Many Tijuana residents took shelter Friday evening after burning vehicles appeared throughout the city in what is suspected to be a coordinated act of organized crime.
At least 19 vehicles, including both privately-owned and public transport, were ignited in different cities in the state of Baja California, according to local authorities, and in some cases blocked the roadways.
Similar vehicle fires were used earlier in the week in the states of Jalisco and Guanajuato to send a cartel message to the Mexican government after the detention of several cartel members in an operation by the Mexican military. It is not clear whether the acts of violence in Tijuana are related.
The U.S. Consul General in Tijuana advised Americans to seek shelter. Meanwhile, local Mexican officials worked to reassure Tijuanenses that government forces would protect them.
“In light of the recorded facts this Friday, I want to express to you that my government is acting to protect the population and handle each and all of the violent events that have arisen,” wrote Baja California Gov. Marina del Pilar Ávila in Spanish on a social media post.
Hours before, Ávila had reported that some people were in custody related to the violent acts.
“I want to tell you that I will not hold back forces, or resources, to take care of citizens’ security and supervise the actions that recover our peace,” her message concluded.
An amplified presence of local police and National Guard were visible on the streets of Tijuana Friday night.
Outside the Estadio Caliente, the soccer stadium where local team Xolos was finishing up a match, fire trucks and National Guard rushed to extinguish a blaze. As news spread of the concern for potentially more violence overnight, many fans chose to leave the game early.
Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero said that she would maintain a permanent security operation after the day’s events.
In a video published on social media, she signaled that she was working in coordination with state and federal authorities, and that she would deploy “the 3,000 troops of the National Guard, 2,000 police and the whole government body to protect Tijuana if it’s necessary.”
In the message, in which she appeared accompanied by her security secretary, Fernando Sánchez, she attributed the events to organized crime and asked citizens to remain calm.
The U.S. Consul general sent out a message saying that it’s aware of the reports of fires, blockades and police activity in different cities in the state.
“U.S. government employees have been instructed to shelter in place until further notice,” its message on Twitter says.
County Supervisor Nora Vargas retweeted the consulate’s message and encouraged binational residents to follow the recommendations of government authorities and “avoid unnecessary travel to allow authorities to do their work and maintain safety.”
Some stores, among them the supermarket chain Calimax, closed early as a precautionary measure.
“Our branches are already closed, and we ask you again not to leave your homes and to shelter in place,” its Facebook account published.
The Autonomous University of Baja California announced that classes would be cancelled on Saturday. The Tijuana Cultural Center also said that it would be suspending activities Saturday.