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Salve for a Bruised Baja

August 06, 1995

In 1989, the people of Baja California made a monumental breakthrough in Mexican politics, electing the first governor from an opposition party in the country's modern history. Today, in another landmark election, voters will show whether their experiment in democracy worked out for the majority of the people.

Whether they choose to stay the course with the conservative PAN party or return to the ubiquitous PRI majority party, the contribution of the people of Baja to democracy in Mexico is already unquestionable. At least there, power can be transferred in a peaceful and orderly process from one party to another.

A fair and undisputed election today would not only help one of Mexico's most important states but also would help restore the bruised reputation of one of Baja's most important cities, Tijuana.

Many Americans who have never gone to Baja know Tijuana as the place where in the last 18 months presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, Police Chief Federico Benitez Lopez and Police Cmdr. Alejandro Castaneda Andrade have been shot to death. Furthermore, just last week the U.S. media reported the assault against Dante and Galileo Cortez, a journalist and his son. They were shot at as they were leaving their house on the way to a press conference to denounce whoever was behind the assassination of another one of Dante's sons, also a journalist.

The local authorities have an obligation to investigate and punish those who attempt to curb freedom of expression. But based on the abysmal record of assassination cases solved, one would think that crime does pay in Tijuana.

Many Tijuanans argue that there would be fewer killings if it weren't for the insatiable appetite for drugs in the United States and political killings devised in Mexico City. That may be true but it does not justify the outrageous violence perpetrated by people least expected to break the law--police officers. State and federal police officers are known to get into shooting confrontations with each other on the streets of Tijuana--without any punishment from their superiors, as has been reported by The Times and other publications.

None of this means that Tijuana has become a Mexican version of the gunfight at the OK Corral. That would be simplistic and grossly unfair to a city that is prosperous, hard-working and remarkably successful by Mexican standards.

As one tijuanense put it, "Even with all these shootings, it is still a lot safer to take a walk at night in the streets of Tijuana than it is to walk in Los Angeles, San Diego or even Mexico City."

The challenges of stopping the carnage, solving the crimes and punishing those found guilty--plus cleanly handling today's election--present Baja with opportunities to show off its other side: the side that shows a large number of respectable people paving the road toward democracy.

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