Baja, Land of Drug Wars, Tries to Keep Tourists Coming

Baja, Land of Drug Wars, Tries to Keep Tourists Coming

Luring the usual millions of U.S. tourists back to Mexico’s sun-kissed Baja
Peninsula has been a tall order this spring, considering the daily splash of
border murders, gun smuggling and Tijuana’s near military lock-down due to
the worst drug turf wars in recent northern Baja memory.

But the city of 1.5 million, a sprawl of strip malls and cinder-block and
tin-roofed buildings just south of San Diego, is fighting back. Last month,
the city’s tourism office launched a new 120th anniversary tourism campaign:
“120 Things To Do in Tijuana.”

Given the circumstances , it
takes moxie to launch such a campaign. Number one on the list: “Take a
picture with the famous Tijuana zebra donkey.” Number 75: Get out of town by
“Flying direct to Narita, Japan, from Tijuana Airport.”

Delusional thinking or marketing optimism Today, Baja is a strange brew of
death and promotion.

But as bullets and blood are played out on Tijuana’s dusty streets,
President Obama discusses cross-border gun smuggling issues
with Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon and U.S. Homeland Security chief
Janet Napolitano unveils new security measures along the San Diego-Tijuana
border, it’s just business as usual for many, like Eric Camerino,

“Honestly, the drug problem hasn’t been an issue for us in San Diego,” says
Camerino, who sells bicycles at Zumwalt’s Bicycle Center in San Diego. “The
drug cartels have always been in Tijuana, the shoot-outs have always been
there, it’s just that the military is catching on.”

Last week, Camerino tuned-up bikes for the 30th Annual Rosarito
Beach-to-Ensenada Fun Ride set for April 18. The event, a notorious madhouse
of semi-serious riding and beer drinking along the toll road between the two
spring break towns south of the border, was more subdued this year.
Normally, 6,000 arrive for the event, but this year crowds were only half that
size. Other events, like a professional surfing competition, have been
delayed or cancelled altogether due to the violence.