By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“The difference with Jorge Hank is that he is not a politician,” says Blancornelas. “He had never had a political post before. Nor is he an administrator like some other mayors who emerged from the business world. Which means he’s not accustomed to dialogue, talks, negotiations or to listening to people who do know how to administer or lead. He’s accustomed only to ordering, to doing whatever he wants, what he thinks is what is supposed to be done.”
Key for Blancornelas is the close family friendship Hank inherited from his father with PRI boss and current Mexican presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo. Hank wanted to be mayor, Blancornelas believes, not out of political aspiration, but out of pure capricho, a personal whim he could pull off only because of his intimate connection to Madrazo’s power lines. “For a child of privilege like Hank,” says Blancornelas, “saying he wants to be mayor is like saying he wants the latest Mercedes-Benz. ‘I want to be mayor,’ and it happened.”
Despite his personal investments in exposing and criticizing Hank, Blancornelas sees the people of Tijuana themselves as Hank’s greatest victims. Since Hank took office, the city has suffered an unprecedented wave of violence, which in 2005 included a record number of public kidnappings of prominent businessmen, murders of police officers and, most famously, the October slaying of Father Luis Velazquez Romero, a local priest known previously only for his social work.
“This is the first time that Tijuana has become so riddled with danger and insecurity,” says Blancornelas, who has just published Estado de Alerta: Los periodistas y el gobierno frente al narcotrafico (State of Alert: Journalists and the Government In the Face of Drug Trafficking). “People are being detained, municipal police have been found to be murderers and criminals. There is more fear than ever.”
Indeed, just hours earlier, Tijuana’s murder rate was given an additional bump. Less than a mile from Hank’s Caliente racetrack, the pickup truck of Alfredo Cuentas Ochoa, the head of Baja California’s Luz y Fuerza electricity company, was riddled by AK-47 fire from a blue Surburban and a gold Ford Explorer after a failed kidnapping attempt. Cuentas was killed and his 17-year-old son seriously wounded. The day after images of Cuentas’ blood-splattered dashboard were shown on the evening news, friends of Cuentas staged a march to protest a city that has become, as one Zeta cover had put it, “Fuera de Control,” out of control.
Hank is sitting in the bleachers of his private bullring. It’s a hot Tijuana spring day, and he is wearing a black cowboy hat, black pants, his trademark red short sleeve, button-down Oxford, and a vest made of an animal skin that’s hard to make out. Eel? Crocodile? At his side is his youngest daughter, whose angel-white blonde hair and ruffled pink dress are aglow in the glare of the late afternoon sun. If it weren’t for the Tecate beer banner hanging below them, they could be emperor and child heir watching a gladiator and a lion, or king and princess in a Velazquez portrait of Phillip IV’s royal family.
All eyes are on the center of the ring. Hank’s 28-year-old stepson Alejandro Amaya — lean and lithe in his torero jacket — holds his red cape still as the snorting bull stares him down and grinds the dirt with his stamping hooves. The bull charges and Amaya plunges the sword he’s been hiding into the bull’s spine. You can hear the sound of steel moving through hair and flesh and then with an elegant upward flourish, the sword is quickly drawn out. Blood seeps onto the bull’s back and catches the sun in its gurgling ripples. The bull staggers, then drops with a crunching thud. Amaya thrusts his hands toward the bull in a dramatic pantomime, capping his conquest with a flash of bravado.
The bull is in the dirt now and the flies start their swarm. The eyes of the bleachers move up to Hank, who acknowledges the crowd with a proud wave. The kill is over. There is nothing left to see. The bleachers soon clear and Hank heads down to a lavish private party in full swing under a massive white tent. Over the music of a local band, the smell of perfume mixes with the clinking of glasses. The dead bull, soon to be a distant memory, is already starting its descent into the shaded soil of paradise.
Repeated requests to interview Jorge Hank Rhon for this story were unsuccessful. At press time, the most recent request remained unanswered.