San Diego How much does the world care that 80 people have been murdered in Tijuana in the last two months? Not much, except when one is Tijuana's police chief, says Victor Clark Alfaro, director of Tijuana's Binational Center for Human Rights. He can measure international interest by the number of calls he gets from foreign news crews. And since Alfredo de la Torre Márquez was ambushed and killed 11 days ago, Clark has had calls and visits from all over the world, including the leftist French paper L'Humanité, PBS's documentary series Frontline, Reuters, Univision Los Angeles, Univision Miami, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, the Union-Tribune, Tijuana media, and Mexico City papers like Proceso.
Joking about "fame" momentarily lightens the mood, but Clark, sitting at his office desk high up in a government-assisted apartment block, soon reverts to the businesslike seriousness that must help him through such disturbing times as these. As someone who exposes human-rights abuses in Tijuana, he also walks a tightrope. "This is what happens in this city. We have not even recovered from the astonishment of the murder of my friend Rodolfo Gallardo [a judge and lawyer murdered with his wife and son February 10], when suddenly there is another murder. Now we forget about Rodolfo, because Don Alfredo, someone many people knew, is murdered. Everybody turns their attention to this murder and forgets about the last. And I don't know who is going to be the next, and everybody is going to turn their attention to that and forget about Alfredo. And that's the phenomenon in this city."
It may seem odd that the leader of a human-rights office, a man who constantly takes complaints to authorities about police misconduct and corruption, should be close to a police chief. But Clark and Alfredo de la Torre were longtime friends.
"Probably 15 years ago, my father introduced me to Alfredo. He's about my age, 49. He began as a policeman 30 years ago. He wasn't formally well-educated. He probably didn't even make it to junior high. But he was very intelligent. I remember that we were once talking about his career, and he told me that he started as a policia auxiliar, initially in the red-light district, outside bars. He has a lot of experience. He was the first director of the municipal police who was actually a policeman. All others have been politicians. His success had a meaning for other policemen, that they too can fight for that position, because Alfredo made it.
"Often we went to have breakfast together -- we used to go to VIP's, two blocks behind the federal police. He'd call me Licenciado [the honorific accorded those with university degrees]; I'd call him 'Don Alfredo.' We had an excellent friendship. We'd embrace on meeting. I'm really shocked."
Clark isn't quick to blame the drug cartels for de la Torre's death. "There is not just a drug cartel. There are pollero [migrant-smuggling] cartels. There are arms cartels. There are car-stealing cartels. And probably there is a cartel dedicated to kidnapping. On the bottom of the pyramid are grupos emergentes -- emerging groups -- small ones who try to copy the methods of the big ones, because the big ones are their heroes. The lower echelons don't have too much to lose. The top-echelon cartels have a lot to lose [by murdering a prominent man like de la Torre], because all eyes [turn on them]. Not good for business. If someone is killed, [authorities] always say it is Los Arellanos who killed them."
So why was de la Torre killed? Was it impossible for him to stay untouched by criminals? Clark understands those pressures. "I remember, once we were talking about how organized crime bribes authorities. He told me, 'Licenciado, [the first time] they send you a briefcase full of money. If you return the briefcase, nothing is going to happen. But the next time, they send you another briefcase, with money and a machine-gun inside.' He said, 'What are you going to do?' Yet I am surprised. After 30 years he must have known how far to go, what doors to open, what doors not to open."
* * *
Marco Antonio Macklis Mercado hands over the appeal he penned a few minutes after he heard of Alfredo de la Torre's assassination. It's a cri de coeur to the governor of Baja California, members of state and city governments, and to his fellow citizens.
"The state of Baja California is an integral part of the United Mexican States.... The obligation of the governor of the state of Baja California is to watch over the conservation of order, tranquility, and security of the state and to guarantee to every person...an environment of support for his/her progress, well-being, and better quality of life... [Yet today] all we [citizens] do is...ask: 'WHO'S NEXT? WHEN?' "
Macklis, a well-known criminal-defense attorney in downtown Tijuana, is hardened to the reality of murderers, drug dealers, and smugglers. He has defended them from Tijuana to Toluca to Mexico City. Yet the 80 murders in his hometown, the gunning down of fellow attorney Rodolfo Gallardo and his family, and then police chief Alfredo de la Torre -- both friends of his -- was too much. He took his appeal down to El Mexicano and El Heraldo newspapers and paid to insert his appeal as a quarter-page ad.
"I am a criminal-defense lawyer. But first, I am a citizen of Mexico. I live here, my family lives here, and I am very concerned about what is happening here in Tijuana right now. There is no city in all the world that has criminals in the streets as we do. They are terrible. If they kill a chief of police like that, what can the rest of us expect?"
It's 5:00 p.m. Macklis is just back from a long day in court. We sit in his third-floor downtown office, surrounded by red-spined law books. Through the wall come occasional rumbles from cars in the parking garage next door. Macklis takes thoughtful drags on a cigarette. His hand blindly searches out one of the large glass ashtrays that dot his desk. His voice has the deep, sharp quality of a midlife smoker.