TIJUANA, Mexico — The Mexican border towns of Tijuana, Mexicali, Rosarito and Ensenada have been hit by gang violence, including torched vehicles and roadblocks.
The US consulate in Tijuana ordered its employees to “shelter in place until further notice” around midnight due to the violence.
It was the third time this week that Mexican cities have witnessed widespread arson and shootings by drug cartels. Gangs appear to target innocent shops, vehicles and bystanders in response to arguments or attempts to capture gang members.
Baja California state officials said a total of 24 vehicles were burned in different locations in the state: 15 in Tijuana, three in Rosarito and two in Mexicali, Ensenada and Tecate.
Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero blamed it on disputes between drug gangs.
Caballero has issued a public call for “organized crime”, the term used in Mexico to refer to drug cartels, to stop the growing trend of targeting innocent civilians.
“Today we tell the organized crime groups who commit these crimes that Tijuana is going to stay open and take care of its citizens,” Cabellero said in a video, “and we also ask them to settle their debts with those who do not have not paid what they owe, not with families and hardworking citizens.”
The extent of the violence was still unclear on Saturday. On Friday evening, the U.S. Consulate General in Tijuana said in a statement that it “is aware of reports of multiple vehicle fires, roadblocks, and heavy police activity in Tijuana, Mexicali, Rosarito, Ensenada and Tecate”.
Few people ventured onto the streets of Tijuana on Saturday and many bus and van services stopped operating, leaving some residents unable to get where they were going.
“Let them fight each other, but leave us alone,” Tijuana resident Blanca Estela Fuentes said as she searched for public transportation. “So they kill each other, they can do whatever they want, but the public, why are we guilty?”
The mayor’s comment about Tijuana remaining open was an apparent reference to the border town of Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, where some classes and public events were canceled after similar violence Thursday.
Suspected gang members engaged in a shootout in Ciudad Juarez, killing nine people, including four radio station workers, after a fight between rival gangs at a local prison left two dead.
On Tuesday, drug cartel gunmen torched vehicles and businesses in the western states of Jalisco and Guanajuato in response to an attempted arrest of a high-ranking cartel leader of the Jalisco Cartel.
The area around Tijuana, which borders Southern California, is a lucrative drug trafficking corridor long dominated by the Arellano Felix cartel but has since become a battleground between various gangs, including the Jalisco and Sinaloa cartels.
Speaking about the violence in Ciudad Juarez on Thursday, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said: “They attacked the innocent civilian population as a sort of revenge. It was not just a clash between two groups, but it got to the point where they started shooting at civilians, innocent people. That’s the most unfortunate thing about this case.
Four employees of the MegaRadio station who were broadcasting a promotional event live outside a pizzeria in Ciudad Juarez were killed in the shooting.
Such random violence is not unprecedented in Mexico.
In June last year, a rival faction of the Gulf Cartel entered the border town of Reynosa and killed 14 people whom the governor identified as “innocent citizens”. The army responded and killed four suspected gunmen.
And cartels in Mexico frequently hijack vehicles and burn them to distract police or prevent them from pursuing gunmen.