San Diego As you'd expect of an architect, Héctor Osuna Jaime explains what he means by drawing on his paper napkin. Two football teams. "This is them. The narco-traffickers. They know everybody on their side is on their team. Any doubt? Boom! They're gone." He draws another line of circles facing the narco team. "Here's us," he says. Some he fills in black, others he leaves white. Others he half fills. "We can't tell who on our team really is on our side. That gives the narcos the unfair advantage."
Osuna should know. In 1994, he was mayor when his friend, the municipal police chief Federico Benítez, was gunned down, allegedly, by federal police (no connection was ever proved). Assassinations in Tijuana are front-page news again. It's nearly a month since the second police chief to be gunned down in six years, Alfredo de la Torre Márquez, died on Tijuana's Via Rápida Oriente. And this afternoon, Thursday, March 23, Francisco Labastida Ochoa, the would-be successor to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) leader, President Ernesto Zedillo, is scheduled to visit the site where fellow-PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta was assassinated six years ago.
Héctor Osuna Jaime (not to be confused with José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, who succeeded him as mayor in 1996) is casual and relaxed, looking smart in an open shirt. Who would guess what he's been through? Six years ago, at 36, he was Tijuana's second PAN (National Action Party) mayor, during a time when Tijuana was raked by narco-driven violence. Looking at him now, sitting in a booth at Sanborn's café in Tijuana's Plaza Rio, he doesn't look his 42 years. Waitresses pass by, offering coffee refills. A few friends and admirers come over to shake hands.
Osuna is talking about his upcoming bid for the Mexican federal senate and a probable bid for governor of Baja California in 2007. But recent events -- the 80 murders, the police chief's assassination, the Labastida visit to Colosio's shrine -- have taken over the conversation.
He returns to the football-team analogy to illustrate his thesis: Tijuana society is so compromised by drug lords, there is no way out, under present circumstances. "Nobody is prepared for the narco realities of the border. Not even a mayor. This is your team. You have linebackers, whatever. You have a strategy. The uniforms of your players are all the same color, but the minds of your guys -- you don't know. This guy might be playing for this narco guy. And this guy might be playing for this narco guy. And this guy might be too. Do we have a chance in this situation?"
Osuna heaps suspicion of responsibility on Mexico's PRI-dominated federal government.
"Did you hear about the oficial mayor [the chief administrative officer] of the federal attorney-general's office? He committed suicide [March 8]; he was discovered to have many bank safety-deposit boxes stuffed with close to $3 million. Cash. This man was very near the top of the [federal police] power structure. That's how deep this problem is. This problem is not municipal. I mean, are we on the same team as state and federal authorities or not? I know that the [federal] PGR [police force] certainly is not. And the state police I would say is no more than 50-50. And probably the municipal police is 80-20. Meaning 80 percent on our side, 20 percent not. That's just the way it is."
Osuna says police chief Benítez was naïve enough in 1994 to try to clean out the narco traffickers from Tijuana. "To know where the drug is stored, where the drug is sold in Tijuana, is not that difficult. The people tell you where. If somebody sees a neighbor doing something wrong, somebody carrying a gun, and they don't know who they are, they'll notice. 'Who is this guy? What is he doing?' That information comes to the municipal police. Benítez was doing a check on all of those. We were very committed to doing that. And we found out later that is why he got killed. We were giving the information to the federal police, 'You want to do this? This is your duty. This is your area of responsibility.' They didn't do anything."
Osuna admits he tossed in the towel after Benítez was assassinated, replacing him with an old-style cop who made it clear he wouldn't interfere with drug matters. "We found out the [federal police] were not playing with us. They were playing against us. So what do you have? A broken team. What do you want? Send more people to get killed? Not on my [watch]. It's not out of fear. It's out of common sense. Senseless bravado [is pointless]."
On the other hand, Osuna believes citizens must take responsibility, too, and not close their eyes to traffickers living it up next door. "A lot of people here, community members, [tolerate] somebody who's wealthy, who's spending around, who has fine houses and cars, who's buying this and that, as long as he doesn't kill anybody. Are we willing to give him a space in society, even though he is a criminal? But then a son of some community member is killed by one of those guys. Now they turn to the government and say, 'Why don't you do something about it?' But before, they were doing business with him, allowing him in social clubs. There's the price. And that's the question for society as a whole."
Which is what has brought Osuna to a drastic solution. "I think we should reconsider this fighting drug-trafficking, a thing we have to fight with guns, with judges, with jail. I think we need to approach it as a health problem. I wouldn't want to [force] my own opinion, but let's ask the people. How would it be if we legalized? Let's look at countries like Holland that have legalized. Legalizing would be a moral issue that would be criticized by people. But let's get these people involved in formulating a solution. It's not enough to say, 'No, I don't want [legalizing].' What do you want?