“¡Dame un peso!” frantically demands a homeless woman by aggressively knocking on car windows that stop in one of Tijuana’s busiest corners on Calle Segunda. Most drivers ignore her, shake their heads nervously, or move up forward, and some run the red light. Very few roll down the window and give her some money. As soon as she collects enough for her dose (no more than 50 pesos or $3), she scurries away to the alleys of Zona Norte.
Sometimes she comes back to the same corner on the same day and repeats her routine. Other times, I don’t see her for days, weeks, or even months. She likes to sleep on the sidewalk between the HSBC bank and an off-white house in front of my apartment building. She’s been there on and off for the five years I lived here.
In the next corner, a disheveled young man wearing rags, poorly juggles whatever he can find (plastic bottles, rocks, garbage) at a red light and then asks for spare change. It’s been a couple of years that I walk by him on the same corner and he has barely improve his juggling skills. Often times I just see him passed out on the sidewalk in the middle of the day.
Downtown Tijuana has several dozen of homeless meth addicts that act in a similar manner, the rest of the city has thousands more. Some nights I wake up to the screams of a man yelling profanity to himself. I’ve seen that man during the day swinging punches at nothing or no one, in particular, screaming as he misses his blows. His mouth foams as he yells non-sense. I also frequently notice the same old man with a great beard at intersections staring into nothingness as if he was viewing another dimension, occasionally he cackles with maniacal laughter.
They are all lost zombies addicted to crystal meth or a mix of synthetic drugs that themselves have no idea what they are injecting. Crico is what is known as. Cricosos are the zombie-like people who consume it.
Cops rarely bother them. If they arrest them, they take them around the back of the police truck for some hours and then let them loose. If they go to jail, it is only for a few hours or a couple of days and then they are back on the street.
It is only fitting that the Fear of the Walking Dead films their zombie apocalypse narrative in the streets of Baja.
A front-page article in the L.A. Times in collaboration with Zeta News details that local officials estimate 90 percent of homicides are linked to Tijuana’s drug trade, especially crystal meth. The article details that the drug war is different from a decade ago, when cartels battled for trafficking routes to the U.S. Nowadays is a civil war amongst low-level users and dealers killing each other for as low as $50, a few doses of meth, or to repay debt.
“Roberto told me two of his neighbors got killed this week,” my brother tells me during a family dinner where I mentioned the L.A. Times article. I asked who Roberto is: “he is the guy that works in my (screen) shop. He lives in the ghetto part of the city and a lot of his cousins and uncles are addicts. He is always worried that his family might be up next.”
This civil war caused 2018 to be Tijuana’s most violent year. July was the bloodiest month (251 murders). 2019 starts with the same beat. January, 219 homicides, 13 more for the first day of February. Most of the crimes go unsolved.
The heavy rains have not stopped the killings, but the new Mexican president will attempt to do so with plans resembling those he previously criticized. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, better know as AMLO, announced a “special plan” for Tijuana in which he proposes to send 1,800 federal police, army, and navy troops. AMLO wants to form a new group of law enforcers, yet to be ratified by the Senate, called Guardia Nacional. AMLO’s predecessors executed similar plans of sending military and police to Tijuana under different names.
Both Tijuana’s mayor, Juan Manuel “El Patas” Gastelum, and the city’s chief of police, Marco Sotomayor, welcome the president’s decision to send police and military help to the city. “We’ve been asking the Federal Government to look over to Tijuana for two years, to prioritize us and it fell in deaf ears,” said chief of police, Sotomayor. “With a larger (police) presence and working together, I believe we can diminish the number of homicides,” he added.