Friday 8 June 2018

Corruption, drug trafficking, and water rights are front and center in Baja California

La politica es la politica has posted 32 articles - one for each state in Mexico, including Mexico City - in advance of the July 1, 2018, presidential election. For links to all 32 articles, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Baja California is often seen as a world unto itself. Tucked into the northwest corner of Mexico, its capital city is Mexicali, but it is better known to foreigners for the border town of Tijuana. The state’s population is about 3.4 million. Baja is historically a stronghold of the right-of-center National Action Party (PAN), and at present the governor and two of three senators belong to PAN. However, the third senator belongs to the leftist Workers Party (PT).

The state has had some good news on the economic front this year. On June 6, Andeavor announced plans to invest $100 million in building a refined products terminal at the Rosarito storage facility of Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE). That shows a degree of confidence that there will be no negative outcome from the federal election, no matter who wins.

As well, in March construction began on a 10 billion peso (500 million dollar) desalination plant. The privately-financed plant is expected to be operational in three years, exclusively supplying domestic needs, including the towns of Rosarito and Tijuana, as well as agriculture.

But the plant is not without controversy. The two conglomerates who lost on the bid, which was very close, have accused the governor, Francisco Vega de Lamadrid, of political interference.  The State Congress is investigating.

Given the stresses on water sources, the issue also crops up in the context of human and commercial development. The decision by Constellation Brands to build a US $1-billion brewing plant has resulted in the formation of Mexicali Resiste, which opposes the plant. After a recent altercation with police, its most prominent leader, León Fierro Reséndiz, was sent to jail for allegedly driving a vehicle in a threatening manner toward attending officers. He has since been released.

And, as elsewhere in Mexico, Baja California has some security issues. One high profile incident occurred in early June, 2018, when a retired couple from the United States was murdered in the beach town of Bahía de los Ángeles in the municipality of Ensenada.

Baja California's close proximity to the California market makes it a prime location for drug trafficking, as was evidenced on March 31 of this year when authorities announced the seizure of 31 sacks of cash in various denominations totaling 10 million dollars at Tijuana’s airport. At the same time, authorities said that in the past week they’d seized 295 fentanyl pills and other controlled substances in a separate incident at the airport. They also grabbed almost half a ton of methamphetamine, along with precursor chemicals, in the town of Tecate. 

Due to its location along the border, Baja California is also the source of drug tunnels to the United States. Most recently, on May 1 of this year three men were arrested in Mexicali after the discovery of an unfinished 700 meter tunnel to Calexico, California.

Then there was the story on May 7, when thieves broke into a warehouse in La Paz and stole 504 packages of cocaine hydrochloride which had previously been seized in various police operations. The thieves entered an adjacent home and held the occupants – fortunately, not harming them – as they cut a hole in the wall, entered the warehouse, and stole the cocaine. The good news: federal Criminal Investigation Agency (AIC) arrested five people and recovered the drugs. The bad news: clearly, this was an inside job, and federal assistance was needed to solve it.

The security situation is complicated by the fact that Baja California has always been a risky place to be a journalist. Two journalists were killed in 1956, and another in 1961. Two more were killed in the 1980s, and another two in the 1990s. At the beginning of this century one journalist was killed in 2004. Then, with the start of the drug war, the situation didn't improve: journalists were killed in 20018 and in 2011; and last year (2017) two journalists were murdered.

Election 2018

Historically, the federal vote in Baja California has gone to the PAN or the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). However, the left leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), under the leadership of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO), did well in 2006 with 23.5% of the vote, and even better in 2012, with 31.2% of the vote.

This time around, the polls are showing that AMLO and his National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) which is part of a larger coalition called Juntos Haremos Historia (Together We Make History), is in the lead in Baja California, at 36%.

Behind him is PAN leader Ricardo Anaya, at 21%. Anaya is running in coalition with the PRD, which was gutted after AMLO’s defection. The new coalition is called “Por México al Frente” (which roughly translates as “Mexico First”).

In third place is PRI candidate, José Antonio Meade, at 19%. Meade is running under an umbrella with the New Alliance (PANAL) party and Mexico’s Green Party (PVEM).

The remaining support is divided among independent candidates, none of whom have support above single digits, or any upward momentum.

Below are the links to the posts for each state: 

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