News item: Rosarito Beach, the border-area tourist destination so beset by woes during the past few years that it had become hardly a destination at all, experiences a 21% decline in crime in 2009. It's the largest year-to-year decline of any city in Baja California, and the city's lowest rate in five years, according to state figures. Baja California Gov. Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan declares this a major success story.
Reaction: Great news for Rosarito Beach and Mayor Hugo Torres, who worked so hard trying to improve the tarnished image of a city that was, just a few years ago, a bustling, carefree destination for traveling surfers, fishermen and tourists merely out to party and play in a Mexican atmosphere not far beyond the border.
That changed when the Mexican government launched a crackdown on the drug cartels. It sparked an increase in violence between specific cartels, over turf, and between cartels and police. Killings occurred regularly throughout the country but especially in border areas and in some cases within Rosarito proper. They did not involve tourists but the scare escalated when some high-profile U.S. media outlets sensationalized the story and questioned whether tourists anywhere in Mexico were safe.
When the killings stopped making headlines, the swine flu scare and global recession helped keep tourists out of Mexico.
Is Rosarito Beach safe? It's for you to judge. Torres, who in the past two years grew his police force and rooted out corrupt cops, claims it always has been safe and now might be "safer than ever." But as the mayor, what else is he going to say?
If state figures are accurate, however, Rosarito experienced a 25% decline in robberies and burglaries, a 36% decline in violent crimes and a 52% drop in murders, from 54 to 26, during an 11-month period from last January through November. Five of those killings involved cartel members and three involved police officers.
“Understandably, much of the media coverage in the U.S. has focused on the crackdown on organized crime--it's a vital international issue,” Torres said in a news release issued Monday. “But that has created a misleading impression about security here."
Torres said of the crime figures: "We hope these statistics will be well reported to convey a more realistic picture of life and safety here.”
I drove through Rosarito Beach a few weeks ago during a visit to Ensenada. Both cities had very few tourists walking the streets.-- Pete Thomas
Photo of Rosarito Beach by Pete Thomas