TIJUANA – Friday, Sept. 29, 2006| The vans and buses sped down the potholed highway, stopping for nothing.
Flak-jacketed policemen carrying shotguns and automatic rifles ran interference, forcing cars off the road, keeping traffic and indifferent pedestrians at bay. With lights flashing and sirens blaring, the convoy screamed past graffiti-covered walls, overflowing junkyards and rocky, unpaved dirt roads.
An ambulance trailed behind the convoy. Just in case, an organizer said.
All this to get a group of biologists, land planners and California state officials to a ribbon-cutting ceremony in San Bernardo, a poor neighborhood on an innocuous Tijuana hillside, where many homes are made of garage doors and other scraps.
The trip was nearly canceled because of the violence flaring in Tijuana after drug cartel kingpin Francisco Javier Arellano Felix’s recent capture. More than a dozen people – including several police officials and one American – have been killed in the city this month. The U.S. State Department has cautioned travelers about venturing into Tijuana.
The California Biodiversity Council, a group of state officials from natural resource agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California State Parks, had planned a day-long tour through Tijuana to examine environmental challenges that plague the California-Baja California region.