U.S. visits to Tijuana drop 90 percent

TIJUANA The downtown merchants association in Tijuana says American visits are down 90 percent since 2005, and if you need to see proof, just take a stroll through the border city's main tourist area -- a street that once attracted so many Americans.

Antonio Gomez has only one job, to bring customers into a Mexican restaurant. But customers have never been so scarce.

"I've been here 30 years, and I've never seen this," said Gomez. "We're really hurting. The restaurants and shops, we don't have any business."

Down the street at another restaurant, the music is upbeat, the tortillas are handmade, but the tables are empty.

In the past several months, there has been a remarkable spike in violence all along the U.S.-Mexico border. In Tijuana, there have been executions, shootouts, and kidnappings.

"It is a problem. We're trying to handle that problem," said Alfredo Arenas.

Arenas is in charge of international affairs for the Baja California state police. He says the violence that has plagued the border in recent months is the result of a drug war.

"Most of the executions - if not all of the executions - that we've had lately are just members of the organized crime of two different families taking care of their business," said Arenas.

In response, the president of Mexico has ordered members of the Mexican Army to patrol major border cities.

"A lot of drugs have been confiscated, a lot of people involved in organized crime have been captured and sent to Mexico City," said Arenas. "So it's working good."

Arenas maintains that tourists are not targets, and as a result of all the beefed-up security, he says visiting Tijuana has never been safer.

"The U.S. tourists that come into Mexico can feel totally safe," Arenas insists.

But the violence on the Mexican border continues, and as a result many Americans are staying away. Downtown Tijuana is, for the most part, a ghost town. Longtime merchants say they've never seen it this way.

"People get scared, because when they saw the news, they think all over Tijuana the gangs are killing people," said merchant Lawrence Cruz. "It's not true."

Some American tourists who spoke with Eyewitness News say they feel perfectly safe on the streets.

"It seems like there are less gringos down here, a little bit," said Mike Durant. "I think most people, they hear violence, but they don't really know what the violence is and what it pertains to."

"We never seen anything, or had any problems," said Lisa Durant. "Not in this tourist area."

The estimated 30,000 soldiers currently station in Tijuana will remain there indefinitely, and a newly-elected chief of police has won high praise recently for helping to root out corruption.


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