Pubdate: Tue, 2 Dec 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Author: Richard Marosi, Reporting from Tijuana

Mexico Under Siege


Despite a Recent Military Offensive, at Least 38 People Have Been
Killed in the City's Drug Wars Since Saturday, Nine of Them

At least 38 people have been killed in Tijuana since Saturday, nine of
them decapitated, in escalating drug-related violence that appears to
have left in tatters a Mexican military offensive launched two weeks

The killing spree marked the end of the tenure of the city's top law
enforcement official. Secretary of Public Security Alberto Capella
Ibarra was removed from his post Monday evening after a year marked by
upheaval in the police ranks and increasing violence.

Dozens of soldiers and federal agents patrolling the eastern part of
the city have failed to stop the killings between rival drug cartels,
which continue brazen and brutal attacks across Tijuana.

Three of the nine decapitated bodies discovered in an empty lot Sunday
were those of police officers, according to the Baja California
attorney general's office. On Saturday night, two brothers, 4 and 13
years old, were gunned down along with their father outside a grocery
store, authorities said.

The nephew of Baja California's tourism secretary, Angel Escobedo, was
found fatally shot inside his car Saturday morning. In nearby Rosarito
Beach, police over the weekend discovered a dismembered body in a car
outside a taco stand, and another outside a small church.

Since the latest military-led operation began Nov. 18, at least 70
people have been killed in Tijuana, according to the attorney
general's office. More than 350 have died since rival drug gangs began
battling in late September.

At a news conference in Tijuana, Mexican authorities claimed progress,
saying local, state and federal law enforcement agencies were showing
increasing cooperation.

They cited as evidence the October arrest of Luis Ramirez Vasquez,
alleged to be a key member of the Arellano Felix cartel, as well as
large seizures of weapons and the destruction of five tons of marijuana.

"This situation is critical . . . but we have made arrests," said
Martin Rubio, the representative for the federal attorney general's
office in Tijuana.

Over the last several weeks, federal forces have fanned out across the
eastern part of the city to replace about 500 police officers who were
sent out for retraining. The move was an attempt to weaken crime boss
Teodoro Garcia Simental, who allegedly controls drug trafficking in
much of eastern Tijuana.

Critics say the situation has deteriorated. Crime rates have increased
in the areas patrolled by the federal forces because they are
unfamiliar with the city, the critics say.

And because the soldiers patrol in slow-moving vehicles, the forces
are unable to chase down cartel gunmen, who travel in convoys of
souped-up SUVs and late-model trucks, they say.

"The military is ineffective because they're accustomed to working in
rural areas, not urban settings," said one Mexican law enforcement
official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They're too slow."

City officials provided few details about Capella's ouster, aside from
saying the current police director, Julian Leyzaola, would take over.
Capella, an attorney and former victims' rights activist, repelled an
attack on his home by armed gunmen a few days before taking the job
last year, and his reputation for honesty generated hopes among residents.

But Capella was unable to gain control of a department long plagued by
corruption. Before his removal from office, he had recently submitted
his resignation because he wasn't receiving enough resources to
improve the force, according to law enforcement sources who spoke on
condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on
the issue.