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Interview

A Cartel Expert Tells Us Why Tijuana Burned This Weekend

Tijuana, Mexicali, Rosarito, and Ensenada experienced various scenes of chaos this weekend, with reports, including video and images, of burning cars and traffic blockades. The rampage followed a general threat, allegedly issued by the cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, urging people to stay indoors until 3 a.m. on Sunday. 

Residents in Tijuana listened to the cartel’s alleged warning, posted across Mexican news platforms, which led to eerie posts all over Instagram showing empty thoroughfares that are usually bustling. Yesterday, the website for the U.S. Embassy and Consulates issued an alert to employees in the area to shelter in place. However, the U.S. Department of State—Bureau of Consular Affairs’ travel advisories still only list Baja under the designation “reconsider traveling to,” their secondary advisory tier. These acts of violence follow similar burnings that took place in Guanajuato last week, also allegedly incited by the CNG as a show of force. 

Daniel Hernandez, L.A. TACO’s editor emeritus and a fronterizo raised between both Tijuana and San Diego, tweeted yesterday that wait times to cross back into the U.S. were “historically brief,” taking only five minutes. Average wait times around this time on any other weekend average more than three hours; on holiday weekends, you can usually double that.

To get an insider’s understanding of what exactly unfolded over the weekend, L.A. TACO interviewed the native Tijuanense-turned-urban survivalist, Ed Calderon, of Ed’s Manifesto. His expertise in what he calls “indigenous Méxican criminal culture” and bravery in always being among the first to fearlessly report cartel-related incidents has earned him hundreds of thousands of followers across the world.

He tells L.A. TACO that he was actually in Tijuana while the menacing events transpired in real-time. 

The alleged warning was displayed by Mexican news media.
The alleged warning was displayed by Mexican news media.

L.A. TACO: What exactly happened on Friday night? 

Calderon: It was a very public display of force. It went on not only in Baja but in several parts of the country. It was the New Generation cartel against the government. It is a message that the cartel can make shit stand still, and they can instill fear in a populous state, that they can shut down a city that the government thought was far away enough from this type of shit [in more violent states like Guanajuato and Sinaloa). 

Tijuana is full of Gringos. There was a big Xolos [soccer] game going on. There was a music festival, Baja Fest, also going on. TJ is a gateway for Mexican culture to the U.S. This blow is a major force economically to Baja, and it was very deliberate.  

Who did it exactly? 

People carrying out the attacks weren’t cartel members running around with AK-47s and burning cars. That’s not what happened. They were kids. They were paid several hundred dollars to steal and burn cars in the middle of the street. It was an organized effort. It wasn’t cartel members. They were kids being paid to disrupt. All burnings occurred in key points of traffic during the time of day when people are coming back from work or going out for the evening.

When you say kids, what exactly do you mean? The people that have been detained are mostly below the age of 19, including many minors. There were a few adults, but there were no professional sicarios or hitmen. They were just kids who made a few bucks by being destructive at the moment.

American mainstream media and Twitter really blew it up, using words like “warzone.” Do you think this reporting was warranted, or do you think it was sensationalized—for the actual events that occurred? There are no roaring gunfights going on in Tijuana at the moment. There were somewhere between two to three thousand Mexican soldiers who were added to Tijuana to patrol and control the situation. Yes, there were cars burning, but on the other hand, we had no murders that night. I think the American media exaggerated the actual events that happened. 

The warning issued by the New Generation cartel that they were going to kill people if they were out after 10 p.m. did work. Many people did not go out at night. It was a show of force to show disruption and mostly psychological. All this started because a high-ranking New Generation cartel member was detained. This is retaliation for that. 

Do you think that the warning allegedly shared by New Generation on Mexican media was actually issued by them? 

All of what is happening right now is related to that capture. There is a very vocal rumor here in Tijuana that the government was actually in talks with the cartel, and the people arrested were arrested during one of these meetings that were sanctioned by the Mexican national government. The rumor is that the Mexican government was sitting down with the New Generation cartel to hash out a meeting, and the government arrested one of the main guys. As a result of this, the cartel showed its force. 

You have to realize that the New Generation Cartel is not like other cartels. They are operating in a militaristic way, not unlike guerrilla warfare-type disruption. They are going to do what they do best, which is control and disrupt. They are a different animal. The cartel does not need to send 260 people with AKs to Tijuana to have a shootout with the government. They can just send money, burn a bunch of cars, and disrupt one of Mexico’s biggest economies for the weekend.

The MORENA [Mexican political] party believes that cartel members are people, and people are humans, too, and they deserve to get heard as well, so let’s bring them to the table to negotiate.

Was it cartel-on-cartel violence at all? 

No. There was absolutely no cartel-on-cartel violence. It was a very public show of force against the government and business leaders. 

What about those reported deaths in Juarez that occurred around the same time?   

I don’t think that was related. I think what happened in Chihuahua was a legit “clean up” by new [cartel] owners to take control of that region.

Is there any cartel that still controls Tijuana? 

The Arellano-Felix family is mostly gone now. There are only a few family members left from that dynasty. So what you see now are old remnants of that Arellano-Felix cartel aligning themselves with the New Generation cartel.

What do you think of that viral video issued by the mayor of Tijuana, where she was addressing the cartel directly?

She was basically addressing talking points directed to her by the federal government. Right now, Tijuana’s municipal presidency is populated by MORENA party, which is a leftist party, so is the state, and so is the federal government. She is saying what she was told to say. The federal government’s main messaging is appeasement; “abrazos, not balazos” (hugs, not bullets). The MORENA party believes that cartel members are people, and people are humans, too, and they deserve to get heard as well, so let’s bring them to the table to negotiate. Except, New Generation is public enemy number one. 

The alleged warning was displayed by Mexican news media.
The alleged warning was displayed by Mexican news media.

Is the U.S. Government benefitting at all from painting Mexico as a bad and dangerous place? 

I think, specifically, we’ve seen Californians immigrate to Tijuana because it is cheaper to live here. (Note: Calderon talked about this ‘New American Dream’ dynamic in our earlier L.A. TACO Interview) So they work in California but live in Tijuana. I think these events may cause some immigration back to the United States and people not come to Tijuana to spend their weekends for a bit. 

I don’t see the danger directed toward any tourists. I see the inconvenience from this. I think I’m down. I’d still go to eat. It’s still safer than a lot of other U.S. cities.

Do you think something like this can happen again? 

I think we are probably only seeing the beginning stages of these types of shows of force. My prediction is this: The New Generation cartel is evolving into an I.R.A.-like guerrilla force. They are not going to be a traditional cartel, so expect more events like this.

Should Americans, or any other tourists, feel scared or concerned about going to Tijuana, Rosarito, or Ensenada for some tacos and other good times? 

Personally, I would say “carry on.” I don’t see the danger directed toward any tourists. I see the inconvenience from this. I think I’m down. I’d still go to eat. It’s still safer than a lot of other U.S. cities. But with that said, I know that’s not how a lot of other people take it or engage with these types of events, especially if they take their families. I’d say be smart about it and measure your risks. Risks are everywhere, and you can’t control a lot of those risks. Again, this was not a roving band of sicarios with AKs. They were a bunch of kids ordered by cartel forces and paid a few hundred bucks to do so. 

Thanks for speaking with us. 

Photo via @edsmanifesto_/IG.
Photo via @edsmanifesto_/IG.
Photo via @edsmanifesto_/IG
Photo via @edsmanifesto_/IG
Photo via @edsmanifesto_/IG.
Photo via @edsmanifesto_/IG
Photo via @edsmanifesto_/IG.
Photo via @edsmanifesto_/IG
Photo via @edsmanifesto_/IG.
Photo via @edsmanifesto_/IG
Photo via @edsmanifesto_/IG

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