Baja California tries to return to normal after a weekend of cartel violence

As Mexican National Guard troops patrolled the streets of Tijuana and cruise ships canceled docks in Ensada amid fears of violence, Baja California residents struggled to return to normal life on Sunday after hooded bandits linked to criminal cartels virtually shut down much of the region on Friday.

State officials said the attackers hijacked and burned at least two dozen vehicles Friday night and set up roadblocks across the state. News also circulated on social media, allegedly by the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which imposed a curfew in Tijuana and warned residents to go home or risk an attack. Many did, turning the normally frenetic zone of restaurants and bars around Avenida Revolución into a virtual ghost town.

By Saturday afternoon, hundreds of military troops and special forces had arrived in Tijuana to help restore order and strengthen security. About 300 soldiers were flown in, along with 50 National Guard members, to support 3,000 National Guard soldiers and the 2,000-strong Tijuana police force who were already patrolling, the mayor said.

Shortly before Sunday noon, the US consulate in Tijuana announced on Twitter that it had lifted an order issued Friday evening that US government personnel had granted protection.

According to government officials and news reports, one person was reportedly injured in the violence, but no one was killed. It was the third time in a week that cartels unleashed widespread chaos in cities across Mexico.

days before to at least 11 people were killed in a series of attacks targeting grocery stores, gas stations and a pizza joint in Ciudad Juárez across from El Paso. Drug cartels also torched dozens of businesses, buses and cars and blocked major roads in Jalisco and Guanajuato states. Authorities in those states reported one death.

Federal officials said 17 suspects have been arrested in connection with the violence, including seven people in Tijuana and four each in Rosarito and Mexicali.

It was unclear how or if the events were related. Officials said the Ciudad Juárez shooting was in retaliation for a prison riot there, while the chaos in Jalisco and Guanajuato was unleashed by Jalisco Cartel leaders who were furious at plans to arrest them.

The Baja closures affecting Tijuana, Tecate, Mexicali, Ensenada, and Rosarito Beach were reportedly linked to the same cartel, but other connections were not immediately known.

Local officials vowed not to be intimidated.

“Today we are telling the organized crime groups that are perpetrating these crimes that Tijuana will stay open and take care of its citizens,” Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero said in a video message on Saturday. She also urged “organized crime,” the Mexican term for drug cartels, “to settle their debts with those who have not paid their debts, not families and hard-working citizens.”

On Saturday, the morning after much of the violence, many Tijuana streets appeared virtually empty. Many buses had stopped operating and workers were stranded.

In Rosarito, attendees at a popular music festival, the Baja Beach Fest, got caught up in the chaos.

“I left Baja Beach Fest about an hour ago.” Alexis Hodoyan, the music editor of Remezcla, said on Twitter just after midnight on Saturday. “There was no signal. Festival-goers probably don’t know what’s happening. There’s no way everyone stays at the festival in Rosarito. Taxis don’t go to Tijuana…it’s going to be a mess.”

About 12 hours later, she reported driving through Tijuana to return to San Diego. “Most shops are open and things appear to be normal,” she tweeted, “aside from the significant reduction in vehicle traffic, which has been notoriously terrible in the city in recent years.”

José Rodriguez, a taxi driver in Tijuana’s Zona Norte, felt safe enough to return to work Saturday afternoon.

“We are definitely scared of what happened and the possibility of losing a vehicle or having it burn down, but we also believe that public transport is a responsibility that we have,” he said, adding that the criminal groups apparently weren’t trying to hurt anyone but trying to make a statement or issue a warning.

By Sunday, many restaurants that are part of Tijuana’s famed food scene had reopened their doors.

“We’re open; everything is normal,” said a woman on the phone at La Espadaña, a popular Tijuana restaurant, but added that the restaurant would close earlier than usual because of the chaos.

At the Casa Tijuana Project restaurant, a person answering the phone appeared confused by questions about the chaos. The restaurant was open; was a reservation desired or not?

Still, life was anything but normal — a fact made clear to cruise ships scheduled to dock in Ensenada.

“Is the Radiance docking in Ensenada today?” asked one person on Twitter. “My parents are on the ship.”

Carnival Cruise Line’s Twitter account responded within minutes. “Due to recent local unrest,” she wrote, “Carnival Radiance will be canceling the call in Ensenada.”

“LOL,” added another. “I’m on a cruise to Ensenada for work and they won’t let us off the ship now.”

David Shirk, a University of San Diego professor who follows organized crime in Mexico, said these types of events underscore the notion that organized crime is in many ways calling the shots when it comes to security in Baja California .

Although no one was killed, Shirk said the violence is eroding the public’s trust in the government and law enforcement agencies, which are designed to protect them and fight organized crime.

“The authorities have no ability to bring order and they cannot hold people accountable,” Shirk said.

Times contributor Garrison reported from Sacramento. San Diego Union-Tribune reporters Fry and Mendoza reported from Tijuana. The Associated Press contributed to this report. Baja California tries to return to normal after a weekend of cartel violence

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