National Geographic : 1996 Aug
TIJUANA &THE BORDER Magnet of Opportunity Chaos rules on the cluttered streets of Tijuana (left), a city of one million whose 5 percent population growth rate is among the highest in Mexico. After decades of improvisation Tijuana's leaders now embrace urban planning, though low tax revenues leave them hard pressed to pay for it. Then again, money is only one of their problems. As in other border cities, police have been unable to stop drug cartels from using the area as a springboard to the U.S. Although U.S . Cus toms inspectors nab drug run ners-like a man who tried to smuggle bricks of marijuana (below) into Laredo, Texas, in his car's gas tank- many argue that curbing U.S . demand, not interdiction, is the answer. But now border cities face their own growing demand for narcotics. In Tijuana drug use on the streets is up despite the city's special SWAT teams, who arrest offenders by the truckload (below left) for petty crimes, including possession. Gangs from the U.S. further compound the problem, offi cials say, by smuggling weap ons into Mexico. "They come here to settle scores, leaving us to deal with their violence," says SWAT leader David Rubi G6mez. Yet tijuanenses will talk for hours about how they love their city, its cosmopolitan fla vor and lively mix of cultures. "Hard work is what will move us forward," says Mayor Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millen. "The benefits of being on the border far outweigh the disadvantages."