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Bloody Tijuana: a week in the life of Mexico's murderous border city

Bloody Tijuana: a week in the life of Mexico's murderous border cityIn a country with nearly 100 murders a day President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed to tackle the social roots of crime but change is slow to come * Mexico in the drug war: ‘A cemetery of bodies with no story, and stories with no body’ * This article contains images some readers may find distressingPolice and emergency workers descend on a petrol station in Tijuana last month after a drive-by shooting left four men injured, one critically. Photograph: Emilio Espejel/The GuardianBrianna Rojas seemed her usual breezy self as she set off for work.“I’ll see you later!” friends remember the 20-year-old calling out as she headed to her insurance company’s bright yellow offices on Tijuana’s Calle del Carmen.But by lunchtime Rojas was dead – shot in the head at close range by an unknown assassin whose attack pushed the number of homicides here to almost 1,800 so far this year, and nearly 26,000 nationwide.series linkerWhen first responders arrived they encountered a fearful scene: the victim slumped backwards in a black swivel chair, her arms flopping downwards towards a pool of blood as if she had been caught completely by surprise.“She was a decent girl, a good-looking girl – she was always smiling,” said her longtime boyfriend’s father as shellshocked relatives gathered outside and crime scene officers prepared to transport Rojas’s body to the city’s overburdened morgue.“It’s devastating what is happening here,” said the man, who asked not to be named. “It is out of control.”A white forensic science van waits to remove the body of Brianna Rojas from her Tijuana workplace after she was murdered there on 8 October 2019. Photograph: Emilio Espejel/The Guardian Pacifying MexicoWhen Andrés Manuel López Obrador became Mexico’s president last December he vowed to “pacify” one of Latin America’s most violent nations by waging war on the social roots of crime.But nearly a year later there is scant sign of progress, as the country reels from a series of humiliating high-profile attacks and murder statistics surge to levels not seen even during the darkest days of Felipe Calderón’s 2006-2012 “war on drugs”.Calderón sends in the armyMexico’s “war on drugs” began in late 2006 when the president at the time, Felipe Calderón, ordered thousands of troops onto the streets in response to an explosion of horrific violence in his native state of Michoacán.Calderón hoped to smash the drug cartels with his heavily militarized onslaught but the approach was counter-productive and exacted a catastrophic human toll. As Mexico’s military went on the offensive, the body count sky-rocketed to new heights and tens of thousands were forced from their homes, disappeared or killed.Kingpin strategySimultaneously Calderón also began pursuing the so-called “kingpin strategy” by which authorities sought to decapitate the cartels by targeting their leaders.That policy resulted in some high-profile scalps – notably Arturo Beltrán Leyva who was gunned down by Mexican marines in 2009 – but also did little to bring peace. In fact, many believe such tactics served only to pulverize the world of organized crime, creating even more violence as new, less predictable factions squabbled for their piece of the pie.Under Calderón’s successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, the government’s rhetoric on crime softened as Mexico sought to shed its reputation as the headquarters of some the world’s most murderous mafia groups.But Calderón’s policies largely survived, with authorities targeting prominent cartel leaders such as Sinaloa’s Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.When “El Chapo” was arrested in early 2016, Mexico’s president bragged: “Mission accomplished”. But the violence went on. By the time Peña Nieto left office in 2018, Mexico had suffered another record year of murders, with nearly 36,000 people slain."Hugs not bullets"The leftwing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador took power in December, promising a dramatic change in tactics. López Obrador, or Amlo as most call him, vowed to attack the social roots of crime, offering vocational training to more than 2.3 million disadvantaged young people at risk of being ensnared by the cartels. “It will be virtually impossible to achieve peace without justice and [social] welfare,” Amlo said, promising to slash the murder rate from an average of 89 killings per day with his “hugs not bullets” doctrine.Amlo also pledged to chair daily 6am security meetings and create a 60,000 strong "National Guard". But those measures have yet to pay off, with the new security force used mostly to hunt Central American migrants.Mexico now suffers an average of about 96 murders per day, with nearly 29,000 people killed since Amlo took office.Last month Mexico’s security chief, Alfonso Durazo, claimed the crisis was reaching “inflection point” – only for his upbeat message to be imploded by a week of mayhem which saw cartel gunmen slay 13 police officers and then paralyze a major city in order to free the son of Mexico’s most famous drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.In the first nine months of this year, Mexico suffered an average of close to 100 murders a day.Tijuana has seen a methamphetamine-fuelled murder epidemic which produced a record 2,518 murders in 2018 and looks set to cause even more this year.“The state has lost control,” said Victor Clark, a security expert and activist based in the city.A man carrying a Mexican flag walks through downtown Tijuana to celebrate the country’s recent independence day. Photograph: Emilio Espejel/The Guardian ‘Killings that matter to no one’To explore the violence blighting Latin America’s number two economy the Guardian spent seven days reporting from Tijuana – one of the world’s most deadly cities – between 4 and 11 October.The Guardian’s week had an unusually peacefully start, with not a single murder recorded in the first 24 hours, according to the newly elected mayor, Arturo González Cruz.González, a López Obrador ally, claimed that had not happened in several years and voiced frustration the media had ignored the achievement.But by day two the slaughter had resumed. At 6am a man’s body was found dumped in the eastern neighbourhood of Emperadores. At 11.35am a decomposing pair of legs were spotted on wasteland in the city’s south. And at 2.45pm an unidentified killer barged into a home on Calle Tamaulipas, pulled out a gun and brought an unidentified male’s life to an end..“Municipal police officers mounted an operation to track down the person thought responsible for the attack,” one local tabloid reported – though in a country where more than 90% of crimes go unpunished there was no indication they had succeeded.Outside Tijuana’s general hospital a bullet-riddled people-carrier bore witness to the latest gunfight.What had happened? “An accident,” a police investigator snapped, shooing reporters away as forensic science officers marked each of the entry holes with white cards marked A-K.The next evening 30-year-old Jesús Bernal staggered into an alley off Calle Belice, blood oozing from at least four separate gunshot wounds in his legs and wrists.Red Cross first responders treat 30-year-old Jesús Bernal after he was found with at least four separate gunshot wounds in his legs and wrists. Photograph: Emilio Espejel/The GuardianAs ambulance technicians strapped the blood-spattered man to a stretcher with silver duct tape, a police officer claimed he was a convicted burglar probably shot while trying to rob a local home.“It’s a punishment … a message,” speculated one of the first responders.But like so much of the bloodletting, the case would go unreported by newspapers, unnoticed by society and unsolved by the police.“These are killings that matter to no one,” Clark said.Tijuana’s new mayor, Arturo González Cruz, said the city’s murder crisis would only be solved by rehabilitating the city’s ‘social fabric’. Photograph: Emilio Espejel/The Guardian ‘An era of great psychological terror’It has been just over a decade since a savage turf war for control of drug smuggling routes into the United States made Tijuana one of the most ill-famed cities on Earth.There was an explosion of carnage in 2008 as El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel tried to muscle in on what had long been the domain of the locally based Tijuana mob.Corpses were hung from bridges and shootouts raged, even in the city’s most glitzy corners. In one of the most disturbing episodes 12 corpses were abandoned with their tongues hacked out and placed nearby in a black plastic bag.“You couldn’t go out because you were scared of what might happen,” recalled Dora Elena Cortés, a local journalist whose Agencia Fronteriza de Noticias chronicled the butchery. “It was an era of great psychological terror.”Negative headlines sparked government action and by 2012 the number of annual murders had plunged. But Tijuana’s murder rate is now soaring once again with the slaughter so routine that one local newspaper features a muertómetro (deathometer) to help readers keep track.Authorities and academics blame the new wave of violence on a largely hidden dispute for Tijuana’s drug trade – particularly that of crystal meth – although Brianna Rojas’s murder did not seem to fit that mould.“These deaths aren’t about the fight for control of the routes into the US. They’re fighting over the local market,” said Clark.That appeared to be what was at stake on the night of 8 October when dozens of heavily armed police descended on a petrol station after a drive-by shooting left four men injured, one critically.Illuminated in the the red and blue lights of emergency vehicles, a half-naked man lay in a pool of blood, shot through the thigh and fighting for his life.Police officers interrogate one of four men injured in a drive-by shooting at a Tijuana petrol station on 8 October. Photograph: Emilio Espejel/The GuardianAfter a 10-minute race to the hospital, he was carried in past police with white skulls stamped on to their black uniforms and rifles slung from their shoulders. Investigators barked questions at the man’s three accomplices as they lay bleeding in the corridor.Mayor González admitted it was “unreal” to expect an immediate end to Tijuana’s murder crisis but hoped the body count could be reduced and insisted the city’s “economic dynamism” remained unaffected.During an interview at Tijuana’s brutalist city hall he reiterated the president’s doctrine that crime would only be stopped by rehabilitating Tijuana’s “social fabric” and eradicating corruption.“Corruption is the mother of all evils, because it affects everything,” González said.Clark, the expert who has spent decades tracking Tijuana’s security situation, was pessimistic such tactics alone would work. “So far nothing has changed – absolutely nothing,” he said of López Obrador’s first year in power.“I don’t doubt he has good intentions. But what they are doing isn’t enough.”For residents of Boulevard Fundadores, where Tijuana’s public mortuary is located, change cannot come fast enough.An addict approaches a hillside shooting gallery in Tijuana to buy drugs just minutes after a man was shot in the head inside. Photograph: Emilio Espejel/The GuardianOn the afternoon of 9 October, as Brianna Rojas’s mother came to recover her daughter’s corpse, the cloying stench of decomposing bodies hung in the air. “It’s horrible. Every single day we breathe death,” fumed one local woman who has been campaigning to get the morgue moved.The woman reached for her smartphone to show a series of macabre images depicting conditions inside. One showed perhaps two dozen naked corpses sprawled on the floor, a putrid tangle of bloodied limbs. “At night it’s like there are 60 dead dogs lying out here,” the woman complained of the reek. “We can’t open our windows.”Forty-eight hours later – as the week reached a bloody peak – emergency workers from Mexico’s Red Cross raced westwards to collect their latest cargo from a tumbledown community called Francisco Villa.A man was hauled semi-conscious from a hillside shooting gallery and hoisted into the ambulance, his arms bound with bandages to prevent him lashing out. “He got shot in the skull,” one of the team said.Would he survive? “50-50,” they replied.Additional reporting by Jordi Lebrija



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US Congress returns after a bloody August sharpens focus on guns

US Congress returns after a bloody August sharpens focus on gunsThe US Congress convenes Monday for the first time since recent mass shootings left Americans distraught over surging violence, but the Senate’s Republican leader stressed he would not consider gun legislation without President Donald Trump’s backing. Lawmakers scheduled a forum Tuesday to demand Senate action, and some Democratic presidential candidates have called for a ban on military-style assault weapons like those used in recent massacres.



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Nuon Chea, architect of bloody Khmer Rouge policy, dead at 93 in Cambodia

Nuon Chea, architect of bloody Khmer Rouge policy, dead at 93 in CambodiaAn estimated 1.2 to 2.8 million Cambodians died from starvation, disease and execution during the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 to 1979. Chea said he had "no regrets" over the deaths.



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Chicago suffers bloody weekend as gun violence leaves seven dead

Chicago suffers bloody weekend as gun violence leaves seven deadMass shootings command widespread media coverage, but lost in the national conversations about guns are everyday killings A memorial where 26-year-old Chantell Grant and 35-year-old Andrea Stoudemire were shot and killed on 28 July in the South Side of Chicago. Photograph: Kamil Krzaczyński/AFP/Getty ImagesAs deadly mass shootings devastated communities in Texas and Ohio and reignited calls for lawmakers to act on gun reform, Chicago experienced yet another bloody weekend – suffering the kind of violence that has come to be treated by the nation as almost routine in this city.Seven people were killed and 46 wounded here, including in two multiple shootings on the west side. The first of the shootings, in the Douglas Park neighborhood early on Sunday, left seven wounded; the second, in Lawndale hours later, wounded another seven and killed one.“As a city, we have to stand up and do a hell of a lot more than we’ve done in a very long time,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in an address on the violence over the weekend.“There are no adequate words at this point,” she said of the violence.Often lost in national conversations about guns are shootings occurring every day in places like Chicago, which has continued to see high levels of violence, mostly affecting its predominantly black and brown south and west sides.“In Chicago, it’s just another weekend,” Father Michael Pfleger, a south side pastor and anti-violence activist, said of the national response to the city’s deadly violence. “It gets forgotten and pushed to the side.”Where mass shootings tend to command widespread media coverage, Pfleger said, violence in Chicago tends not to make national headlines. In part, he believes it’s become an “old story” after years of the city suffering from a devastatingly high murder rate. But it also has to do with the fact that those being affected by the city’s scourge of violence are mostly black and brown Chicagoans, he said.“Black and brown life being taken by gun violence is not something America has been concerned about for a long time,” the St Sabina pastor said.“It needs to get the same attention,” Pfleger continued. “We have 47 people shot and seven killed. If that happened over in Iraq, that’s all anyone would be talking about.”To erase everyday violence from the national conversation about gun control is to lose sight of the scope of the problem, according to Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.“We do that at our own peril,” Brown told the Guardian. “It’s not routine for the people who live in these communities, and it doesn’t have to be accepted as normal.”As studies have shown, mass shootings like those in Texas and Ohio represent just a fraction of gun deaths in America. Suicides and other homicides account for the majority of firearm-related deaths. “We need to look at gun violence as the public health epidemic it is,” Brown said. “We have to change the cultural narrative around guns.”Doing so can be challenging, though, given the unwillingness by Republicans to act on commonsense gun reforms.“The shootings that occurred this past weekend in Chicago are certainly not taken for granted by the neighborhoods and families that experience them all too often,” Rob Nash, chair of the board of directors for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said in an email interview. “The only people who have accepted gun violence as being routine are public policymakers who refuse to take action to stop it.”Brown said the Brady campaign was continuing to work on changing the national narrative about guns, and Pfleger is organizing a national demonstration in Washington DC, in September in an effort to pressure lawmakers into action. “They’re not gonna just do it,” Pfleger said of gun reform. “They have to be pushed.”



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'El Chapo' trial: a three-month plunge into the bloody ways of the drug trade

'El Chapo' trial: a three-month plunge into the bloody ways of the drug tradeOver the space of nearly three months, a New York jury has heard 54 witnesses deliver dramatic evidence against accused Mexican drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Former associates, ex-employees and a onetime mistress, most of them now inmates in American prisons, have drawn a blood-soaked picture of the Sinaloa cartel — of which El Chapo was co-leader for 25 years — confirming that violent TV series like “Narcos” about notorious drug trafficker Pablo Escobar have not strayed far from the truth. According to the witnesses, the Sinaloa cartel flooded the United States with cocaine with the blessing of countless police, military officers and Mexican officials — going all the way up to the president — who turned their heads in exchange for bribes worth millions.



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Troops kill 7 civilians as protest turns bloody in Kashmir

Troops kill 7 civilians as protest turns bloody in KashmirSRINAGAR, India (AP) — Indian forces who were exchanging fire with insurgents in disputed Kashmir on Saturday fatally shot at least seven civilians when large crowds descended on the site of the gunbattle in support of the militants, police and residents said.



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Senators Vote To End U.S. Support For Saudis In Bloody Yemen War, Despite GOP Objections

Senators Vote To End U.S. Support For Saudis In Bloody Yemen War, Despite GOP ObjectionsWASHINGTON ― A slim majority of senators voted Thursday to end U.S. support



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Ballots and bullets: Mexico's bloody election campaign

Ballots and bullets: Mexico's bloody election campaignIt is one of the lasting images of Mexico’s election campaign: as a Congressional candidate poses for a selfie with a supporter, a man in a baseball cap calmly approaches and shoots him in the back of the head. Fernando Puron, who was running for Congress in the northern state of Coahuila, is one of 136 politicians murdered since candidate registration for Sunday’s elections in Mexico opened in September, according to the consulting firm Etellekt. It is by far the bloodiest Mexican campaign on record, as the violence gripping the country has exploded massively into the political world.



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Gaza's bloody uprising

Gaza's bloody uprisingItalian photojournalist Fabio Bucciarelli has been documenting the protests, and the casualties, for weeks, and filed these riveting, and disturbing, images.



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14 Killed in Tourist Hot Spot Cancun During Bloody 36-Hour Span

14 Killed in Tourist Hot Spot Cancun During Bloody 36-Hour SpanViolence rocked Mexico’s most popular tourist town last week, leaving 14 dead and five more injured in a 36-hour span, according to reports.



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