything from a need for extra Christmas-
shopping money to muscle-flexing by drug cartels after recent elections.
"Whatever the reason," said Carol Kramer of Discover Baja Travel Club in San Diego, "our business is down to zero, and this would ordinarily be our busiest time of year. Nobody's been driving down Baja since this started."
Baja's multifaceted tourism industry responded by beefing up security on land. During an emergency meeting Dec. 1, Baja California's new Secretary of Tourism Oscar Escobeda Carignan pledged to do "whatever it takes" to keep tourists safe. More police units and Green Angels are now patrolling the roads of northern Baja California, and emergency call boxes along the 60-mile toll road from Tijuana to Ensenada are now manned 24/7.
"If boaters have a problem," said Fito Espinosa, dockmaster of Marina Coral in Ensenada, "they can call these two numbers from any cell phone in Mexican coastal waters or from land, and they get immediate assistance."
Espinosa recommended calling either 01-52 (800) 440-3690 for the special federal unit on crime prevention along the highways, or 01-52 (800) 990-3900 for help with mechanical or medical emergencies.
Nancy Conroy, editor of the Gringo Gazette North, the English-language newspaper that broke stories about the tourist attacks, says visitors can avoid most dangerous situations simply by not driving in Mexico at night - and not driving to Mexico in a Lincoln Navigator, Cadillac Escalade, Hummer, late-model SUV or other expensive vehicle, as these have been carjacking targets.
While this advice may benefit the estimated 5,000 to 6,000 annual U.S. visitors who trailer their boats up and down Baja's rugged roads, between 6,000 and 8,000 currently explore Mexico's Pacific coastline aboard larger private yachts, during the popular November-to-June cruising season.
At the start of cruising season, two organized California groups - the Baja Ha Ha and the FUBAR Odyssey - brought about 900 "yatistas" (Mexico cruisers) and their yachts into Mexican waters in early November. They experienced no security problems on the water or along the Baja California coast to Cabo San Lucas and La Paz. But both groups were sponsored by Baja tourism agencies, which had amplified the normal contingent of Mexican marines in the remote port of Turtle Bay.
Suggested precautions for yatistas include: "buddy boating" with other cruisers who plan to cover the same route; setting the perimeter alarm on the boat's radar before anchoring overnight in a remote cove; paying attention to every boat approaching on radar and using binoculars to identify them before they get close; and using VHF radio Channel 16 to ask suspicious approaching vessels to identify themselves.
If a strange vessel comes too close, don't look vulnerable. Make a show of strength by having the boat's burliest male passengers visible (but not necessarily all out on deck).
Some experts recommend showing a flare pistol, but don't aim it at the approaching vessel. Make sure the other vessel can see someone aboard talking on a radio microphone, a cellular phone or a satellite phone. If the boat continues to approach, don't hesitate to get on the radio and/or telephone and call for assistance from law enforcement and from other vessels in the area.
Who to Call for Help
"Once boaters cross the U.S. border, if they have an emergency, they need to contact the Mexican navy on VHF 16," advised U.S. Coast Guard PA1 Anastasia Devlin. The Mexican navy and marine patrol vessels have responded very quickly to boating emergencies along the Baja California coast, she said.
If you are threatened or have an emergency, your boat's VHF and SSB radios are the fastest ways to broadcast a may day call for help.
On VHF (short-distance) radio, if you're within about 20 nautical miles of a port, hail the nearest "Capitan de Puerto" to ask for immediate help. Explain your emergency in Spanish and give your location - first in distance and direction from two known points on land, then by GPS latitude and longitude, because a string of numbers may be difficult to copy and translate.
Be aware that port captains along Pacific Baja California are located at Ensenada, Cedros Island, Magdalena Bay and Cabo San Lucas. Unfortunately, VHF radio is limited to about 20 nautical miles range, and not all Capitania radio operators speak English.
On SSB (long-range) radio, the Mexican navy and all port captain's offices regularly monitor frequency 8242.8 kHz in the 8-meter band. Known as Radio Costera, this Spanish-speaking station broadcasts weather for Mexican waters.
After you've tried to notify the port captain or Mexican navy, call the U.S. Coast Guard's distress and initial contact frequencies, which are 8291 kHz (ITU channel 816) in the 8-meter band and 12290 kHz (ITU channel 1205) in the 12-meter band. These frequencies are monitored 24 hours a day at Coast Guard Station NMC in Point Reyes, Calif. - the same station that broadcasts weather for Mexican waters. Be sure to report that U.S. citizens are on board.
Your boat's emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) should be the newer digital 406 mHz model, which gives a wealth of information to the search and rescue units of both the U.S. Coast Guard and the Mexican navy.
Mexican navy or marine cutters and patrol boats are readily available along Pacific Baja California, garrisoned at Los Coronados islands, Rosarito Beach, Ensenada, El Rosario, Guerrero Negro, Cedros Island, Turtle Bay, Abreojos, Santa Maria Bay, Magdalena Bay (Man of War Cove, Puerto San Carlos and Puerto Cortez) and Cabo San Lucas.
"There are many stories about the Mexican navy going above and beyond for a boater in need," said Capt. Mike Harris, who lives in La Paz. "Their standing orders are to assist all boaters in any way they can."
But in light of the fake police attacks and paramilitary gangs, can gringos and yatistas trust the Mexican navy to come to their aid in an emergency? Yes, Conroy said.
"There are no indications that the navy 'looks the other way,' takes payoffs or participates in any way with the drug trade," Conroy said. "Of all the branches of the Mexican military, the navy is believed to be the least likely to commit acts of corruption."
Mexico's President Calderon has promised to make improving the security of tourists a high priority - and, meanwhile, thousands of U.S. yatistas are currently having a great time cruising in Mexico, without incident.
01-01-2008, 03:20 PM #3
Narco-Terrorism Lurks South of the Border
Just across the Texas border, the Sinaola and Gulf drug cartels are waging a bloody war. In Monterrey, a city of 3.5 million people, a city of wealth and a previously quiet city with a major university, over 100 murders occurred in 2007, with 31 law enforcement officers as victims.
Not one 2007 cartel-related killing in the state of Nuevo León, where Monterrey is the capital, was solved as of the last week of December.
Monterrey lies about 2 hours from Nuevo Laredo (136 miles), just across the U.S.-Mexico border from Laredo Texas. In Laredo, Interstate 35 begins its run up the center of the United States that goes to Duluth Minnesota.
The narco-violence is not restricted to Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey or Acapulco. Recent reports detail the spread of the drug wars to Baja California, where on December 18th, at 1PM, ten cars approached the building where police chief of Playas de Rosarito, Jorge Eduardo Montero Alvarez were getting out of their cars, and opened fire. High caliber weapons were used on both sides of the battle.
Just this past Friday, on December 29th, a police convoy in the central state of Zacatecas was attacked by heavily armed commandos, killing seven police officers and allowing two alleged kidnappers to escape. This attack was seemingly in retaliation for the capture of the kidnap suspects just hours earlier.
The killings capped a bloody year in Mexico’s brutal drug gang war, which claimed more than 2,200 lives in 2007, including scores of law enforcers.
It is suspected that the Zetas, deserters from the U.S.-trained, Mexican special operations forces, are responsible for the attacks. Known to some as “Los Zetas,” they are the armed militia supporting the Gulf Cartel in this drug war.
Considering the porosity of the U.S.-Mexican border, and despite President Calderone’s efforts to quell the violence using Mexican federal troops, this continuing drug violence has to be considered seriously.
01-01-2008, 03:21 PM #4
Mexico Security Memo: Dec. 17, 2007
December 17, 2007 | 1953 GMT
Increased Military Presence in Sinaloa
The military will increase its presence in urban areas of Sinaloa state to help the state government combat violence associated with the drug trade, Mexican Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan Galvan said Dec. 16. No cities were specified, though this most likely means highway checkpoints will be set up around the state capital, Culiacan, and the port cities of Mazatlan and Los Mochis. Additional military units reportedly will patrol rural areas to eradicate marijuana crops. The secretary’s announcement came after he met with the governor of Sinaloa, who reportedly has sought federal assistance for several months. The requests are unsurprising given Sinaloa’s reputation as the deadliest place in Mexico.
The announcement could indicate the Mexican government is increasing the pressure on the Sinaloa drug cartel, which controls much of Sinaloa state. Despite the high number of killings and the likelihood that top-ranking cartel members are operating there, Sinaloa state has been a low priority for the federal government given the lack of commercial interests there. This dearth of federal attention has made Sinaloa state something of a haven for drug traffickers until now. In operations elsewhere, the Mexican military has demonstrated an ability to decrease the amount of violence in a specific place, so the chances of success over the long term are reasonable. But the state’s drug traffickers are not likely to go quietly, and kidnappings or killings of soldiers might result as an “example” of the consequences of fighting the cartels.
Targeted Officer Killings Spreading to the U.S.
A U.S. Border Patrol Agent in Tucson, Arizona, was apparently the victim of a failed assassination attempt Dec. 9. Four men broke into the agent’s house early in the morning and at least one of the suspects fired on the agent, who was able to recover his own weapon and shoot one of the assailants. The intruders fled, with one subsequently found shot to death. Police later apprehended a second suspect. There is reason to believe the incident was not a random home invasion, but rather that the agent was targeted by some group linked to Mexican organized crime.
If this was indeed an assassination attempt, it would mark a spread of tactics associated with Mexican cartels into the United States. Mexico’s drug cartels are notorious for violent killings of police officers and army personnel throughout Mexico in attacks carried out by highly trained and heavily armed former military members employed by the cartels. In this case, however, the operation probably was carried out by a local gang affiliated with a Mexican group. The assailants, who were identified as being around 19 and 20 years of age, apparently were inexperienced given that they fled. Other forms of criminal activity similarly have been exported across the border from Mexico, including extortion, kidnappings and threats to journalists.
The Arrest of Tony La Palma
The Mexican military in Tampico, Tamaulipas state, arrested Marco Antonio Ramirez del Rio, aka “Tony La Palma,” on Dec. 12. A prominent leader in the Gulf Cartel, La Palma is believed to be the main director of the cartel’s operations in San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Queretaro, Hidalgo and Mexico states. La Palma generally has been considered the heir to Luis Reyes Enriquez — known as “El Rex” or “Z12” — one of the leaders of Los Zetas, the violent enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel — who was arrested in June.
Two of La Palma’s lieutenants were arrested at the same time, while another killed himself to avoid capture. Suicide to avoid arrest is unusual in the world of Mexican organized crime; most cartel members are willing and able to run their operations effectively from prison, and so usually are less reluctant to be taken into custody.
It is unclear exactly how the arrest will affect Gulf’s operations, though it might be some time before the cartel finds a suitable replacement. La Palma’s arrest is yet another example of the government’s success against the Gulf cartel, in notable contrast to the relative inaction against the Sinaloa cartel.
A family of five was found shot to death on a ranch in Jimenez, Chihuahua state. Authorities said they appeared to have been shot by at least two people who are thought to have used assault rifles.
Two men presumed involved with the drug trade were shot to death around midnight by unidentified assailants in a vehicle in Morelia, Michoacan state.
The corpse of an unidentified man was found in the back of a vehicle with California plates in Tijuana, Baja California state. The man had been shot behind his right ear.
The dead body of a man was found with three gunshot wounds in the main canal in Culiacan, Sinaloa state.
A businessman was kidnapped in Tijuana, Baja California state, after he was chased down in his car for about 2 miles by armed assailants in three vehicles.
Three violent deaths were reported in the state of Michoacan. The first two victims were found riddled with bullets in Morelia after a drive-by shooting, while a taxi driver in Mugica was shot to death by at least three assailants after being followed by them.
Two U.S. citizens were arrested in Mexicali, Baja California state, in connection with a September quadruple homicide in the United States. The two men are believed to be members of the Tortilla Flat gang of Compton, California. The two have been engaged in drug-dealing in Mexico since fleeing the United States.
The family of a Michoacan state newspaper reporter who was killed Dec. 9 reported two other family members missing, the victim’s brother and his cousin.
The dead body of a man wrapped in a blanket with a plastic bag on his head was discovered near a federal police facility in Zacatecas state. According to reports, the man had signs of torture on his body and had been shot once in the head.
A man was shot to death by two gunmen in Cancun, Quintana Roo state. The victim was to testify Dec. 13 in a case involving the death of his brother, thought to be the head of a Mexican-Cuban drug smuggling operation.
Ruben Beltran Leon, aka “El Charrito,” was arrested in Sinaloa state by federal police, who also confiscated a large cache of weapons. Leon had been in police custody when an armed gang rescued him from a hospital operating room in September.
The body of a victim was found who had been tortured, shot and dumped into a canal in Tapachula, Chiapas state.
Three people including a member of the state police were injured in an ambush near Santa Rosa, Guerrero state.
A group of men armed with assault rifles attacked a group of state police officers in Chiapas state. The police were able to repel the attack and detain one of the attackers.
Gunmen traveling in two vehicles shot a man to death as he drove in the Monterrey suburb of Guadalupe, in Nuevo Leon state. He was shot approximately 30 times.
Three agents of the Federal Preventive Police were jailed in connection with the death of a police officer Dec. 11 in Chiapas state.
One person died and dozens were injured in a prison riot instigated by a power struggle among members of the Aztecas gang. Prison guards dispersed the rioters with tear gas.
01-06-2008, 04:43 PM #5
Unfortunately, the legal, and good folks in Baja are paying the price of this violence now, and probably for a long, long time.
By ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press Writer Sat Jan 5, 1:22 PM ET
PLAYAS DE ROSARITO, Mexico - Assaults on American tourists have brought hard times to hotels and restaurants that dot Mexican beaches just south of the border from San Diego.
Surfers and kayakers are frightened to hit the waters of the northern stretch of Mexico's Baja California peninsula, long popular as a weekend destination for U.S. tourists. Weddings have been canceled. Lobster joints a few steps from the Pacific were almost empty on the usually busy New Year's weekend.
Americans have long tolerated shakedowns by police who boost salaries by pulling over motorists for alleged traffic violations, and tourists know parts of Baja are a hotbed of drug-related violence. But a handful of attacks since summer by masked, armed bandits — some of whom used flashing lights to appear like police — marks a new extreme that has spooked even longtime visitors.
Lori Hoffman, a San Diego-area emergency room nurse, said she was sexually assaulted Oct. 23 by two masked men in front of her boyfriend, San Diego Surfing Academy owner Pat Weber, who was forced to kneel at gunpoint for 45 minutes. They were at a campground with about 30 tents, some 200 miles south of the border.
The men shot out windows of the couple's trailer and forced their way inside, ransacked the cupboards and left with about $7,000 worth of gear, including computers, video equipment and a guitar.
Weber, who has taught dozens of students in Mexico over the last 10 years, plans to surf in Costa Rica or New Zealand. "No more Mexico," said Hoffman, who reported the attack to Mexican police. No arrests have been made.
The Baja California peninsula is known worldwide for clean and sparsely populated beaches, lobster and margaritas and blue waters visited by whales and dolphins. Surfers love the waves; fishermen catch tuna, yellowtail and marlin. Food and hotels are cheap.
News of harrowing assaults on American tourists has begun to overshadow that appeal in the northern part of the peninsula, home to drug gangs and the seedy border city of Tijuana. The comparatively isolated southern tip, with its tony Los Cabos resort, remains safer and is still popular with Hollywood celebrities, anglers and other foreign tourists.
Local media and surfing Web sites that trumpeted Baja in the past have reported several frightening crimes that U.S. and Mexican officials consider credible. Longtime visitors are particularly wary of a toll road near the border that runs through Playas de Rosarito — Rosarito Beach.
In late November, as they returned from the Baja 1000 off-road race, a San Diego-area family was pulled over on the toll road by a car with flashing lights. Heavily armed men held the family hostage for two hours. They eventually released them but stole the family's truck.
Before dawn on Aug. 31, three surfers were carjacked on the same stretch of highway. Gunmen pulled them over in a car with flashing lights, forced them out of their vehicles and ordered one to kneel. They took the trucks and left the surfers.
Aqua Adventures of San Diego scrapped its annual three-day kayak trip to scout for whales in January, ending a run of about 10 years. Customers had already been complaining about longer waits to return to the U.S.; crime gave them another reason to stay away.
"People are just saying, 'No way.' They don't want to deal with the risk," said owner Jen Kleck, who has sponsored trips to Baja about five times a year but hasn't been since July.
Charles Smith, spokesman for the U.S. consulate in Tijuana, said the U.S. government has not found a widespread increase in attacks against Americans, but he acknowledged many crimes go unreported. The State Department has long warned motorists on Mexico's border to watch for people following them, though no new warnings have been issued.
Mexican officials acknowledge crime has threatened a lifeblood of Baja's economy. In Playas de Rosarito, a city of 130,000, police were forced to surrender their weapons last month for testing to determine links to any crimes. Heavily armed men have patrolled City Hall since a failed assassination attempt on the new police chief left one officer dead. On Thursday the bullet-riddled bodies of a Tijuana police official and another man were found dumped near the beach.
"We cannot minimize what's happening to public safety," said Oscar Escobedo Carignan, Baja's new secretary of tourism. "We're going to impose order ... We're indignant about what's happening."
Tourist visits to Baja totaled about 18 million in 2007, down from 21 million the previous year, Escobedo said. Hotel occupancy dropped about 5 percentage points to 53 percent.
Hugo Torres, owner of the storied Rosarito Beach Hotel and the city's new mayor, estimates the number of visitors to Rosarito Beach since summer is down 30 percent.
In the city's Puerto Nuevo tourist enclave, which offers $20 lobster dinners and $1 margaritas, restaurant managers said sales were down as much as 80 percent from last year. One Saturday afternoon in October, masked bandits wielding pistols walked the streets and kidnapped two men — an American and a Spanish citizen — who were later released unharmed. Two people who were with them were shot and wounded.
Omar Armendariz, who manages a Puerto Nuevo lobster restaurant, is counting on the new state and city governments to make tourists feel safer. He has never seen fewer visitors in his nine years on the job.
"It's dead," he said.
01-06-2008, 05:24 PM #6
- Join Date
- Nov 2007
- Odessa, TX
My philosophy on Mexico, is don't take anything you are not finacially able to part with, and never ever stray far from the tourist traps.
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