Friday, January 18, 2008

Men in Black - Who are These Masked Men in Baja?

A month and a half ago my son and I took an ABC Express bus from Mulege to Tijuana, leaving at 3p.m. and arriving the next morning at 7a.m. We had planned to stay overnight at the Baja Cactus Motel in El Rosario but when we arrived at 11p.m. they were full. Cold & dark, luckily they were slow to take our luggage off so we were able to hop back on the bus and continue North.

Around 6a.m. we were driving past Rosarito Beach and I saw a group of eight or ten machine gun toting, black-masked men standing outside of a medical clinic. A medical clinic, not a bank. The whole thing seemed a bit strange but our driver paid no notice and the building was right on Mexican Federal Highway 1 with a regular stream of cars zipping by. Must be the police on some mission, I thought.

It may have been, or may have not. The Federal Judicial Police of Mexico (black uniforms & masks) - notoriously corrupt - was replaced by the Federal Investigations Agency in 2002. This elite police force wears black uniforms and masks as well and of course are heavily armed. They are often referred to as 'federales', similar to saying 'the feds' in the U.S.

The police force wearing army fatigues, also heavily armed, are the PFP - Federal Preventative Police. They provide street patrols and may be seen on duty at bus stations, airports and patrolling the highways.

That's a basic description of the official version of Men in Black. And officially, they have not always been the good guys. Prior to the recent reported crimes that have terrorized more than a few Baja travelers, masked-men assumed to be a part of one of these police agencies have been accused of horrendous deeds:

New York Times, September, 1996 - Crime Wave Leaves Mexicans Wary of Federal Police.

New York Times, June, 1991 - Mexico To Combat Police Corruption.

Suspected wrong-doers have been dismissed and replaced in droves over and over again.

It's no wonder the U.S. consulate in Tijuana is not issuing new travel alerts (as of the date of this blog entry) for U.S. persons crossing the border... to them this may be old news, more of what has been going on for decades. The main difference is it is now affecting more American Tourists, as opposed to primarily Mexicans, yet the consulate does not see a 'widespread increase' in attacks.

Quoted from a January 5th, 2008 Associated Press article entitled Wave of Crime Washes Away Baja's Tourism: "Charles Smith, spokesman for the U.S. consulate in Tijuana, said the U.S. government has not found a widespread increase in attacks against Americans, but he acknowledged many crimes go unreported."

We can only hope that crimes such as those that have occurred recently continue to be reported (and re-reported in the news media) to the extent that U.S. and Mexican officials are prompted to make effective changes, and Americans, Canadians and other Baja travelers are given accurate, pertinent information about the current risks of travel to the Baja California Peninsula.

Safe travels, Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

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