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World & Nation

Images from the front lines of Tijuana’s deadly drug war

TIJUANA, BAJA CALIF. -- MONDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2018: Paramedics with Tijuana Cruz Roja transport a man
Paramedics with Tijuana Red Cross prepare to transport a shooting victim to Tijuana General Hospital.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A record 2,518 people were killed in Tijuana in 2018, making it one of the most violent cities in the world.

The killings are overwhelming the city’s paramedics, law enforcement authorities and workers at the overcrowded morgue, where at times bodies have ended up stacked on the floor.

Driving the violence is an entirely different kind of drug war from the one immortalized in films and narcocorridos.

While in the past the violence was driven by cartel battles over lucrative drug trafficking routes to the United States, now low-level dealers are dying for control of the city's growing local drug market.

Officials say one drug is to blame: Crystal meth.

Mexicans started producing cristal en masse after it became difficult to make in the United States because of increased regulation of the precursor chemicals.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, increased border security made it harder for cartels to move drugs across the border, so they began paying local gang affiliates in Tijuana in drugs, which ended up on the street. The flood of cheap drugs has created a brutal marketplace, where users are killed for not paying dealers, and dealers are killed for selling on the wrong block.

“We’re at war,” said Jesus Escajadillo, a medical examiner at Tijuana’s morgue. “We are living through a civil war.”

Tijuana Red Cross paramedic
Residents watch Tijuana Red Cross paramedics give medical attention to two men who were shot. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times
Tijuana shooting
Tijuana Red Cross paramedics and police officers work at the scene of a homicide where a man around 28 was shot five times. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times
Tijuana shooting victim
Tijuana Red Cross workers take away Abel Arenas Enriquez, 55, who was shot four times, twice in the back and once in each arm. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times
Tijuana morgue
Technician Abraham Fierro puts the body of a man of about 60 into a refrigeration unit to await an autopsy in the morgue in Tijuana. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times
Tijuana homicide
The body of a man shot execution style awaits an autopsy. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times
Tijuana police
A specialized Tijuana City police unit frisks people for drugs and firearms along Calle Coahuila in the rough red-light district of colonia Zona Norte. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times
Tijuana police
A specialized Tijuana City police unit checks people for drugs and guns at the Norteno Bar in the red-light district. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times
Tijuana police
Tijuana municipal police investigate a homicide. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times
Tijuana bullets
Bullets removed from homicide victims are put in labeled bags at the Medical Forensic Service morgue in Tijuana. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times
Tijuana mourners
Bertha Peña, 59, right, with daughter Dulce Noriega, left, weeps for son Rafael Noriega Peña, 40, at Funeraria Martinez in Tijuana. Rafael, a father of five, was found dead in his room off the back of his mother's house with five gunshot wounds. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times
Bertha Pena (tilde over the n), 59, shown with grand
Bertha Peña, 59, with granddaughter Michel Noriega, weeps for her slain son Rafael Noriega Peña in Tijuana. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times
Baja California state police
Baja California state police investigate the killing of a man who was shot in Tijuana. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times

Gary.Coronado@latimes.com

@gary_coronado


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