SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — Benny Pele said he had been to Tijuana once before as a child with his family and thought it was time to visit once again.
But just before crossing the border Monday morning at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, he stopped in his tracks after being told a drug cartel had promised widespread mayhem and violence over the weekend on anyone roaming the streets of Tijuana and other Northern Baja California cities as well .
A day after the threat had expired, Pele was not taking any chances.
“On my way here a lot of people told me to stay away,” Pele said. “I had the fear too, so I turned around and I went back, I went back to my United States.”
Pele was not the only tourist staying away from Northern Baja California.
According to the state’s tourism office, 90 percent of medical and dental appointments held by residents north of the border were canceled over the weekend.
And Tijuana’s Chamber of Commerce said 40 percent of businesses, including many that cater to tourists, stayed closed on Friday night and into Saturday and Sunday.
While exact figures are not known, the chamber says losses in revenue and taxes are in the tens of millions of dollars to the region.
During the weekend, hundreds of National Guard troops were brought into Tijuana and other cities to patrol the streets.
No injuries associated with the threats were reported although more than two dozen vehicles were set on fire and other acts of vandalism and looting were also confirmed by police.
The head of Mexico’s National Guard, Gen. Luis Cresencio Sandoval González, said cartels are making threats and preying on innocent people as a way to make themselves “feel strong.”
“One way or another, these organizations are looking for ways to distract our national security forces,” said Sandoval González. “They want to feel empowered by generating acts of violence.”
The general said organized crime seeks publicity as a way to send a message that they are strong when in reality their structure has diminished in strength and in an economic sense.
Going into the weekend, acts of violence by drug cartels were reported in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán and Chihuahua.