Room is running out in Tijuana's cemeteries

Population growth, violence have filled city's graveyards

TIJUANA – Workers have spent the last few days cleaning the city's twelve municipal cemeteries to get ready for Mexico's Day of the Dead observances this week, when nearly 200,000 people will pay a visit to remember their loved ones.

Tidying the graves is the easy part. What's tougher is finding more room for the city's dead, given that space is rapidly running out in the last active municipal cemetery.

The population growth has virtually exhausted Tijuana's twelve cemeteries.

Yamil López de Anda, the city's chief of landscaping and cemeteries, said an additional 2.5 acres will soon be added to Municipal Cemetery No. 12, located in Valle Redondo, in the city's east side.

The additional space will only last two more years, however.

He said the city government is trying to acquire the land for what would be Cemetery No. 13 near Boulevard 2000, between the eastside districts of La Presa and San Antonio de los Buenos, but nothing is firm yet.

Natural deaths in this region and the killings associated with organized crime have combined to fill up the spaces in Cemetery No. 12, which has exhausted its 34.4 acres in 15 years.

According to Baja California's government, the leading causes of death in the state are heart disease, diabetes and malignant tumors.

However, among the population aged 15 to 29, which make up the greatest proportion of the state's 3,115,000 residents (1.6 million who live in Tijuana), the leading causes of death are violence, suicides and vehicle accidents.

"In addition to the population growth, we have many violent deaths during the year," said López de Anda.

An average of six people a day is buried in the municipal cemeteries, according to city figures. Some 1,633 were buried there in 2008; 2,047 in 2009; and 1,708 in 2010. This year, until Oct. 21, a total of 1,871 had been buried in those cemeteries.

The number of burials also reflects the unprecedented level of violence the city experienced in the period of 2008 to 2010. Some 2,327 killings were recorded in that span. Deadly violence has dropped dramatically, and this year the state has recorded 405 killings in Tijuana through Oct. 19.

Unidentified bodies are buried in a "fosa común," or common grave, which are actually graves where three or more bodies are buried together, also in Cemetery No. 12.

The city does not keep statistics of how many people have been interred in the common graves. City officials do know that 70 bodies were exhumed from these graves at that cemetery between December 2010 and October of this year at the request of families searching for a loved one.

Day of remembrance

The city government will open the twelve municipal cemeteries from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, for Mexico's traditional Día de los Muertos celebration.

Authorities estimate that more than 180,000 people will turn out to visit the graves of families and friends.

Traditionally, the most visited tomb is of Juan Soldado, who, according to legend, was a Mexican soldier executed in Tijuana in 1938 after being accused of raping and killing a girl.

Though the image at the tomb is considered a false one, his gravesite is located at Municipal Cemetery No. 2, on avenida Carranza, in the city's downtown.

Some considered Juan Soldado innocent and others said he was an accomplice to the girl. Regardless, each year hundreds of people visit his grave to either thank him for a miracle – or to pray for one.

Omar.millan@sandiegored.com

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