BULLETS OVER BAJA: Attack Yields Grave Consequences

On Tuesday, October 23 Pat Weber, a 48-year-old San Diego surfer and his girlfriend (name withheld) were robbed at gun point and the girlfriend was sexually assaulted on the bluffs near Cuatras Casas in the Colonet region of northern Baja, Mexico, according to a first-hand account of the incident by Weber.

The surfer denied the two men permission to come into his RV and the perpetrators fired numerous rounds of bullets into the vehicle.

According to Weber, an hour after sunset, two men wearing ski masks, dark clothing, and brandishing handguns pounded on the surfers RV door and demanded entry. The surfer denied the two men permission to come into his RV and the perpetrators fired numerous rounds of bullets into the vehicle. The surfer and his girlfriend, fearing for their lives lay on the floor of the RV as glass and debris rained down on them.

According to the surfers’ account, the two men eventually gained access when Weber, fearing for his life, opened the RV. The perpetrators led the surfer out of his RV and onto his knees where he was held with a gun pointed to the back of his head by one of the perpetrators. The other masked man ransacked the RV loading up a suitcase with thousands of dollars worth of possessions, including laptops, camera equipment, tools, and $460 in cash.

Weber’s girlfriend was found hiding and led out of the RV and onto her knees, next to her boyfriend. The masked men then sexually assaulted the woman while holding both victims at gunpoint. The perpetrators then fled on foot, according to the surfer. Weber and his girlfriend drove to Ensenada and spent 10 hours with Ensenada Police, attorneys, and interpreters.

Weber, whose company offers Baja adventure tours, is a well-versed Baja traveler logging more than 300 trips to the region over the past 15 years. He estimates his company has brought over $100K in economic benefit to the region. Those days are done. “I’ll never go to Baja again. I’m over it,” said Weber. “I love the place, there are very good people down there, but it’s just not worth it.”

Add another chapter to a horrific series of incidents since the Labor Day holiday; another Baja surf trip gone horribly wrong.

On Labor Day of this year, three San Diego surfers were pulled over in Tijuana and carjacked at gunpoint. The same weekend, according to a website focused on traveling within Baja (BajaNomad.com) an American fisherman was accosted and robbed on the toll road near the Tijuana beaches. A few weeks later, according to an an Internet report (and various word-of-mouth recountings) a surfer and his girlfriend were pulled from their tents along the bluffs south of Cuatras Casas and robbed of everything except their pillows. A few weeks later, according to a first hand report from one of the victims (a local Encinitas surfer), three cars full of San Diego surfing buddies were robbed of $1,200 on their way to San Juanico after driving into an early morning road block (in the same region as the other Tijuana robberies). Other similar stories are now finding their way onto Baja travel websites, forums, and blogs. Most surfers in SoCal know somebody who knows somebody that has experienced this increased level of lawlessness in Baja. The $60 TJ cop shakedown has morphed into a larger beast. This is not your Father’s Baja. Things have gotten out of hand way out of hand.

But why? There are some determining factors that can be pointed to. With the notorious Arellano Felix brothers (of the one-time reigning Arellano Felix drug cartel) locked up for life in the U.S. prison system, a power vacuum exists along the border, according to one anonymous source within the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. Drug cartels, highly-trained (by the USA’s CIA and Israel’s Mossad according to the source) para-military gangs (Google La Zeta Baja Gang), and street-level hoodlums are all vying for recognition, authority, and street credibility. “It’s like the wild west,” said the source. “All the bad guys are trying to one-up each other and there is no real authority, legitimate or otherwise, to temper the situation.”

Add to this the explosion of methamphetamines, both its use and production, in northern Baja. Meth factories in the US, for the most part, are non-existent, according to the source. Drug cartels in Mexico have taken over the market place. Combine the king-of-the-hill power grab with the stir-crazy nature of methamphetamine’s effects and its meteoric rise in production and use may explain why Baja violence has become so brazen and ruthless. Another factor, according to the source, is the increasing number of Central American gangsters filtering up from El Salvador and beyond.

“It’s a very bad and serious stew that is brewing along the border and especially in Baja,” said the source. “Let me put it this way: I know what is going on down there, and I won’t go down there. No way.”

The bottom line seems to be this: When we as surfers cross the border into Tijuana, we lose everything. All of our U.S. rights are gone. But because Baja is so close to us, both geographically and, as surfers, subculturally, we romantically expect U.S. levels of security, of justice, and of authority to blanket us. Many mistakenly have an “it won’t happen to me” mentality. But when you cross that border line, well, you cross that line.