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MS-13 gang rules Tijuana migrant camp

Local police too intimidated to clean up El Chaparral?

"Some of these gang members brag about the police being bribed by them." - Image by Angeles Garcia
"Some of these gang members brag about the police being bribed by them."

What started as a refugee camp close to El Chaparral Port of Entry in Tijuana has ended up as a sort of shelter for criminals and gang members from Central America. According to Paty (not her real name), a central American migrant activist that has been working with the migrant community for 20 years now, El Chaparral has become a dangerous place for migrant families and the Mexican public.

Paty: “I have taken several people out of the camp at night because we can’t do it during daylight. There’s a gang that’s threatened to beat people. I haven’t been hurt yet because I help people by giving them meals, but people are blackmailed to pay them to use the bathroom; they harass girls, and the police don’t do anything.”

Julia (not her real name) spent ten days with her two daughters in El Chaparral camp. She said when she arrived a man asked her to pay 600 pesos ($30 USD) for a spot in the camp. A countryman offered to share his spot with her, but days later a group of men came to beat and threaten him because he was helping people to settle without paying.

“They told him that the next time they won’t spare him. He was just setting up another tent for a family that was coming. All this happened in front of the kids; that’s not a place for a woman and her kids now. And the police appeared to be afraid of them. Some of these gang members brag about the police being bribed by them, and therefore they rule there. We had to leave.”

Though one of the leaders of this gang is already identified he has even attacked journalists while doing their work. On August 8 an alleged member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), El Gato, spilled sewage on Angeles Garcia, a photojournalist from El Sol de Tijuana. She noted that after she was reporting on the state's vaccine campaign, she took a photo of the camp and was harassed by a gang member known in the camp for his violent behavior.

“He came to me and yelled that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures there and threw sewage all over me. My first reaction was to cover my camera because it belongs to the newspaper. If something happens to it we need to use our money to replace it.”

About 20 minutes passed before a police patrol appeared, and Angeles told them about the incident. When she returned to the camp and she pointed out the aggressor to the officers, El Gato started assaulting her.

“It’s unbelievable that the officer told me that they couldn’t do too much because we could be lynched there. Even a woman with her kid on arms who had witnessed the aggression denied it in front of the police.

"I couldn’t understand why she did it at the moment, but imagining how it is to live there, he (El Gato) can easily come back and do something to her.”

Angeles filed a complaint at the state prosecutors office that took her three days to complete. The office told her to come back two weeks later to see what the progress of the investigation is, but she thinks it won’t do much. The inefficiency of justice is one of the main reasons why migrants aren’t complaining to the authorities about the gang's aggressions in the camp.

According to an August 4 story in Milenio, Gato was detained by the local police. But an unnamed source says he was not held.

For now, the municipal authority hasn’t said anything about the eviction of the Chaparral inhabitants, but they believe that they will do it as soon as the U.S. and Mexico governments agree to reopen the border.

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"Some of these gang members brag about the police being bribed by them." - Image by Angeles Garcia
"Some of these gang members brag about the police being bribed by them."

What started as a refugee camp close to El Chaparral Port of Entry in Tijuana has ended up as a sort of shelter for criminals and gang members from Central America. According to Paty (not her real name), a central American migrant activist that has been working with the migrant community for 20 years now, El Chaparral has become a dangerous place for migrant families and the Mexican public.

Paty: “I have taken several people out of the camp at night because we can’t do it during daylight. There’s a gang that’s threatened to beat people. I haven’t been hurt yet because I help people by giving them meals, but people are blackmailed to pay them to use the bathroom; they harass girls, and the police don’t do anything.”

Julia (not her real name) spent ten days with her two daughters in El Chaparral camp. She said when she arrived a man asked her to pay 600 pesos ($30 USD) for a spot in the camp. A countryman offered to share his spot with her, but days later a group of men came to beat and threaten him because he was helping people to settle without paying.

“They told him that the next time they won’t spare him. He was just setting up another tent for a family that was coming. All this happened in front of the kids; that’s not a place for a woman and her kids now. And the police appeared to be afraid of them. Some of these gang members brag about the police being bribed by them, and therefore they rule there. We had to leave.”

Though one of the leaders of this gang is already identified he has even attacked journalists while doing their work. On August 8 an alleged member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), El Gato, spilled sewage on Angeles Garcia, a photojournalist from El Sol de Tijuana. She noted that after she was reporting on the state's vaccine campaign, she took a photo of the camp and was harassed by a gang member known in the camp for his violent behavior.

“He came to me and yelled that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures there and threw sewage all over me. My first reaction was to cover my camera because it belongs to the newspaper. If something happens to it we need to use our money to replace it.”

About 20 minutes passed before a police patrol appeared, and Angeles told them about the incident. When she returned to the camp and she pointed out the aggressor to the officers, El Gato started assaulting her.

“It’s unbelievable that the officer told me that they couldn’t do too much because we could be lynched there. Even a woman with her kid on arms who had witnessed the aggression denied it in front of the police.

"I couldn’t understand why she did it at the moment, but imagining how it is to live there, he (El Gato) can easily come back and do something to her.”

Angeles filed a complaint at the state prosecutors office that took her three days to complete. The office told her to come back two weeks later to see what the progress of the investigation is, but she thinks it won’t do much. The inefficiency of justice is one of the main reasons why migrants aren’t complaining to the authorities about the gang's aggressions in the camp.

According to an August 4 story in Milenio, Gato was detained by the local police. But an unnamed source says he was not held.

For now, the municipal authority hasn’t said anything about the eviction of the Chaparral inhabitants, but they believe that they will do it as soon as the U.S. and Mexico governments agree to reopen the border.

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