"I don't like the way the municipal and state authorities always say, 'This is a federal case.' Yes, weapons [violations] come under federal law. But if you commit homicide with a weapon, you'll be charged for the homicide, not for weapons possession. That makes it a state case. Finding Alfredo de la Torre's murderer is the state's job."
Macklis wants action, no expense spared. "The government [of Baja California] has to take strong measures. Reallocate resources! Forget about paving the streets, other problems; put your money toward solving this problem. If you can believe it, right now there is only one district attorney, one ministerio público, prosecutor in all Tijuana. He must resolve all these [homicide] cases. It is impossible for one prosecutor to investigate even these two crimes -- the murders of Gallardo and his family and de la Torre. It is impossible. You cannot do it -- if you want to do a good job. If you don't want to do a good job, that's okay. But the violence in the street is going to continue. Federal authorities are not the problem. The problem here in Baja is that the state has not yet opened its eyes. We need more people. We need more units. We need more agents. We need better intelligence."
Macklis says blaming the drug cartels also makes him mad. "It's like, if it's raining, you blame El Niño. If large weapons were used, machine guns, AK-47s — the word is 'Arellano.' Simple. But only because they have nothing else."
But Macklis does believe it was someone sophisticated who planned de la Torre's death. "In my experience in criminal cases, guys who do this kind of crime, or 'job,' have to be very, very experienced people in the weapons field. Cars on that road [Via Rápida Oriental, where de la Torre was shot] have to be going, at a minimum, 45 mph. It's like a little freeway. When I go on that road, I'm sometimes going 65 mph. It's incredibly hard to open a window and shoot accurately. It would have to be, like, a van whose side door they opened, with a gunman sitting strapped into a captain's chair, tightly. It is not simple. It has to be something like three, four, five cars [surrounding de la Torre]. These are very, very expert people. You have to be related with criminals, with the police, or with the army.... I don't know."
When Macklis and a group of Tijuana lawyers met with deputy state attorney-general Olga Jiménez Muñoz recently, pushing for more action, the mood was pessimistic. "Some of them told her, 'Olga, you are fighting a war we have already lost. You can't do anything.' It's not just [a lack of] prosecutors for this year's 80 cases. The whole state legal [infrastructure] -- courts, jails, police -- has been neglected. The Tijuana jail on Eighth and Constitución hasn't changed since 1958. The penitentiary [at Otay], since 1963. The office of the court hasn't changed since I began my career! Around 1975. No new buildings, no nothing. Even the money they pay a district attorney is low, I think about $1000 a month."
Part of the problem, Macklis believes, is inherent in the border region itself. His response is radical. "In the future, with this relationship that we have with the United States, maybe, maybe we can create one set of laws for both sides of the border. International law that applies here and in San Diego. Make this like a free-port area, because otherwise the laws are so different, the criminals [can take advantage of it]."
In the meantime, Baja California's rickety legal apparatus needs money. Since de la Torre's death, President Zedillo's government has promised to increase this year's Baja California law enforcement budget from $21 million to $53 million. But the essential ingredient lacking, Macklis says, is government willpower.
"When the last governor, Mr. Terán Terán, died, and [Alejandro González] Alcocer succeeded him, I was happy. We know Alcocer. He's an attorney. I thought, 'Okay. Now we are going to have a litigant who knows our problems, the court's problems, the police's problems.' That's what I was thinking. But right now I don't know what happened with Alcocer. Once again we are moving sideways, like cangrejos [crabs].
"I hope that the crime against my friend Alfredo de la Torre will open their eyes. They must, because otherwise the people are going to take other actions. That's the problem. The people are very angry. We are not very far from becoming like a Guatemala or a Colombia."
Victor Clark thinks the comparison should be with the United States, in the 1920s. "You were having the same problems: rapid urbanization, machine politics being challenged, and criminals making fortunes by creating and selling illegal substances — back then it was alcohol. I guess what we need today is another Elliot Ness and his Untouchables, or a Zorro, and some courageous judges to back them."
Don Alfredo, he says, certainly used to back Clark — or at least watch his back. "In 1994, '95, we were very active in denouncing the relations that [certain] people working for Governor [Ernesto] Ruffo [Appel] had with drug traffickers. And I remember — well I don't remember, I have this here in my heart: In 1997, Rafael, our main informant, who was a member of the state police and also a friend of Alfredo, was brutally murdered because he was giving us information. Alfredo was there at his funeral. He told me that night, 'Licenciado, be very careful, because this is a message for you.' On several occasions, Don Alfredo warned me about the risks that I was running, because I was touching very delicate interests of corrupted authorities and their relationship with drug traffickers. He always told me: 'Licenciado, please. You are my friend. I don't want to find you dead one of these days.' "
It's 9:00 p.m. Clark calls to "José," his bodyguard, supplied by the municipal police, waiting in the next room. It's time for both of them to get back to their families. Clark picks up a small ceramic Mayan sculpture, a figure of a woman with an oval turquoise on her breast. "Don Alfredo gave this to me because he knew I taught social anthropology at the university. He thought it might have been genuine. It's not. But that doesn't matter. With this, I will always remember him."
Por un camino va
la Muerte, coronada
por azahares marchitos...
Down a road travels
Death, crowned with
withered orange blossoms.
Death sings and sings
with her ancient white guitar,
and sings and sings and sings.
(From "Death Knell," by Federico García Lorca)