The government of Mexico moved with uncharacteristic dispatch when confronted during the past year with reports of widespread corruption among Baja California officials. But it moved to stamp out the reports.
The exposes have come primarily from two newspapers, the San Diego Union and ABC, for two years the only independent paper in Tijuana, San Diego's sister city across the border.
Last year, the Union reported on allegations of kickbacks by a California-based oil company, Petrolane Inc., to Alfonso Bustamante, a wealthy Tijuana resident with ties to both California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. and Baja California Norte Gov. Roberto de la Madrid.
The Union also documented how dozens of cars stolen in the United States were being driven by mexican offcials, police and their families.
It was also reported that Carlos Augilar-Garza, head of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police anti-drug campaign for northern Mexico, had been linked by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to major drug dealers and had a long history of brutality and corruption.
In lengthy interviews Augilar-Garza has denied any wrongdoing.
The response of the Mexican government to the article about the stolen cars was to arrest the man they incorrectly suspected of being the source of the information, Jesus Mendez, a U.S.-born insurance adjuster. Mendez said he was lured by Augilar-Garza to Tijuana, where he was beaten into signing a "confession." The Mexican government announced that Mendez admitted that he was the source of the story and that he had provided false information.
He was released two days later. San Diego doctors found that Mendez had suffered two punctured eardrums. He recanted his "confession" but refused to sign a kidnaping complaint against Augilar-Garza, saving he had parents in Tijuana and did not want to jeopardize them.
The two San Diego Union reporters, Jon Standefer and Alex Drehsler, who are working on the border stories, also were affected. They learned that a Los Angeles private detective was paid $4,000 to try to put a stop to the articles.
The newspaper provided round-the-clock protection for the two reporters. When they were able to talk to the private eye, Robert Korenobski, he said he was hired by Augilar-Garza, Gov. de la Madrid and Bustamante. The three denied it.
Editorials began appearing in government-affiliated Mexican newspapers decrying what they called unwarranted attacks on government officials and suggesting that the two reporters never be allowed on Mexican soil.
But Mexican government retaliation against the newspaper ABC was more drastic. The Tijuana paper had been a gadfly to de la Madrid's government since starting publication in 1977. Publisher Jesus Blancornelas printed exposes of government corruption and ineptitude and printed reports about numerous members of de la Madrid's family being on the government payroll.
As a result, Blancornelas was attacked in government-controlled newspapers. He was described as a womanizer, a homosexual, a gambler, a mental incompetent, a CIA agent. The publisher shrugged off the attacks and said his competitors were paid to print favorable stories about the government.
But when Blancornelas began supplementing exposes by his staff with articles from the San Diego Union and Los Angeles Times, the Mexican government did more than bad-mouth him.
Last November, 250 members of a government-controlled labor union invaded the ABC offices and kicked out Blancornelas and his staff while police watched.
Last week the Mexican government was again active in trying to keep stories from appearing in the American press. The head of the Tijuana Office of the Protection of Tourists, a nephew of Gov. de la Madrid, called the San Diego Union editor to say that the governor was concerned and wanted to know if there was any way to prevent an impending series on Mexican border corruption from being published.
These articles, scheduled to begin appearing today in both Spanish and English, will include reports:
That the Mexican federal police agencies in Tijuana are extorting drug dealers and confiscating drugs which then disappear, and that the dealers are rarely jailed.
That Augilar-Garza openly associates with known drug dealers from as far away as Matamoros, his home town.
That federal judicial police in Baja California are divided into two warring factions, one headed by Augilar-Garza and the other by Clemente Moreno, commandante of the federal judicial police of Tijuana, and that Mexican state police believe that the struggle has resulted in the murder of a federal judicial police commandant who was ambushed on the toll road between Tijuana and Ensenada.
The official version is that the commandant was killed by drug dealers. State police were told by the federal police not to investigate, even though homicide is under state police jurisdiction. One state police official said his organization was not investigating because it believed the commandant was killed by his own people.
That Angilar-Garza was so successful in extortion of Mexican drug dealers that they moved into the United States to get away from him.