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Category: Rosarito Beach

Rosarito Beach moves forward after postponement of surf contest amid growing drug war hype

A longboarder rides a wave.

Not long ago, Rosarito Beach proudly announced it was hosting a pro surfing contest in early April to coincide with spring break and divert attention from a highly publicized drug war that has tarnished the northern Baja California city's image and devastated its economy.

More recently, the city reluctantly announced the contest has been postponed until Aug. 7-9. The marketing firm helping to stage the Assn. of Surfing Professionals' qualifying series contest cited a need for more time to secure adequate sponsorship and said the new dates would be more attractive to prospective competitors.

Translation: It's not easy to land sponsors or lure a large field when the negative media spotlight shines so glaringly on a coastal party town in which -- and this needs stressing -- not a single tourist has been killed since Mexico's drug cartels and factions within those cartels ramped up their bloody turf war two years ago.

The postponement is a shame because Rosarito Beach, which during the past year has taken many admirable steps to make tourists feel safe, could use the kind of boost a surf contest might provide sooner rather than later.

Mayor Hugo Torres and Convention and Visitors Bureau President Laura Wong expressed disappointment with the postponement. Unfortunately, the city and its large ex-pat community have grown accustomed to these kinds of setbacks.

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Mexico's drug war prompts newspaper list of most violent states vs. safer states

View of the Kukulcan pyramid at Chichen Itza, in the Mexican state of Yucatan west of Cancun.

Outposts has posted several items pertaining to Mexico's drug war and danger, or perceived danger, to tourists visiting areas on the Baja California peninsula such as Tijuana, Rosarito Beach, Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas and La Paz.

Clearly, some areas in Mexico warrant more concern than others, and debate on this blog has been varied, with many leery of all of Mexico or critical of its government, and others supportive of and feeling safe in their favorite tourist destinations.

One commenter provided a link to the Mexican newspaper Excelsior, which is compiling drug-related murders for 2009. As of today that total is 1,367. Excelsior also colors the states according to number of murders.

Chihuahua, home to the ground-zero border city of Juarez, leads all states with 548 murders. It's colored purple. Four red states are led by Sinaloa (166), Guerrero (149), Durango (118) and Baja California (99). Most murders in the state of Baja California have occurred in or near Tijuana.

It should be noted that Baja California Sur, which comprises the southern half of the peninsula, is one of many blue states listed as zones with the fewest murders (1). Baja California Sur is home to its capital city of La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and Todos Santos. All are popular tourist areas -- there are many others -- and at least some have lost business because of a perceived danger related to the narco war.

Two other blue states are Yucatan (0) and Quintana Roo (4), home to Cancun. There are numerous yellow states classified merely as violent zones. 

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: View of the Kukulcan pyramid at Chichen Itza, in the Mexican state of Yucatan west of Cancun. Credit: EPA/Jacito Kanek

Cabo San Lucas not too caught up in drug-war hysteria but still feeling pinch

Striped marlin takes flight on the hook Wednesday while surrounded by yachts and fishermen.

Cabo San Lucas might be one of only a few destinations in Mexico that has not been too adversely affected by the drug-war hysteria.

"I have given this much thought and honestly, I think the economy is affecting Cabo more than anything," says Tracy Ehrenberg, owner of Pisces Sportfishing, which caters largely to well-to-do sport anglers. "I was talking to the manager of Squid Roe and he told me this past weekend was one of the best in the history of the bar for sales.

"I was at the beach on the weekend and it was packed. [But] I do object to the overzealous scare tactics, like the e-mails my daughter [in the U.S.] gets from the State Department telling her not to go to Mexico."

Some of the world's wealthiest fishermen keep yachts in Cabo for months at a time and fly down often to battle striped marlin (pictured) and other big-game species. They've not been deterred.

But some of the smaller operations throughout Baja Californa Sur, and certainly those who don't have an established clientele, clearly are feeling the pinch.

"Crowds of tourists are light, this due to bad press about narcotic trafficking wars in Mexico, as well as the collapsing economy," Eric Brictson, owner of Gordo Banks Pangas in San Jose del Cabo, wrote in his March 15 fishing report. "Though the problems being detailed by the U.S. press relate to incidents in border towns such as Juarez and Tijuana, Rosarito Beach and other regions on the mainland. There have not been any reports of similar crimes in the Los Cabos area and this remains a safe travel destination."

Perhaps this is true, but it can be a tough sell to prospective customers who have never been there before.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Striped marlin takes flight on the hook Wednesday while surrounded by yachts and fishermen. Credit: Pisces Sportfishing

Boycott Mexico campaign targets illegal immigration issue

Hectic scene at U.S.-Mexico border.

The large bold letters scream, "BOYCOTT MEXICO!!'' and are followed by the plea, "Do not give your tourist dollars to Mexico! Spend them in the beautiful American Southwest!"

The Boycott Mexico campaign, by a group called Americans United to Halt Tourism in Mexico, is the last thing tourist destinations in Baja California and elsewhere in Mexico need, as they struggle with an image problem caused by an unrelenting drug war.

Campaign volunteers have been passing out fliers at the U.S.-Mexico border at San Ysidro and other points of entry. The group wants tourists to stop traveling into Mexico until the Mexican government complies with several demands related to the immigration issue.

"The AUHTM Campaign is designed to allow the American people to confront the Mexican people directly on these issues," it says on a campaign link. "The incompetence of the White House and U.S. Congress to do their jobs in this area is well known and leaves concerned and well-informed Americans few alternatives."

Reaction: This smacks of racism, and people in this country are free to travel wherever they wish. This campaign, which is requesting concerned citizens to print and distribute fliers and organize demonstrations, can only hurt businesses that have nothing to do with the illegal immigration issue and, in fact, employ Mexicans in Mexico.

But because it's a free country, those behind AUHTM, who obviously are frustrated and concerned about what they perceive as a major problem, are within their rights to call for a boycott.

As for the American Southwest, it is beautiful. But last time I checked you cannot catch a marlin there. Nor can you kayak with whales or scuba dive with giant Pacific mantas.

--Pete Thomas

Photo: Hectic scene at U.S.-Mexico border. Credit: Associated Press

Baja California Sur tries to shield itself from criminal element

Driving Baja California's transpeninsular highway means traveling through a sea of cactus and occasional stops at checkpoints.

Many aren't aware that Mexico's Baja California peninsula consists of two states: Baja California and Baja California Sur.

Now the latter, prompted by drug-related violence and other crimes occurring in the former, has enacted a three-point "shield" program it hopes will keep BCS safe and discourage criminals.

It's called "Baja California Sur, Estado Seguro," and it's essentially a stepped-up checkpoint effort that might, at times, represent a lengthy inconvenience for tourists.

The first phase was implemented at the ferry station in La Paz, an entry point for motorists from Sinaloa, which is home to the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel. The second phase was implemented near San Ignacio, close to the state's border with Baja California on Mexico's transpeninsular highway.

A third phase will be implemented at the international airport in Los Cabos. The shield program involves random checks that are much more thorough than those typically carried out. Mexican citizens and tourists are being fingerprinted and photographed, and asked to produce vehicle registration and vehicle identification numbers.

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Rosarito Beach, despite drug war, said to retain its small-town charm


Once upon a time, tourist destinations throughout Mexico, including beleaguered Rosarito Beach, were cherished for their small-town charm and friendliness.

Nowadays, as the narco war rages on, all you hear about is danger, violence, murder and corruption.

But there are some who maintain that Mexico has not lost its endearing qualities, despite a steady flow of media reports about the violence among cartel thugs and police.

Laura Wong, editor of the Baja Times and lifelong resident of Rosarito Beach, implied in an editorial that her town remains somewhat like the fictitious town of Mayberry.

"Life is simple, inexpensive and relaxed," Wong wrote, explaining that this quality is what led hundreds of U.S. residents to relocate, and that these ex-pats now "live in a matter of course with the local population."

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Subdued San Felipe still reeling from loss of spring break tours

San Felipe has long been appreciated for its slow pace, except during spring break. But even that's turning out to be a slow time this year because of a tourism scare related to drug violence elsewhere in Baja California.

News item: Summer Winter Action Tours cancels huge spring break excursion to San Felipe in favor of Palm Springs, citing too many concerns about drug-related violence. A devastated San Felipe says it feels as if it's been "hit by an atomic bomb."

So as a comparatively subdued spring break is underway, this message sits on San Felipe's official website: "We are not, in any way, affected by the border violence that is plaguing Tijuana and Juarez. However, it is understandable that parents of college-age students want to be absolutely sure that their sons and daughters will be safe while in the care of SWAT."

Reaction: Good for Palm Springs. Very unfortunate for San Felipe, which joins Tijuana and Rosarito Beach, and perhaps all of Mexico, in tourism-related misery caused by cold-hearted drug peddlers and lots of sensational media reports that have made many people in the U.S. feel as though not a square inch of that country is safe.

In the case of drug violence, tourists are not targeted, and I've had people ask and have wondered myself if it's really so bad that cartel thugs are killing each other at such a frenetic pace. Answer: It is when the result is so much collateral damage.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: San Felipe has long been appreciated for its slow pace, except during spring break. But even that's turning out to be a slow time this year because of a tourism scare related to drug violence elsewhere in Baja California. Credit: Paul Micks

Shark attack capital of the world, New Smyrna Beach, Fla., to host pro surfing contest


Pro surfing will grab the spotlight during the first week in April on two coasts, in areas that have become notorious for drug-related murders and shark attacks.

As reported recently on Outposts, Rosarito Beach in northern Baja California, just south of Tijuana, will host the Rosarito Pro, an ASP World Qualifying Series contest, April 3-5.

It is hoped the contest, during the peak of spring break, will place a positive spin on a beleaguered tourist destination caught up in the hysteria generated by drug cartel factions warring among themselves in the vicinity.

This week, the Surfari Pro Contest Committee in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., announced the LandShark Spring Surfari Pro, April 1-5, at New Smyrna Inlet.

New Smyrna Beach is in Volusia County, which documented a record 24 shark attacks in 2008; he beach has been dubbed as the shark-bite capital of the world.

It will be the first organized surf contest there since 1989. In 1988, a high-school student from Cocoa Beach, Kelly Slater, won the Gotcha Fall Surfari. Slater, now 37, is gunning for his 10th world title on the ASP's elite World Tour.

Neither of the two April contests are a big deal in the pro surfing universe. But they'll be fun to follow, and here's a not-so-bold prediction: Nobody will be shot or attacked by a shark.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Sign at New Smyrna Beach warns of the risks of surfing there. Credit: Daytona Beach News-Journal

Tijuana drug violence erupts anew, but the act is getting old

A federal police convoy moves through the streets of Tijuana.

Outposts has and remains supportive of Rosarito Beach as a reasonably safe place to surf, fish, ride horses or ATVs and party.

But this blog will not ignore bad news occurring in the vicinity of the northern Baja California tourist destination, and that includes Tijuana, where a far more volatile situation exists and where a gruesome discovery was made Tuesday.

Mexican police found six bodies, including three whose heads, arms and legs had been cut off, in Tijuana and nearby Tecate. Police also found a note that described the victims as snitches.

As usual, the bloodshed was related to an unceasing struggle between cartel factions to gain control of the flow of drugs into the United States. (See The Times' in-depth reporting on this at Mexico Under Siege.)

This largely involves Fernando Sanchez Arellano, leader of a faction founded by his uncles -- the infamous Arellano Felix brothers -- and top enforcer Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental.

These two ought to wage a duel, and to the winner go the spoils, rather than participate in a tit-for-tat murder-and-dismemberment spree that seems only to thin populations within their ranks.

Perhaps if there were only one power in control of the Tijuana cartel, as was the case when the "brothers" were in charge, the level of violence throughout northern Baja would sharply diminish.

It's a sad thing to hope for, but so much violence and bloodshed is killing tourism and the livelihoods of thousands of innocent victims. It's all really sad.

--Pete Thomas

Photo: A federal police convoy moves through the streets of Tijuana. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Rosarito Beach mayor responds to U.S. agency's warning to stay away during spring break


The U.S. State Department has extended a travel alert for Mexican border towns and suggests that visitors to these areas exercise extreme caution because of ongoing violence involving drug dealers warring among themselves and police.

Now the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has chimed in with a stronger warning that urges college students to avoid parts of northern Mexico during spring break.

This includes Tijuana and nearby Rosarito Beach. The latter town -- for decades a festive spring break party destination -- has not been a focal point for violence, especially in recent weeks. On Tuesday its mayor, Hugo Torres, responded with this message:

"For decades Rosarito has hosted hundreds of thousands of spring breakers without major incident. With additional steps we have taken, such as starting a Tourist Police Force, they will be safer than ever this year and we look forward to welcoming them and ensuring they again have a safe and enjoyable visit."

"The violence we have had down here has been mainly between organized crime factions -- and we have had almost none of that recently. Tourists are not and never have been targets."

To be sure, the U.S. agency's warning represents a devastating and possibly unfair blow to a city trying desperately to regain the confidence of tourists, who are its life blood. During my recent visit I saw few tourists but sensed no fear among hundreds of lifelong residents and ex-pats walking the streets.

Rosarito Beach will host a pro surfing event April 3-5, and a Cinco de Mayo celebration in early May. I, for one, hope both are successful, well-attended events, as this town could surely use a boost.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo courtesy of Rosarito Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau

Economic worries won't stop Fred Hall show from ushering in fishing season


Sales might not be as brisk during this year's Fred Hall Fishing Tackle and Boat Show at the Long Beach Convention Center, but thousands will attend regardless of the beleaguered economy to help usher in the spring fishing season.

The 68th rendition of the show will run March 4-8 and boast more than 3,000 exhibits, and offer almost nonstop seminars. Trucks, boats, kayaks and trailers will be for sale, along with every type of fishing excursion and modern fishing product known to man.

You can subscribe to any of numerous fishing magazines -- Fish Taco Chronicles has nothing to do with Mexican food but is crammmed with stories and photos -- and meet such radio/TV personalities as Pete Gray, Philip Friedman, Dan Hernandez and Ronnie Kovach.

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Rosarito Beach hoping ASP surfing contest will provide tourism boost

Surfer rides a small wave in northern Baja California.

With spring break just around the corner, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert aimed at tourists considering visiting many areas in Mexico, including northern Baja California.

At issue, of course, is ongoing violence among drug gangs and between drug gangs and police. Tourists are advised to exercise extreme caution while traveling in such border-area trouble spots as Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez.

Meanwhile, Rosarito Beach, located just south of Tijuana and suffering from a lack of tourism, has announced it will host an international surfing contest during spring break, April 3-5.

The Assn. of Surfing Professionals' one-star World Qualifying Series contest, it is hoped, will draw a large crowd and reveal that visitors are  safe within the city's tourist zone.

"We are very excited to have all the competitors here in our beautiful beaches and look forward to the event in April. Rosarito has always been recognized as a very attractive spot for surfers and this event will bring many positive things to our city," Laura Wong, president of the Rosarito Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in a release.

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Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.