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Tijuana police chief targeted for death

April 28, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Deadly gun battles over the weekend on the streets of Tijuana were some of the worst violence in the border city in years. Eyewitness News reporter Robert Holguin travelled to Mexico to hear the harrowing story of Tijuana's police chief -- a man who himself has been targeted for death by Mexican drug dealers. The deadly threat to his safety forces him to live apart from his own family.There is a nervous energy inside the lobby of a luxury hotel in Tijuana. Armed men in khaki-colored vests are everywhere -- on balconies, on couches. They are a team of bodyguards assigned to protect one man, a former community activist who is Tijuana's new chief of police.

"If you look at just at the statistics, you will not see a drop in crime since I've been chief," said Tijuana Police Chief Alberto Capella Ibarra. "But what you do see is an unprecedented effort to fight crime. And that's what has the drug cartels so upset."

Capella - a man with no background in police work - has taken over a department plagued by corruption during one of the city's most violent chapters. Over the weekend, 15 people were killed in what police say was a shootout between Tijuana's competing drug cartels

Even by Tijuana's standards, the violence in recent months has been shocking.

"Our community has cancer. Our hair is falling out, our skin looks pale," said Capella. "But we accept that we have cancer. And we're undergoing aggressive chemotherapy right now. The hope is that someday, we will emerge healthy once again."

The death toll from the shootout last weekend stands at 15, with nine injured, after gunfire erupted between two rival gangs early Saturday morning in Tijuana. Then police joined the shootout, exchanging fire with the suspects. There were four gun battles, one from a moving SUV and another outside a hospital. All of the dead are believed to be drug traffickers. One of the injured was a Mexican Federal police officer. The others are suspects.

Although we conducted our interview before last weekend's shootout, Capella is no stranger to gunfire. He narrowly survived an assassination attempt late last year, hence the bodyguards. His wife and children live elsewhere, and their whereabouts kept secret.

He says the surge in violence is tied to a massive crackdown on crime that started earlier this year when the Mexican president ordered troops into border cities.

"We finally have a president - and a governor and a mayor - that want things to change," Capella says. "We have the political will to stop this, which has never happened before."

"The organized crime families are not very happy that we are hitting them where they most hurt," said Alfredo Arenas from the Baja California state police. "It's very difficult, the work that we're doing here. It's like Chicago in the 1930s, 1940s."

Two previous police chiefs in Tijuana have been assassinated, and at least one has been indicted. Capella says he's confident his fellow citizens will stand behind him and demand change.

 

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