Next to a Tijuana shantytown surrounded by a creek where human remains have been known to float by, e-commerce behemoth Amazon has opened a new distribution center.
The 32,000-square-meter facility is adjacent to Nueva Esperanza, a neighborhood in Tijuana’s east side where most homes are built with cardboard, wood scraps, sheet metal and tarps. Inhabited mostly by migrants who moved to Tijuana from other parts of Mexico, the informal settlement is a 20-minute drive from the border with the United States.
Photos of Amazon’s new fulfillment center, which will employ 250 people, went viral earlier this month due to the stark contrast between the gleaming facility and the poverty-stricken, trash-strewn neighborhood that is plagued by high levels of crime.
“Pure and hard inequality,” one Twitter user wrote in response to a photograph posted to the social media site by photographer Omar Martínez.
“What is striking is the contrast of realities that can be seen in the photos, but this is nothing new,” said Melina Amao, a doctor in cultural studies and professor at the Autonomous University of Baja California.
Pedro Aranda, a longtime resident of Nueva Esperanza who keeps pigs in a pen that abuts the Amazon facility’s perimeter wall, told the newspaper Milenio that construction workers worked around the clock for a year to prepare the site and build the new center.
He and other residents are concerned they could be evicted from their homes due to the arrival of the United States-based multinational, although no authority has indicated that is about to occur.
“We are here because we need a place to live,” María Mendoza, another long-term resident, told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “We just don’t want this to work against us,” she added.
Gabriel Camarena, secretary of economic development in the Tijuana municipal government, predicted that residents’ living conditions will improve as a result of the construction and opening of the Amazon warehouse.
“Either there is complete transformation, or they will be offered other and more dignified living options,” he said.
It is unclear whether Amazon, owned by the world’s richest person – Jeff Bezos, will provide any resources for the improvement of Nueva Esperanza, whose name translates into English as New Hope.
Álvaro Gómez, a Chiapas native who lives in a gloomy windowless dwelling with his wife, called on Tijuana authorities to regularize the neighborhood.
“We want water and electricity, but we’d be more grateful … if they helped us with crime. … The police never come here,” he said. “We’re aware that we live in an irregular settlement but half of us pay property tax,” Gómez said.
While residents are concerned about their future, authorities and business groups have welcomed Amazon’s investment in Tijuana. About US $21 million was invested to build the new distribution center, according to city officials.
“The arrival of Amazon in Tijuana contributes to the ongoing economic recovery in various productive sectors, achieving stability in employment,” the municipal government said in a press release.
“It is always positive that first-world companies continue to set up in our city,” said Francisco Rubio, president of the Tijuana chapter of the Business Coordinating Council, an umbrella organization that represents 12 business groups.
Diego Mendez, general director of operations at Amazon México, said in a June press release that “at Amazon México, we feel great responsibility towards the communities where we operate, and we are pleased to be able to offer hundreds of job opportunities in Tijuana.”
However, whether any Nueva Esperanza residents – some of whom had no idea what Amazon was before its arrival on their doorstep – are able to find work at the facility remains to be seen.
Arlene Herrera, spokeswoman for Amazon México, said the new distribution center will only serve the Mexican market, offering same-day deliveries in Tijuana and next-day deliveries to other cities in Baja California such as Mexicali and Tecate.
Several other companies have large facilities in the area officially called the Real Estate Management and Services Industrial Park but Amazon’s new distribution center is the only one that directly adjoins Nueva Esperanza.
With reports from Milenio and The San Diego Union-Tribune