The End of the World
A mile east of the Tijuana International Airport is an area police call El Fin del Mundo, the End of the World, where drug-cartel assassins dump their victims. Both Mexican and American citizens have been found there. On December 18, 2004, according to Sergeant Tom Bulow of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, San Marcos resident Noé Chávez García was lured to Tijuana by two acquaintances who shot him several times and left him in this corpse-disposal zone. He survived his wounds to tell his story to the FBI and Mexican officials. His is a rare case — he lived.
"A total of more than 4,800 Mexicans were slain in 2006 and 2007," reports the Washington Post on March 16, 2008, "making the murder rate in each of those years twice that of 2005. Law enforcement officials and journalists, politicians and peasants have been gunned down in the wave of violence."
"What affects one side affects the other," Mayor Jerry Sanders tells USA Today on February 5, 2007. "We're literally one region with a fence down the middle."
"The murder rate in Tijuana is certainly not more than about 500 per year," states USBorderPatrol.com, which is not an official government website. Maintained by "supporters of the United States Border Patrol," apparently Minutemen-friendly watchdogs, the site has an in-your-face manner that a government site cannot. It asks, "Of course, when is a body count an actual body count?" and adds, "This is the number of people discovered on the street, in cars, in houses, or mysteriously plopped at Tijuana's city dump within a dozen miles or so of the city center. The 500 does not include the vast numbers of 'others' who find their way into shallow graves scattered across the 10,000 square miles of desert sands from Tijuana to the Sea of Cortez."
A Violent Timeline
1985 — Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo, a former police officer from the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, is the first Mexican drug czar to link up with Colombia's cocaine cartels. He is known as "El Padrino." "He and other druglords shared the Tijuana corridor," writes Time magazine. After the February 9 murder of Enrique Camarena, an undercover agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Reagan administration pressures Mexican authorities to take action.
April 8, 1989 — Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo is apprehended in Sinaloa. The New York Times reports, "Hours after he was arrested… army troops…rounded up the entire city police force — about 300 men — for questioning about possible links to Mr. Félix Gallardo, who American officials believe smuggled as much as two tons of cocaine into the United States each month." Many police officers defect from the force.
1990–1993 — Gallardo's organization breaks into two factions: the Tijuana cartel, led by his seven nephews and four nieces, the Arellano Félix family; and the Sinaloa cartel, run by former lieutenants Héctor Luís Palma Salazar and Joaquín Guzmán Loera. Both organized-crime syndicates engage in kidnap for ransom, assassinations, and drug transportation. "Into Tijuana roared the seven Arellano brothers," states a Time article, describing the brothers as "handsome Benjamín, their CEO; chubby Ramón, the enforcer; finance-whiz Eduardo, 44, the money launderer; and the eldest, Francisco, 51, the gregarious, cross-dressing pitchman who, say officials, cemented the clan's top-drawer political and police alliances, usually out of his Mazatlán discotheque, Frankie O's."
December 3, 1993 — Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix (aka "El Comandante Mon") is arrested by the Mexican Federal Judicial Police in Tijuana. The Mexico City newspaper Reforma notes he was once arrested in San Diego in 1980 for selling 250 grams of cocaine to an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent. He is incarcerated on drug charges, for illegal arms possession, and for complicity in the murder of Catholic Church cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo as the cardinal stepped out of his car at the Guadalajara airport.
March 23, 1994 — At a campaign rally in Tijuana, presidential candidate Luís Donaldo Colosio is killed by bullets to the head and abdomen. An article, "Mexico's Fiesta of Assassins," posted at meta-religion.com, states that "the first official explanation has it that the gunman, Mario Aburto Martínez, is a deranged loner craving notoriety," although "a preponderance [of] evidence does indeed point to a conspiracy: Colosio's autopsy would show that he had been shot twice and that bullets had entered opposite sides of his body. Videotapes of the shooting show that Colosio did not turn after the first shot, which suggests a second gunman."
Tijuana police arrest a second man on March 23, caught running from the rally with blood on his clothes. According to the Federal News Service, Tijuana's municipal police chief, José Federico Benítez López, has posted his men at the rally in defiance of "PRI operatives, who counseled him to let them handle security." The man Tijuana police arrest, Jorge Antonio Sánchez, tests positive for powder burns. However, federal authorities release him. "According to the weekly news magazine Proceso," the Federal News Service article continues, "Sánchez turned out to be an agent of the Center of Investigations and National Security (CISEN), Mexico's counterpart to the CIA."
April 28, 1994 — Police chief José Federico Benítez López is assassinated "in a meticulously planned ambush on a Tijuana street," according to the Federal News Service. Not satisfied with the official explanations of the Colosio assassination, and against political party objections, Benítez has been investigating Colosio's PRI security team, looking for other conspirators. "He discovered that the team leader, José Rodolfo Rivapalacio, was a former state police commander who had been accused of torture by the federal government's human rights commission… whose own daughter described him as 'a very violent man' who beat his wife and children, and who San Diego police suspect of hiring a hit man in a botched attempt to murder his estranged wife in the United States." Benítez's files on Rivapalacio disappear from police headquarters days before Benítez is gunned down. Anna Cearley of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that shortly before his death, Benítez apparently turns down a $100,000 bribe from drug traffickers.