Ramon T. Blanco Villalón/Zeta
Reenactment of Francisco Ortiz Franco murder. "Our co-worker, Francisco Ortiz Franco, was murdered two blocks away from a police station."
Under normal circumstances, it would be difficult not to stare at ten men dressed in black who brandished submachine guns. Under normal circumstances, ten men dressed in black who brandished submachine guns would be the sort of thing that caught a person's eye.
Background: Assassination attempt on Jesús Blacornelas (César René Blanco Villalon Zeta); inset: Frontera, May 5, 2005
Around 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 4, 2005, at the entrance to Club Campestre, Tijuana's country club, while young mothers ushered their children to tennis and swimming lessons, ten men dressed in black, brandishing submachine guns, swarmed the club's entrance and abducted 34-year-old Ivan Escobosa. They abducted Escobosa from the entrance's polished green-slate steps, only a few yards from where two dozen color and black-and-white photos mounted on the lobby's walls illustrate the club's 57-year history. Also on display that afternoon, near the lobby's entrance, stood a tripod displaying the portraits of Club Campestre's 17 "Debutantes of 2005."
"Club Campestre members are the sort of people who can get on the phone and tell politicians, 'Solve this problem!'"
According to a Los Angeles Times account of the abduction, Escobosa's screams were so loud that "they were heard in the chandeliered dining room nearby." The gunmen shoved Escobosa into one of their black vehicles and crashed through the security gate at the club's entrance and disappeared into the heavy traffic on Boulevard Agua Caliente. Three days later Escobosa's body was found beside a Tijuana highway. News reports stated that Escobosa's body showed signs of having been "badly beaten" and "asphyxiated," that his head was covered with a "yellow plastic bag."
Francisco Ortiz Franco dead inside his car (Alejandro Cossio/Zeta)
Someone who witnessed Escobosa's abduction told me that he remembered something else about that afternoon.
"What I remember is that as soon as people realized what was going on, they all looked away. They made a point of not looking at the gunmen. They looked away."
Reenactment of Francisco Ortiz Franco murder (Ramon T. Blanco Villalón/Zeta)
"The gunmen," this person said, "were not wearing masks."
Someone else who saw the abduction told me, "One person did look at the gunmen. Guillermo Guevara, the club's general manager, went outside and confronted the gunmen. They were disturbing his club, and they were attacking a guest at his club. Guillermo was very brave. He takes his responsibilities very seriously. He went right up to the gunmen and asked who they were. He told them he was going to write down their license plate numbers. One of the gunmen pointed his gun at Guillermo's face and said, 'If you take down our license plate numbers, we'll come back tomorrow and kill you.'
"Jorge Hank Rhon promised that he was going to attack crime and that we were going to 'live well and safely.'"
"Later I said to Guillermo, 'Don't be a hero.'"
Guillermo Guevara, on the morning I met him several weeks after the incident at Club Campestre's entrance, didn't seem like a hero. Dressed in a crisp aqua-blue guayabera, his silver hair neatly combed, his silver mustache precisely trimmed, Guevara was handsome, and deferent, or respetuoso, in the way that Mexican middle-class men are often respetuoso. Like several people I spoke to while learning about Club Campestre, Guevara wasn't entirely at ease with our conversation.
"I started this job only four months ago," he said. "I don't know everything about Club Campestre. I'd like to keep this interview as informal as possible."
While I asked Guevara about his duties at Club Campestre, he took a Post-it note and on it wrote, in a very deliberate way, the names of the six country clubs in Mexico City and Guadalajara where he'd held various management positions since 1970. He told me that while Campestre was the largest Mexican country club on the border, its $14,000 initiation fee and $300 monthly dues were much less than the fees and dues at other clubs in Mexico. In Mexico City, he said, country club initiation fees can be as high as $220,000, and monthly dues as much as $600.
"But even though we're less expensive than other clubs in Mexico, we offer a high standard of service."
He told me that he managed 265 employees and that around 3000 people, or 807 families, belonged to Campestre, and of those 807 families, about 20 percent lived in San Diego. Of those 3000 members, about 500 used the club each day, "for golf, tennis, swimming, the gymnasium, the bar, the restaurant, everything." He said the club hosted, on average, two private events each day -- parties, meetings -- for anywhere between 100 to 500 people, and that the restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, each day prepared approximately 200 meals.
"Most of our members," he said, "come here to play golf."
Guevara indicated that he wasn't comfortable talking about what happened on May 4, 2005, that he felt it best that Campestre's president, Dr. Fausto Gallardo, discuss the matter with me. Guevara did hand me over to Ramiro Marquez, his maintenance manager, to show me around the club.
"Only members and their guests can use the golf course, gym, and swimming pool," Guevara said. "But we're otherwise completely open to the public. You're welcome to look around at anything you'd like."
It was only after I got up from my seat in Guevara's office that I noticed that, high on the wall behind me, a bank of closed-circuit televisions displayed a continuous stream of images captured by security cameras posted at a number of locations around Club Campestre. From several different angles, cameras monitored the club's entrance. Guevara's desk faces the bank of closed-circuit televisions. On the afternoon of May 4, 2005, Guevara must have seen what was going on at the entrance before he went outside. Guevara knew what was happening and he went to intervene.
Ramiro Marquez, a man in his early forties with broad shoulders and a firm belly, was wearing dark slacks and a navy-blue polo shirt. He had an easy, fatherly way about him, suggesting that nothing much upsets or riles him.
"Oh, boy," Marquez said and rolled his eyes when I asked about the abduction. "All I have to say is that Guillermo Guevara is a very brave man."
Marquez showed me around Campestre as if it were his home and he had significant pride of ownership. He ushered me through the various banquet halls, Salon Agua Caliente that can hold 1000 people, Salon Oro, 180 people, Salon Minarete, 100 people, and La Terraza Sur, overlooking the golf course, "which is very popular for wedding and baby showers. The women can sit up here and have their party while they watch the men play golf."
Marquez drove me in a golf cart around the 60-acre course, pointing out the private condos and homes surrounding it. One enormous structure with an elaborate copper roof belonged, Marquez said, to a "Middle Eastern man who for many years had a tobacco concession in Tijuana.
"He died several years ago, and only his wife lives there now. Every year we have a tournament when policemen from San Diego and Los Angeles come down to play. I point out that house to them and say, 'Hey, look. That's where Tijuana's chief of police lives!' Their jaws drop. A lot of them believe me until I tell them it's a joke."
Back at Campestre's offices, Guillermo Guevara handed me a large white book, a 190-page history of the club published in 1998 to commemorate Campestre's 50-year anniversary. The book traces the club's evolution from serving in the late 1920s as the golf course at Agua Caliente Hotel and Casino to its independent incorporation in September 1948, as Club Deportivo Campestre, to the present. The book devotes a great many pages to detailing organizational aspects of the club, such as the writing of its constitution and bylaws, the club's acquisition of land. The book devotes a great many pages to demonstrating that, since its inception, Club Campestre has done everything by the rules and with the greatest possible transparency.
"We're an attractive place for a lot of families in Tijuana who don't belong to Club Campestre," said Genoveva Magana, the club's director of events, the day I met Guevara and Marquez. "If you want to have a party in one of our banquet rooms in December and July, you have to book it at least one year in advance. After Christmas and after graduation, things slow down and we may have as few as only seven private events each week. One of our biggest events is the Debutantes Dance in July. It's a kind of group quinceañera. Every year we have a Queen of Debutantes. They draw the name from a box so that all the girls have an equal chance.
"Club members and nonmembers like to use our rooms because it's so much more convenient than entertaining at their homes. You don't have to clean up before and afterward. We do everything. And we can do everything for, on average, about 25 dollars per plate, not including decorations. You can, of course, spend much more than that, as much as you want, but on average it's about 25 dollars per plate, a choice of beef or chicken entrée. Members receive a 20 percent discount.
"Another thing that makes us so attractive is our parking. At other places, guests either have to pay for parking or there is no off-street parking. In fact, our parking is probably one of the most important things that we have to offer. Our parking is free for guests, and our parking is very secure."
I never did meet Club Campestre's president, Dr. Fausto Gallardo. The first day I visited the club, I left my card with his secretary, who said she would get back to me with a time and a date for a meeting. Over the next several months, Dr. Gallardo's secretary and I spoke by phone at least twice each week. A couple of times each week I'd drive down to Tijuana and drop by Campestre's offices to see if Dr. Gallardo was around. Each time I spoke with his secretary she assured me that soon, very soon, I'd be able to meet Dr. Gallardo. I don't know the exact reason why he never got around to meeting me. I do know that immediately after Ivan Escobosa's abduction, there were rumors that Escobosa had been involved with the Arellano Felix drug cartel. But the details surrounding his abduction were sketchy, as are the details surrounding most abductions and kidnappings in Tijuana. News reports described Escobosa variously as an "entrepreneur," an "owner of money-exchange houses," a "housing developer." Escobosa's own mother called in to Tijuana radio stations to say that her son owned gas stations and was never involved in crime.
I also know that in early June, Tijuana police arrested a man, José Gustavo Contreras López, as he left his home in an armored Mercury Grand Marquis. The police claimed that Contreras operated a cell for the Arellano Felix drug cartel that had been involved in ten abductions, including that of Ivan Escobosa. I also know that Zeta, Tijuana's 25-year-old muckraking weekly, later reported that while Contreras did work for the Arellano Felix drug cartel, Contreras wasn't in charge of a cell.
Desafortunadamente is Spanish for "unfortunately," and its eight syllables are a mouthful even for native Spanish speakers. Adela Navarro, Zeta's 37-year-old editor, enunciates desafortunadamente with impressive speed. Zeta's investigative reporting has closely tracked the drug Mafia's penetration of Tijuana society. Two of Zeta's journalists have been murdered: Hector Felix Miranda in April 1988 and Francisco Ortiz Franco, in May 2004. (Zeta's publisher, Jesús Blancornelas, has for the past 17 years contended that Jorge Hank Rhon, Tijuana's current mayor, was the "intellectual author" of Miranda's murder.)
On the hot, dry afternoon I visited Zeta's offices to speak with Navarro, three laborers who'd been reinforcing the wall around Zeta's entrance were taking their siesta on a pile of damp sand. A burly fellow holding an M-16 stood guard at the front door. Inside the offices, Navarro, a delicate young woman with large, dark eyes and shoulder-length brown hair, invited me to take a seat on a broad leather couch.
"Desafortunadamente," Navarro said, "the reaction of journalists to what happened at Club Campestre, the reaction of many San Diegans to what happened at Club Campestre, was probably greater than that of a lot of people in Tijuana.
"When an attorney is assassinated, all the law students and the law professors in Tijuana come out and make a big protest. When an accountant is assassinated, all the accounting students and accounting professors come out and make a big protest. After Ivan Escobosa was abducted from Club Campestre and murdered, you heard criticism around town. You heard people complain. But here were people who had the money, influence, and social position to really complain. They're the sort of people who can get on the phone and tell politicians, 'Solve this problem!' Jorge Hank Rhon, the mayor, is a member of Club Campestre. Jorge Hank Rhon is good friends with Dr. Gallardo, Club Campestre's current president. Jorge Hank Rhon's wife was even 'Queen of the Debutantes' at Club Campestre. But as far as I know, to this date, the members of Club Campestre have never made any kind of formal protest about what happened at the entrance to their club.
"Why the silence? I think there are several reasons. Tijuana is now a city of around 2 million residents. In general, we're a very fragmented society. I think that now something like only 47 percent of the people who live here are natives. So, the majority of people who live in Tijuana don't have roots here yet. They're really not invested in the local society. Also, I think there's a kind of selfishness. Of course people say, 'Well, Escobosa was probably involved in drug dealing.' It's a way of saying, 'Well, we're not involved in drug dealing, we're safe. Nothing like that will happen to us.' What they don't realize is that as the violence escalates, so does their chance of eventually being caught in the crossfire. Another factor is that the people who have the social position and power to demand change have an escape. They can move across the border."
Navarro handed me a copy of an article she'd written that appeared in the September 2, 2005, edition of Zeta.
"Rather than panic," the article began, "Tijuana residents prefer to go live in the United States."
Navarro went on to say that not only was the number of kidnappings and abductions increasing, but that many businessmen and entrepreneurs were facing a new menace. In the weeks preceding the article's publication, she said, businessmen and entrepreneurs had started receiving extortionary phone calls at their homes and businesses. These calls had evolved from threats of kidnapping to outright threats of murder. "They say, 'If you don't give us a certain amount of money, we'll kill someone in your family.' " Navarro quoted Jaime Valdovino, president of CANACO, Tijuana's Cámara Nacional de Comercio, or Chamber of Commerce, as saying that since the beginning of 2005, his organization had received reports of 240 such calls. Valdovino said that this number likely represented only a fraction of the phone threats being made in Tijuana.
"Not only are these phone calls increasing in severity," said Navarro, tapping on the article with her finger, "the kidnappings and abductions are becoming more brazen. They're happening in broad daylight. On August 24, 2005, Alejandro Ruiz Arretche, the City Hall representative from the La Mesa district, was kidnapped at 9:30 in the morning. He was later released, but he was kidnapped on a busy street at 9:30 in the morning. Our co-worker, Francisco Ortiz Franco, was murdered two blocks away from a police station.
"So, there's plenty of reasons for people to worry. They may think, 'Well, we're not involved with drug dealers, so we're safe,' but the evidence is that no one is safe. And it's not that kidnappings, abductions, and death threats are the only problems. The incidence of all kinds of crime is increasing. And it's all tied together. The smuggling of people across the border is tied to the narcotraficantes and the smuggling of drugs across the border. Car theft. Burglaries. Drug addiction in Tijuana. It all trickles down and touches all our lives. You can think, 'Oh, I'm not involved with narcotraficantes.' But when you go out to a restaurant, hand your car keys over to the valet, and come out a couple of hours later and find that your car and everything in it has disappeared, your life has been touched by the same criminal system that's creating all the other problems."
But instead of organizing politically to force the municipal, state, and federal governments to confront these problems, many of Tijuana's citizens with money and influence have made other arrangements.
"Go to an upper-class neighborhood in Tijuana like Chapultepec and look around," Navarro told me. "I'd estimate that one of every four houses you see has on it a sign that says 'For Sale' or 'For Rent.' What's happening is that a lot of businesspeople are leaving for San Diego and they're hiring management companies that are based in cities like Monterrey and Nuevo León to manage their business for them in Tijuana.
"I don't call this 'living well and safely.' That was one of the slogans that our current mayor, Jorge Hank Rhon, used in his campaign. He promised that he was going to attack crime and that we were going to 'live well and safely.' I don't think he's kept his promise."
I asked Navarro if she felt that people in Tijuana had a limit for the amount of crime and violence that they were willing to tolerate.
"I'm an optimist," she said. "I'd like to think that we do have a limit. And I'm an optimist in part because I'm a journalist and I feel that I can have an impact on what happens in our city. I can write articles. I can express my opinions. I can make myself heard. Because I'm an optimist, I believe that someday soon people are going to look at the current situation and say, 'Okay, we've had enough!' and go out and organize to let politicians know that they won't tolerate these problems anymore. Something like what happened in California with your previous governor, Gray Davis. When will that happen in Tijuana? I don't know. Are we close to reaching some sort of limit? How bad will things have to get before we reach that limit? I don't know. What I do know is that I don't at present see any evidence of our reaching a limit. But I believe that someday we will."
When I left Navarro and later over lunch had a chance to read her article, I had to wonder at her optimism. The article mentioned incidents with which I was unfamiliar. A week or so before the unpleasantness at Club Campestre, armed men dressed in black had abducted and murdered the owner of Carnitas Quiroga, a popular restaurant in Zona Rio. On August 27, 2005, another armed group had, by accident it seems, stormed a banquet room at a well-known social hall only to discover a graduation ceremony in progress. After terrorizing the students, teachers, and parents, the armed group moved on to their intended target, a quinceañera celebration in a room nearby. The armed men ordered the guests, most of whom were adolescents, to the floor and then murdered the debutante's father.
Navarro ended her article with a sidebar giving the names of the 39 men and women who, according to Zeta's research, had been murdered in Tijuana in August 2005, the "most violent month in Tijuana in the past six years." The sidebar stated that as of the end of August 2005, 253 people had been murdered in Tijuana.
Not long after meeting with Navarro, I found myself with some time to kill at the Centro Cultural de Tijuana. The main exhibition happened to be something called Farsites: Urban Crisis and Domestic Symptoms in Recent Contemporary Art, the most recent effort of inSite, a 12-year-old binational organization that promotes an annual series of art events in San Diego and Tijuana.
"The themes that weave the work of the 53 artists in the exhibition are the varied notions of 'crisis' and 'symptom' in relation both to the urban sphere and the domestic scene," explained a statement printed on the wall outside the exhibition. "What are privileged, however, are not so much the totalizing, macro views of crisis and symptoms, but their micro, personal, or partial standpoints."
Although Tijuana's current "situation," as Adela Navarro puts it, would appear to offer inspiration for art concerning "urban crisis" and its "domestic symptoms," Farsites seemed distant from the conversations I'd been having about life in Tijuana.
I wandered around the exhibit and gazed at black-and-white stills of run-down buildings in Milan, Italy, at color shots of middle-class homes in Sandusky, Ohio, and at color shots of high-rise apartment buildings in Bogotá, Colombia. In a small, dark room I stood for a few minutes and watched what appeared to be a video montage composed of decades-old news footage regarding various terrorist attacks, principally that of the 1972 hijacking of Sabena flight 572 from Vienna to Tel Aviv.
In a corner of another room, an artist had dumped a pile of hard candies individually wrapped in shiny red, white, and blue cellophane. A group of elementary school boys, who were touring the exhibit with their teacher, either did or did not get the artist's point and fell upon the candies like ravenous cubs. Their teacher, who either did or did not get the artist's point, barked at the boys, "Leave it alone! It's art!"
Upstairs from the enticing candies, in Centro Cultural's lobby, a Brazilian artist had installed an enormous pillow fashioned from plastic-coated pages taken from various Brazilian newspapers. This was, at last, a piece of art that even I could comprehend. A joke that even I could get: journalism-as-lullaby. But as witty as the giant pillow might have been in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, it seemed out of place in Tijuana, a city where a number of journalists haven't been much interested in writing lullabies.
Standing in front of the enormous, witty pillow, it occurred to me that I was witnessing something not very different from what happened at the entrance to Club Campestre on May 4, 2005. A group of people, who would appear to have a stake in the world at large, had chosen to look away from the facts at hand, from the readily observable. Farsite's artists had privileged as "micro, personal, or partial standpoints" neither the 250-odd murders that had occurred in Tijuana as of the end of August 2005, nor the assassination of Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, nor the kidnapping of Alejandro Ruiz Arretche, nor the screams of Ivan Escobosa that echoed around Club Campestre's chandeliered dining room.
"You learn to watch out for certain things. Like Dodge Ram pickups with dark-tinted windows. Or Dodge vans with dark-tinted windows. Or Ford Crown Victorias with dark-tinted windows. Or Mercury Grand Marquis with dark-tinted windows. Those are the vehicles that you watch for. Those are the kinds of cars that kidnappers often use," said 30-year-old Antonio, who was the reason I'd killed time at the Farsite exhibition. "Those are the vehicles that drug dealers often use. The vans are tricky because they look like the sort of vans owned by a lot of legitimate businesses."
Antonio, whose standpoint on Tijuana's symptoms of urban crisis was micro, personal, and partial, had been referred to me by two young women I'd met one afternoon in front of Club Campestre. Neither girl had wanted to speak with me about the May 4 incident, but both had said that Antonio came from a respectable upper-middle-class family and had grown up around kids whose families belonged to Club Campestre. They said Antonio was well-educated and well-spoken and would be able to give me an idea of how Tijuana's upper middle class responded to what happened.
Despite the strong recommendation, I had difficulty arranging to meet Antonio. We exchanged several e-mail messages. He asked that I supply him with a list of questions so that he could prepare "good answers." He first suggested that we meet at Sanborn's restaurant on Revolución but then rejected the location as "too obvious." He later suggested VIP's coffee shop in Zona Rio but then rejected it for the same reason. Finally he asked that we meet at the entrance to the Centro Cultural. But after meeting me there and shaking my hand, Antonio said he didn't want to talk at the Centro's cafe either. He had another cafe in mind, a short drive away. This cafe, he said, had an out-of-the-way second floor that was often empty in the early evening.
While we sipped iced cappuccinos priced at four dollars each, Antonio made me promise, before I began recording our conversation, that I would not disclose details that might identify him or his family. He did allow me to say that his family was in the construction industry and had done well enough to afford vacations in Europe and Mexico City and, in the past at least, to buy and drive new cars.
"But now we have to be careful," he said. "If you're a young person driving a new car, somebody might assume that you come from a family with a lot of money. I worry about my younger brother, who's 20. He drives a new car, a Japanese sports car. Now, the fact is, my father didn't give it to him. My brother worked very hard and bought the car with his own money. But other people don't know that. They just see a young man driving a nice new Japanese sports car.
"You become conscious of these things. As a family, we've talked about kidnappings and about the precautions we should take. For example, if someone we don't know calls the house and asks to speak with my father, we're very careful about what we say. If we don't know the person who's calling, we always say that our father is away on a business trip. We don't say where he's gone or when he'll return. We don't give out any information.
"My mother always tells me, 'Change the route that you take when going and coming from work. Use a different route every day. Drive a different car. Don't always drive the same car.' My father always says, 'Be careful of what you say when you're out with your friends. Don't brag about what new clothes you just bought. You don't know who might be listening.'
"I guess it's like the conversations that families have about earthquakes, about what precautions to take, about what everyone in the family should do in case there's an earthquake. And here in Tijuana even middle-class families have to discuss kidnappings, because it's not just upper-class or rich people who get kidnapped. You personally might not have a lot of money, but maybe someone in your family does, a brother, an uncle, a cousin. Having a rich person in your family can make you an attractive target for kidnappers.
"What I'm telling you is what just about anyone in Tijuana, the waiter in this cafe, any man on the street, would tell you if they felt comfortable talking with you. This is common knowledge. It's part of the life that we live now. I know that my father gets some kind of monthly 'security bulletin' that's printed for businessmen that gives suggestions on how to avoid being kidnapped."
I asked Antonio how his family had reacted to the news of what happened at Club Campestre. I asked if it had changed the way they thought about their personal safety.
"What I remember is that day we became aware that a young man had been abducted from the club's entrance. It was not clear what happened. In these cases, it's almost never clear what happened. We heard that a young man had been abducted from the entrance at Club Campestre, and then the gossip was that it had taken the police 15 or 20 minutes to arrive. The implication was that the police had perhaps been somehow involved in the abduction. It wasn't clear if [Escobosa] had been kidnapped for ransom or if he had been involved in drug dealing and had been abducted for revenge by narcotraficantes.
"For middle- or upper-middle-class people in Tijuana, I don't think the incident at Club Campestre was what really changed the way we thought about our personal safety. Most of our families don't belong to Club Campestre anyway. I think that for the middle and upper middle classes, the big change came five years ago when the son of Beatriz Adriana was kidnapped and murdered. Beatriz Adriana is a very famous and respected actor and singer in Mexico. All Mexicans love her. She had a home here in Tijuana. She tried to raise money for her son's ransom. But his body was later found. He'd been murdered. Once again, what happened wasn't clear. We didn't know if the son had been involved in drug dealing or not. But what we did think was, 'Wow, if the son of a famous and loved Mexican celebrity can be kidnapped and murdered, then even middle- and upper-middle-class people aren't safe. The kidnappers can get anyone.' "
I asked Antonio if he feared being kidnapped.
"I don't worry about it. You can't live with that kind of fear in Tijuana. You just have to live your life. Since members of my family work in public administration, I think that if I were kidnapped, I think that's something I would mention to the kidnappers. I don't know if it would help protect me. I don't know how far my family members' influence extends in the upper levels of public administration. But it's something that I would definitely mention if I were kidnapped. I hope it would help me."
I asked Antonio if his family had ever considered joining Club Campestre.
"I don't think my father was ever interested, but a few years ago one of my older brothers who's done very well thought about joining. In the end, he decided not to. I don't think money had anything to do with his decision. I don't think money had anything to do with it at all. I think he finally thought that the point of joining the club was to play golf, and I think that we as a family kind of consider golf to be an elitist sport."
Antonio was proud of his older brother. When we finished our second round of cappuccinos, Antonio offered to show me a home his older brother was building in one of the newer upper-middle-class neighborhoods high in the hills southwest of downtown Tijuana. The brother's home was in what Americans would call a "gated community." Armed guards at two security checkpoints control traffic into and out of the development. In front of and behind these two checkpoints, a series of massive speed bumps, much larger than any I've ever seen in the US, make it impossible for a vehicle to enter or leave the community in haste.
Not all the lots have been sold in the development, and so, standing on the otherwise barren hillsides, those homes that were already finished or in the process of being built loomed more imposingly than they might if the development were complete. Antonio's brother's home, however, was three stories tall and had a three-car garage. The bathroom in the master bedroom had a cathedral ceiling and was about the same size of my living room at home and had, in one corner, the fittings for a large Jacuzzi tub.
"Five bedrooms," Antonio said. "Don't you think that's a lot for a family that has only one child?"
Antonio led me up a spiral staircase to the roof of the house, which his brother has designed to be used as a patio. The view was panoramic: we could see not only all of downtown Tijuana but also all the way to Tijuana's airport, and, to the northwest, downtown San Diego. The evening air was hazy and made the thousands of lights spread out before us appear a soft amber color.
"You see," said Antonio, smiling at the view. "Tijuana can be a nice place to live."
Jaime Valdovino agrees.
"I still live here," says the 50-year-old current president of CANACO, Tijuana's chamber of commerce. "I wouldn't live anywhere else."
Valdovino, like Tijuana's mayor Jorge Hank Rhon, is one of Club Campestre's most visible members. The afternoon I met Valdovino in CANACO's spacious and very well air-conditioned offices in Zona Rio, he wore a Ralph Lauren dress shirt striped in yellow and blue pastels. Valdovino, who studied business management at SDSU, projected the sort of easygoing can-do enthusiasm common to civic boosters on both sides of the border.
"This past year," he told me, "has been our best year for tourism ever."
Valdovino explained that 80-year-old CANACO represents 1700 small- to medium-sized businesses that, depending on their size, pay annual dues from $150 to $300.
"We represent about 30 different groups -- everything from pharmacies to used-car dealers, hardware stores, doctors. You name it. All sectors of the economy."
He said that CANACO's members elect the organization's president, who serves a two-year term. (I asked if CANACO's presidency were a part-time position. "It's supposed to be," he laughed. "At least my father thinks it's supposed to be.")
"CANACO's chief role is to act as liaison between businesses and the municipal, state, and federal governments. If our members have difficulty getting some kind of permit, for example, they come to us. Also crime. If they have a problem with crime, they come to us and talk to us. We're essentially the buffer between business and the government. Most of the time, we deal with the municipal government.
"We're a private organization, which is good. We get zero subsidies from the government, so we can criticize things without fear of any repercussions."
Valdovino told me that he was a Tijuana native and came from a middle-class family that, years ago, had owned a number of chicken ranches.
"But we got out of that business," he said. "It's dirty, smelly, and difficult. Who wants to deal with that? I'm the one who decided, 'No more chickens!' That's the best decision I ever made in my life. Now I own a lumberyard."
I asked about Valdovino's involvement in Club Campestre.
"I've been a member of Club Campestre for ten years. I joined ten years ago. That's when I started playing golf. And I'm still lousy at it.
"A very small percentage of CANACO members belong to Club Campestre. I'd say less than 5 percent. Perhaps even less. You have to understand that more than 50 percent of our members are small- to medium-size businesses, family-owned. They have to work. They don't have the time for those kind of activities.
"I probably really became aware of Club Campestre in my late twenties. I'd always had friends who belonged there, but I wasn't really involved with the club. I was more into working at my business. I didn't have time. To be honest, I just didn't care. I was more interested in building the family business. My image of the place wasn't that it was strictly for the rich because that's not true. I'd have to say that now more than 50 percent of the members are middle-class.
"If you'd ask most people in Tijuana, they would say that Club Campestre was a privileged place. For political people. For people with money. I always saw it as important to the community. Despite changes in the local or national government, changes in the economy, Club Campestre has always been there. It's a very stable place. In ten years that I've been a member, the economy has had its ups and downs, but Campestre is still Campestre. Changes don't affect it that much. Our dues have remained about $350 per month, and that's relatively inexpensive when compared to places in Guadalajara or Monterrey.
"Part of Club Campestre's stability is that it's secluded. When I started playing golf there what I remember was noticing that it's surrounded by walls and you could kind of forget the problems that exist outside. You can forget the problems that exist outside for the two or three hours that you're there. Before I became president of CANACO, I'd go to Campestre two or three times a week. Now, I'm so busy that it's only once a week.
"It's also a good place to raise a family, because right now, with the way things are, you need a place where you can send your kids to play and eat. You can be comfortable sending them there. For us, Campestre has offered that kind of security. And it's a good place for your kids to make contacts.
"The main thing is that when your kids are there, you know where they are and you know who they're making friends with. What's the saying? 'Show me your friends and I'll tell you who you are'? Other people will assume to know who you are by looking at your friends. And so that's the main reason for sending your kids there. The social environment. My two daughters and my son went there when they were younger. We had the girls' quinceañeras there. And the 'debutantes' aspect of Campestre is very nice. To have all the girls, the same age, together. The custom is starting to change. A lot of girls still have a quinceañera outside the club and participate in the debutantes, but more and more you have girls like my one daughter who said, 'You know, I just want to do the debutantes at Campestre and then have a small dinner at home. I don't want a big party.' Things have changed.
"Campestre is also a nice and convenient place to have parties. For us, it's very convenient because it's only 10 minutes from our house. Campestre is very strategically located. I'd say that 90 percent of the members live within a 20-minute radius from the club. It's almost a community center. And that's good for us that it's so convenient for the community, because people use Campestre for parties, for weddings, and the club can charge for renting the rooms, and that way the club can make a little money.
"I think Campestre's function has been mostly social and not so much as an economic or political center for the city. There are a lot of rich people who don't belong. I'd say that most rich people in Tijuana don't belong. They're not into sports. They don't like sports. My father was a member, and ultimately, he said, 'I'm not interested in sports. I'm outta here! I don't want it.' "
What was, I wondered, Valdovino's reaction to what happened on May 4, 2005.
"It was very surprising for me, because that's what Campestre has always been about, safety. Campestre was one of the few places where you felt secure. I was surprised, yes. But not totally surprised. Because of what's been happening. It made us all realize that times have changed. No place is totally secure. So, we just have to be aware of that now. I don't care where you are. You may think that you're secluded. You may think that you're protected. But there's no place. No place where organized crime can't get involved. There's no place that's safe.
"Still, what happened at Club Campestre was a surprise to us. That it happened at that place, at that hour. There was a lot of outcry. There was a realization that things had to change. I think this past year we've all been more aware about our security. About taking greater measures about our security. What happened at Club Campestre hasn't been the only thing that's happened here."
I told Valdovino that I'd heard that Ivan Escobosa had gone that afternoon to Club Campestre with the son of a prominent Tijuana family. Was that true?
"I've heard various rumors about what happened. I've heard various versions of what happened. I know the name of the person who was abducted, and whatever he was involved in, well, that was up to him. I don't know. I can't really comment on anything else.
"But are we living, do we feel like we're living, in a state of anarchy or chaos? No. But there are certain places at certain hours where you shouldn't go. Just like anywhere else in the world. If you have the choice between parking your car on the street or in a private lot? Park in a private lot. Should I dress flashy? No. Don't dress flashy. Common-sense things. On the business side, we've been forced to spend more on security. On security cameras. On bodyguards. On bars on our windows. Five years ago our budgets for security were not a major issue, but now they are."
I asked Valdovino why he thought Club Campestre's members haven't made any sort of organized protest about what happened on May 4.
"Of course, in Tijuana, if someone like an attorney gets kidnapped and murdered, there's a protest. But what you have to factor in is that if someone's kidnapped, and if that person was involved directly or indirectly in organized crime, you're not going to have a large protest. A lot of people who get abducted or kidnapped here are involved in organized crime. So, there's definitely a war going on there. And the price for involvement in organized crime is high. We're on the outside. Of course we see it, but we're on the outside.
"Here at CANACO we're of course concerned about a lot of what's been happening because it's been happening in daytime in public places."
Did Valdovino believe that people in Tijuana had a limit for the amount of crime and violence that they would tolerate?
"There is a limit, but I don't think we've reached that limit yet. We want the government to accept that there is a problem. All three levels of the government. In order to correct the problem, you first have to recognize that there is a problem. But, like I said, we've had our best year in tourism ever. We've got a billion dollars' worth of construction going on from Playas of Tijuana going south to Ensenada. A lot of the construction is condominiums, and the vast majority of those homes are being bought by Americans and Canadians. By people from outside Tijuana. So, in a way, that might tell you that while things might look bad, they're not so bad. You could say that there is a problem, but it's being created by a very small group of people who are causing the problems, but the problems are really between them.
"I don't think those problems are going to go away anytime soon. Tijuana is very strategically located. We're right next door to the United States. And when you have a product and you have a demand, it's gonna be tough. It is tough. But it's not only the Mexican government, it's also the American government. Both governments have to recognize that there's a problem here."
Why, I asked, did Valdovino think that people in Tijuana hadn't been able to organize politically in a unified way to demand that their government do something about the city's crime problem?
"There is an effort, but we're lacking in coordination. That's our main problem. A lack of coordination and trust between the municipal, state, and federal governments. Between all those factions. A lack of coordination, communication, and trust.
"We do know who we're supposed to go to with our complaints, but the problem is that we don't always trust the people we're supposed to go to. Let's be honest, we don't trust these guys. When it comes to kidnappings, we don't trust a lot of officials. A lot of people would prefer not to speak with them or have anything to do with them. It's a problem of trust. And that only makes things worse."