Poor Mexico …

… so far from God, so close to the United States, went the comment attributed to one of their presidents. Mexico was very close to us, when I was growing up in suburban Los Angeles in the 1960s and early 70s. My elementary school had us study Mexican history in the 6th grade – if I remember correctly, that was part of the unified school district curriculum. We did a field trip to Olvera St., in the old part of downtown, at least three of the old Spanish missions were within a short drive from our various homes, and we weren’t allowed to forget that Los Angeles itself had Spanish origins and Mexican governance for decades before American statehood. For Southern California, Mexico was just a hop, skip, and a jump away – just as it is for South Texas.

A day trip to Tijuana when I would have been about thirteen or fourteen was my first trip to a foreign country. Dad took my younger sibs JP and Pip, and I with him on a trip to get a new headliner installed in the ’52 Plymouth station wagon which was our family’s main ride. I don’t know why Tijuana, or how Dad located a workshop there that could do the work – but he did, and we spent a whole day there. I guess they could do it in Tijuana for a fraction of the cost of having it done anywhere closer to home. We drove down from Los Angeles, crossed the border, dropped off the car, and spent the hours until it was ready wandering through nearby shops catering to the tourist trade; folk art, hand-blown glass, and Mexican-style furniture. We watched some glassblowers at work, which was pretty interesting, admired the finished glass menageries, walked by the bull ring and looked at the posters – but as it was a weekday, there was no bullfight scheduled, which was mildly disappointing. We went to a grocery store were Dad bought fresh rolls, cheese and soft drinks for lunch … and in the afternoon, we collected the station wagon and drove home.

Later, when Dad got interested in dune buggies and off-roading, he built a custom dune buggy on the chassis, transmission and engine of a VW bug – they were favored for their low profile and disinclination to roll over on steep inclines, which couldn’t be said of jeeps. Dad welded a custom body out of tube steel lengths, and sourced seats, dash, windshield, and enormous-capacity gas tanks from his favorite junkyards. The resulting junk-parts vehicle looked pretty much like something out of the Mad Max franchise. Over the Easter week holiday break, Dad would take my brothers P.J. and Sander in that dune buggy and go on an extended off-road camping trip to Baja California. They’d camp out in the desert, or on the beaches, eat beanie-weenies out of the can, forgo washing … and have a glorious time of it, all week long. (Meanwhile, Mom and Pip and I would go shopping, see a movie or go to the theater, and elegantly lunch in restaurants … and towards the end of the week, get ready for Easter; each of us had a glorious time over the Easter week break, partaking in those activities which engaged us the most. Pip and I would have been miserable, dragged on such a road trip; Dad, JP and Sander would have hated the ladies-who-lunch routine. To each, their own, and we were much happier for it.)

What brought all this on was this horrifying story which developed last week. Three surfing tourists – an American and two Australian brothers from Perth were murdered while on their dream vacation surfing trip to Baja. The violence, robbery, the murders are all horrifying enough, naturally – but that it all happened in a place that Dad and my brothers used to frequent, without any shred of concern about danger on visiting. Dad had no worries taking two kids through Baha, no more than any other place north of the border. He possessed a sidearm and was a good shot with it; I do not know if he took it with him on those trips for personal projection; likely not, as that was frowned upon by Mexican authorities even then. The small towns and the open country along the length of Baha California seemed as safe as any place north of the border. Baja, Ensenada, Rosarita Beach … all those places named in the news stories about the disappearance and murders of the three surfers are familiar. Ensenada and Rosarita are just an easy day trip over the border from San Diego, for the beaches, the bars and restaurants serving excellent and comparatively inexpensive local seafood cooked with Mexican flair.

But that was then, this is now – and another horrible reminder that places which once were fun and safe to visit are not safe any more. Our own state department advises and warns against such visits – I should imagine that the warnings about Baja are intensified now.

20 thoughts on “Poor Mexico …”

  1. Unfortunatley it’s not just Baja. In the eighties I lived on the north side of Chicago. I used to stumble 8 blocks home at 2 a.m. after a bout of post-game drinking across from Wrigley Field, with nary a care in the world. Now I wouldn’t do it sober at 2 in the afternoon. Sad.

  2. Back in the day we used to go camping down in the Chiricahuas since they rise to 7000 ft+ and is cool enough to camp even during the summer. Depending on how far we camp out we would usually pack a few heavy caliber sidearms and a pump-action just in case something came sniffing around.

    Six or seven years ago I was out of state when I noticed on the news there was a wildfire down there. Didn’t seem like a big deal, June/July is wildfire season, until I found out the fire was set by smugglers trying to divert attention from federal agents. After that no more camping down there, not even hiking; those are scary people. What would you carry if you knew you were going where there were the cartels? Answer, I wouldn’t go where there were the cartels.

    As a side note, one of the reasons for the influx of so many illegals through the Rio Grande valley in Texas is to overwhelm the Border Patrol. It is a deliberate strategy by the cartel to force the BP to pull resources from other parts of the border, like Arizona. That’s where the real dangerous people and stuff is coming through. It’s not the ones they are catching which is the problem, that’s just the decoy; it’s the gotaways or ones you never see

  3. I used to visit Mexico regularly. At one time I was part of a group to build a new hospital in Ensenada. We went down there all the time. Recently (a few years ago) some people I knew were camping on the beach south of Ensenada in their motorhome. They were attacked and barely escaped by driving without lights after their headlights were smashed. I haven’t been there in years.

  4. Last year we went to one of the states that the State Department lists on its Do Not Travel list for a wedding. We felt perfectly safe and would go back again. The cartels are not interested in Gringos unless we are in the business, if you know what I mean. The locals told us that it is the wannabe cartel members that can be a problem, but as long as you are off the road by 10 PM, you are ok. In the city, Morelia, we were out and about after midnight without any trouble at all.

  5. The thing about these murders, Jaimie – is that it seems to have been done by some wanna-be cartel and cosmically dumb thugs. It seems that they wanted to boost some nice tires and rims and other stuff, so kill the three tourists for them, and be stuuuuupid enough to give your girlfriend one of their nice fancy cellphones.
    Annnd … the local cartel was so pissed about having attention paid that they shopped the dumb thug brothers and their dim girlfriend to the law.
    I’m betting that the local small business and restaurant owners in Ensenada and Rosarita Beach are incandescent with rage about how this latest is going to ruin that business that hasn’t been ruined already.

  6. It doesn’t take much to wreck things. A while back some thug moron grabbed a child and tossed him over the railing at the Mall of America in Minnesota. My wife turned out to be connected to a relative of the victim on Facebook. She declared immediately that we wouldn’t be taking the kids there ever again. I felt the same. Note that the wanna-be murderer had been banned from the mall due to previous infractions, which as usual mattered not at all. More recently, I’ve seen stories about Somalis having gunfights in a department store and a claim that every entrant is now searched prior to entry.

    OK, good luck with that. I spent most of my life in the Detroit area and I know how this story ends- with the MOA a bankrupt and empty ruin.

  7. Talnik
    Unfortunatley it’s not just Baja. In the eighties I lived on the north side of Chicago. I used to stumble 8 blocks home at 2 a.m. after a bout of post-game drinking across from Wrigley Field, with nary a care in the world. Now I wouldn’t do it sober at 2 in the afternoon. Sad.

    After all, if MAGA hoodlums can assault Jussie Smollett in Chicago at 2 AM when it is 10 degrees outside, it isn’t safe in Chicago at 2 in the afternoon. :)

    Sgt. Mom
    Mexico was very close to us, when I was growing up in suburban Los Angeles in the 1960s and early 70s. My elementary school had us study Mexican history in the 6th grade – if I remember correctly, that was part of the unified school district curriculum.

    One of my LA cousin’s elementary school teachers was a Miss Sepulveda, of THE SEPULVEDA FAMILY. You know, the one that before the Anglos came, owned a big chunk of LA County.

    A neighbor of mine told me that his grandparents came to Texas to flee the violence of the Mexican Revolution. As 10% of the population got killed in the Mexican Revolution it is accurate to call the Mexican Revolution violent. No “mostly peaceful” here.

    The proprietor of the Sippican Cottage blog went with his wife to Mérida, which is as far as you can get from Baja and still be in Mexico, and had a great time. Very peaceful, very conservative, that place.

    I haven’t been to Mexico in years and years. But all I have to do to get back to Mexico is to go to the local Mexican grocery, a mile and a half away. When I am purchasing meat from the butcher, my Spanish slips into a Mexican nasal intonation.

  8. Jaime Roberto,
    For now, your family has nothing that interests the hyenas they’re living amongst, may that ever be so. That transient condition is all that prevents the body parts of any or all from becoming another display for the edification of future victims.

  9. the Cartels seem to have partitioned the country, with the Sinaloa cartel some part out of alignment after the Guzman Loera arrest, the NG Zetas and other parties, in coalition with PLA operators like those noted in Peter Schweitzers recent work

  10. The risk of traveling through Mexico has varied greatly over the years. I rode with a bunch of guys from Tucson to Guaymas back in the 70’s, passing through Hermosillo on the way, with nary a worry. However, based on this fascinating account by George Frederick Ruxton, a British Army lieutenant who traveled the length of the country from Vera Cruz to Santa Fe in the 1840’s, it was a lot worse then even than it is today.


    He was very well armed and let the ubiquitous local banditos know as much whenever possible. He still had to kill a man when he was chased by a mob who thought he was an American (the Mexican War was in full swing at the time.) He reported that, north of Sonora, the country was pretty much controlled by the Indians, who raided virtually at will. His account of the journey is fascinating, and well worth reading.

    I doubt things are quite that bad today, in spite of the cartels, but I’m not planning another diving trip anytime soon.

  11. He reported that, north of Sonora, the country was pretty much controlled by the Indians, who raided virtually at will. His account of the journey is fascinating, and well worth reading.

    Which shows that one reason the Mexican government was willing to have the American colony in Texas- as a buffer against the Indians. Unfortunately for the Mexican government, too many in the American colony began to see their colony as a buffer against the Mexican government.

  12. Mexico has never managed to develop a criminal justice system that was able to operate above the level where investigations and prosecutions didn’t depend on which parties were prepared to pay how much to whom. Thus, the transit of drugs through Mexico on the way to the gringo north was greeted as a source of graft by government functionaries. Presumably, those of tender sensibilities were offered assurances that none of this would be allowed to inconvenience virtuous Mexicans. It would be bad for business, after all.

    Now, we are assured that the various tourist destinations are sacrosanct. That the different cartels have reached a “peace for our time” sort of truce. Nothing that the cruise ships, spas and resorts need concern themselves with, as long as they carefully herd their customers and keep them confined to narrow venues. The assurances for Mexicans are slightly less compelling, mostly a matter of luck and not attracting the animosity, avarice, lust or simply ennui of some narco. Guards, assuming they’re actually working for you, help.

    For the moment, Mexico seems to be poised in an uneasy equilibrium between the Government, trying to preserve some semblance of order, the established cartels that also have a stake in maintaining order and then there’s all those with a much bigger stake in promoting disorder. The surfers probably did run into some random thugs with the outcome not that different from what might have happened in Chicago following a wrong turn. Considering the number and variety of parties that would find some advantage in disorder, I don’t think this fragile state of affairs will last.

  13. In keeping with the above comment by MCS about the attitude of the cartels, the media here in Australia (where this has been a pretty big story) have reported today that the local cartel is taking credit for informing police where to find the perpetrators. Seems they don’t appreciate stuff that is bad for tourist business.

  14. The first comment that grabbed my attention was the ‘52 Plymouth wagon. We had a pale green one as our only car when I was a kid.
    I spent many years in San Diego and we’d spend time in Baja often. In the 70s, when gas got so expensive, I remember a golf course in Rosarita that, for $35, would offer a round of golf, lunch and a tank of gas. There were also a couple of late night trips to TJ to bail out my troops who’d gotten D & D.

  15. Dad was an American Consul, I grew up in Mexico, late 50’s to early 70’s. There is much to love about Mexico, and much to deplore. Mexican culture is a low trust culture for a reason. Law and order as understood in El Norte does not exist, has never existed there. Even back then I knew that I had to be continually on guard against theft, the biggest problem back then. Much as I love the Mexican people I don’t want them to bring their culture here. Back in the day when America saw itself as a melting pot and acculturation was expected of all immigrants it was arguably not such a big problem. With the triumph of multiculturalism and diversity that has changed. I have not been back since the one bar crawl when I was in the Navy, and don’t intend to back ever again.

  16. I agree with MCS…

    The thing about organized crime is that it’s… well… organized and exists in a form of implicit social contract with the society in which it operates. As a wee lad watching the “Godfather” for the first time, an uncle of mine explained to me why Don Corelone refused to do business with Sollozzo in terms of dealing drugs; because it would break the deals the Don had with various politicians. Gambling, running booze, extortion, unions…. sure, okay, just keep the bribes coming but there are red lines.

    Organized crime is a lot like governments, it works best when it exists as a parasite that leeches off and not threaten the host. Look at what happened in El Salvador. The gangs there created such anarchy that it forced the government to act and now you have tens of thousands of their members in the hoosegow.

    The carrels have a sweet deal, basically with free access to the American market and random freelance violence is bad for business. I wouldn’t be surprised that as far as the guys who committed those murders that something memorable happened to their families as a reminder to others

  17. I just returned from snowbirding for six months in Sonora. I felt perfectly safe as long as I was alert, smart, and did not drive at night. There are all sorts of opportunities make bad choices that put you at risk in the US and in MX. Don’t make bad choices.

  18. well you look at the infrastructure of Banamex, this was the subsidiary that laundered billions of dollars of drug profits, then they were merged with Citibank, in 2017, they finally paid something like 100 million dollar fine, but the year before they had given 50 K to the future Special Counsel and Former FBI Director Mueller, how about HSBC and Comey among other officials, who they hired some from GHCQ MI-6 et al, another major money washing operation, butt there have been no convictions of any officials, in fact Judge Gleason, who makes big deal about his prosecution of Gotti a small fish, makes it abundantly clear HSBC is never to be prosecuted for their work for the Cartels and AQ, while he pushed to continue the lawfare against General Flynn, so why would they stop their dark deads,

  19. Our Plymouth was green, too, Old Aviator – Dad had it done every few years in Earl Sheib jade green. Sometime in the mid 70s, he bought another ’52 Plymouth station wagon, just to part out to keep the first one running. (Green must had been a popular color – doing a search for pictures of ’52 Plymouth station wagons turns up many in that shade.)
    Poor Mexico, indeed. I wonder if their main problem is that the national hobby is revolution alternating with civil war. In between revolution/civil wars, it’s a wonderful, charming, bountiful and welcoming place … but when the war is on, Katie-bar-the-door.

  20. Organized crime increases its returns from crime by reducing the overall supply. It does this by chasing away competitors. The Mafia creates harm overall, but a Mafia-controlled neighborhood might have less total crime (especially street crime) than a non-Mafia neighborhood. This is a situation where cartels can actually benefit the public, at least from a utilitarian perspective that values maximizing the greatest good (or minimizing the greatest bad) for the greatest number.

    Different neighborhoods or regions might be controlled by different criminal organizations as in Mexico. You would think the Mexican cartels would have an interest in keeping down the overall crime rate by chasing away, turning in and/or punishing their competitors – like the people who supposedly murdered the surfers. That’s the theory. Are you reassured? Right.

    The El Salvador example is interesting. The violent crime there was directed against all kinds of people in the society. It got so bad that 1) the consensus of the voting public shifted to a position that would accept essentially any reasonable govt effort to suppress crime, and 2) by chance, their president decided on and stuck to a radical course of action that consisted, essentially, of locking up anyone who looked like a gang member. It worked, violent crime fell dramatically, the president remains very popular. But El Salvador is a tiny country and Mexico is a big one. Who knows if the Mexicans can pull off something similar.

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