More than 3,000 Mexican soldiers and federal police were dispatched to the border city of Tijuana this week to fight the drug trade, Mexican officials announced Tuesday. That same day, convoys containing several hundred police clad in body armor rolled into the city, the headquarters of one of Mexico's most powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations, the Arrellano Felix cartel.
The move into Tijuana, where more than 300 people were killed in drug prohibition-related violence last year, is the second tough strike against the cartels by new Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Last month, he sent more than 7,000 troops into the state of Michoacan to eradicate marijuana and opium poppy crops and move against traffickers located there.
"The operations will allow us to reestablish the minimal security conditions in different points of Mexico so we can recover little by little our streets, our parks and our schools," President Calderon told the country in a New Year's message on Tuesday.
"We will carry out all the necessary actions to retake every region of national territory," Mexican Interior Secretary Francisco Ramirez Acuna said in a news conference the same day. "We will not allow any state to be a hostage of drug traffickers or organized crime."
Ramirez Acuna added that the Tijuana force would include 2,620 soldiers, 162 marines, and 510 federal police. They will be equipped with 28 boats, 21 planes, and nine helicopters to attempt to squelch the booming cross-border trade in cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamines. The soldiers and police will patrol the coast, man checkpoints, and hunt down wanted traffickers in teeming Tijuana, just across the US-Mexico border from San Diego.
The federal intervention was welcomed by Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon, who, under attack from city business interests, late last year announced that he was placing the entire municipal police force under investigation for drug-related corruption. Rhon told reporters in Tijuana this week he hoped the soldiers and federal police would work with city police -- presumably ones who have already been vetted -- who are establishing random checkpoints.
"I hope this will make Tijuana a safer place," he said, while denying that the deployment means the city is being militarized.
Like his predecessor, Vicente Fox, President Calderon is making a big show of going after the so-called cartels, whose internecine battles left around 2,000 people dead last year. But Fox's blows against the cartels, which eliminated part of their previous leadership, are what led to the bloody violence as the cartels jostled with each to readjust. Given the lucrative nature of the business and the insatiable appetite for illicit drugs north of the border, there is little evidence to suggest the outcome will be any different this time.