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A voter leaves a polling booth in the Altamira neighborhood of Tijuana, Mexico, during the 2019 election. / Photo by David Maung

Like last year’s federal election, Mexico’s municipal and state elections Sunday were swept up by candidates from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s MORENA party.

The outcome was particularly historic in Baja California. In 1989, the state’s voters handed the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s first loss in a state election in six decades by electing Ernesto Ruffo Appel, a former Ensenada mayor and member of the country’s National Action Party, known as PAN. The PAN had ruled the state until this latest election.

“The story is one of MORENA’s dominance,” said Michael Lettieri, a researcher at the University of California San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican studies.

Baja California Gov. Francisco Vega and Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum — both members of PAN — have faced allegations of gross mismanagement and corruption.

MORENA gubernatorial candidate Jaime Bonilla, a cross-border politician who also served on the Otay Water District board, declared himself the winner Sunday with 50.3 percent of the vote, more than double what his next closest opponent was able to secure.

Lettieri said the coordination between the federal government and state and local governments could be promising for Baja. It could mean more money to address Tijuana’s escalating violence or more resources for those seeking asylum in the United States who are trapped in Tijuana.

The MORENA candidate for Tijuana mayor Arturo Gonzalez Cruz, is leading, too, beating out Gastélum and others. Julián Leyzaola, who was running neither with PAN nor MORENA made the race a bit more interesting. Gonzalez Cruz has earned 42.5 percent of the vote, while Leyzaola trails with 34.5 percent.

Leyzaola was head of public security in Tijuana from 2008 to 2010 and Ciudad Juárez from 2011 to 2013. He reformed Tijuana’s police force and many credit him with a decrease in crime at the time, though his stints in both cities left him with allegations of numerous human rights abuses.

Last year, Tijuana became Mexico’s most dangerous city, tallying more than 2,500 homicides, and although Leyzaola trails, Lettieri said, his vote share shows how big an issue security is to the city’s voters.

Voter turnout in this election was also abysmally low — less than 30 percent, according to Baja California’s Electoral Institute.

Mexico is trying to sync up state and local elections with national elections. That means some elections are happening closer together and some terms, like Bonilla’s gubernatorial term, will be short — only two years. Lettieri said this unusual election schedule could have contributed to the low voter turnout. The next election for governor and mayor will be in 2021, so the elections can be on the same schedule as federal ones.

“There is some voter fatigue,” Lettieri said. “There have been elections in 2016, 2018, 2019 in Baja. Last year, there was a big long electoral cycle and there wasn’t a lot of movement around this campaign because it was off cycle. You sort of get the sense that it was less an issues campaign than a referendum on the PAN.”

Voices of the Voters: Tijuana Edition

We have an election day tradition at Voice of San Diego. We send reporters out to various polling places around the county to ask voters what brought them out. VOSD contributor David Muang kept the tradition going by surveying voters in Sunday’s elections in Baja California.

Security and corruption stood out at as the biggest issues among the voters he spoke with.

Sofia Lujambio cast her vote in Baja California’s election Sunday. / Photo by David Maung
Sofia Lujambio cast her vote in Baja California’s election Sunday. / Photo by David Maung

Sofia Lujambio, 18, a high school student from the Plaza Rio area of Tijuana, was voting in her first election. Drug trafficking and insecurity were the biggest issues for her.

“What brought me here today? Well, I’m voting for my city and what I think is best for everyone here. I’m voting for the Partido Acción Nacional because I think they have the best people who are best prepared to lead the country and the city.”

Hector Ibarra cast his vote in Baja California’s election Sunday. / Photo by David Maung
Hector Ibarra cast his vote in Baja California’s election Sunday. / Photo by David Maung

Hector Ibarra, 52, a teacher from Mexicali, was voting at a special polling station for people who are not at their home on election day. He cast a vote for Bonilla and for the MORENA mayoral candidate in Mexicali, who also won.

“I think that public security is the No. 1 issue we face here. All the past governments have promised us good security, but it seems like things are just to the contrary. Corruption in the government is also a big problem and has really put the state in debt.”

Jorge Cruz cast his vote in Baja California’s election Sunday. / Photo by David Maung
Jorge Cruz cast his vote in Baja California’s election Sunday. / Photo by David Maung

Jorge Cruz Medina, 60, a dual citizen, works for the San Diego County district attorney’s office. He lives in Colonia Marron, Tijuana, and also has a home in Chula Vista. He wouldn’t disclose who he voted for, but said he feels its his “civic responsibility to vote.”

“Most people believe that public safety is the biggest problem we face here in Baja California, as well as developing a good climate for business development.”

Maria Laura Ramirez cast her vote in Baja California’s election Sunday. / Photo by David Maung
Maria Laura Ramirez cast her vote in Baja California’s election Sunday. / Photo by David Maung

Maria Laura Ramirez, 61, a housewife from Mexicali, was also voting at a special polling station for people who are not at home on election day.

“I’m here today to cast my vote. My voice counts, my vote counts. Some people say don’t bother to vote, but that just means my vote goes to someone else’s choice. To me what is the most important issue in the state? I’d say public security is No. 1. Also, immigration is a big issue here. We have not just the deportees, but also all the people from Honduras and the like.”

Martha Alicia Reyes Campero cast her vote in Baja California’s election Sunday. / Photo by David Maung
Martha Alicia Reyes Campero cast her vote in Baja California’s election Sunday. / Photo by David Maung

Martha Alicia Reyes Campero, 26, a housewife, lives in the El Florido district of Tijuana. She voted for Leyzaola.

“I believe that the biggest problem we have here in the insecurity. People live in a lot of fear, people don’t even want to go out at night. I think Leyzaola will do a good job fighting the crime we have here.”

Victoria Vela y Villanueva cast her vote Sunday in Baja California’s elections. / Photo by David Maung
Victoria Vela y Villanueva cast her vote Sunday in Baja California’s elections. / Photo by David Maung

Victoria Vela y Villanueva, 84, said, “I’m here today because I want things to get better for my country. We’re fighting against all those corrupt politicians. We’ve had enough, out with them. I shouldn’t say who I voted for today but what the heck, why not. I voted for Morena and I’m proud of it.”

Border Businesses Blast Trump Tariff Talk

President Donald Trump said he plans to impose a 5 percent duty on all Mexican goods starting next week unless Mexico does more to stop the flow of Central American immigrants reaching the U.S. border. Trump has threatened to potentially increase the tariff by 5 percent more each month, up to 25 percent by October.

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded with a scathing letter shortly after, but has sent a Mexican delegation to begin talks in Washington this week about immigration issues, in an attempt to stave off the tariffs.

The announcement came right as López Obrador sent the United States-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement — the renegotiated NAFTA deal — to the Mexican Senate for approval. Despite the tariff threats, it appears Mexico and Canada plan to move forward with plans to ratify the trade pact.

If the tariffs are put in place, consumers can expect price hikes on food, cars, electronics and more, reports the Union-Tribune. San Diego and Imperial counties import $4.1 billion in goods yearly from Baja California, the U-T writes, so a 5 percent tariff would translate into $17 million in overall costs on those imported goods.

The business community at the border isn’t happy. The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Sanders said the chamber “strongly opposes the use of tariffs as a threat against Mexico” in a statement last week.

The San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce also denounced the plan.

“At a time when we should be focusing on the passage of a free trade agreement with Mexico, antagonizing them with tariffs is simply wrong,” said the chamber’s Executive Director Jason Wells. “Mexico will not feel the brunt of the pain. We in the US, as consumers, will be paying for, and suffering from, this ill-advised scare tactic.”

San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce Vice President Carlos Avalos questioned how the tariff would actually work in fluid cross-border economies like San Diego’s.

“The Toyota Tacoma, made in the California/Baja California region, crosses the US/MX border six times from construction of the engine block to final product,” Avalos said in a statement. “Will there be three different tariffs placed each time parts come from Mexico?”

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer wrote in a tweet that the proposal amounts to “a tax on San Diego’s border economy.” “This proposal undermines the USMCA trade deal the administration is working to pass. I strongly oppose tariffs that would hurt families and businesses whose way of life rely on fair and free trade,” he wrote.

More Border News

Maya Srikrishnan

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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