Monday, September 17, 2012
Violence and Drug Gangs Take a Toll on Acapulco
As the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon
enters its final weeks, parts of Mexico remain awash in blood from the so-called narco war. And Mexico's old beach resort
of Acapulco is among the most violent places. Practically on a daily basis, executions, shoot-outs and the discovery of dismembered
bodies disturb the social peace.
The state of Guerrero's biggest city,
Acapulco, is a hub of violence that extends into the countryside and reverberates back into the Pacific port city.
"The corridor of the Costa Grande of the state, from Acapulco to the municipality of
La Union that borders the state of Michoacan, has been a constant news item because of the criminal acts that are now common
in the area," recently wrote a reporter for the Guerrero daily El Sur.
In a possible retaliation for the dumping of 17 murdered men in La Union late last month, the bodies of 16 tortured
men were found September 10 in a truck parked near police installations up the highway in the rural municipality of Coyuca
Signed by La Familia Michoacana, accompanying messages were
directed against the rival Knights Templar; both organizations have common roots in the neighboring state of Michoacan. At
least 11 of the earlier victims were identified as residents of Michoacan.
Acapulco, press accounts report that at least 50 people were murdered from August 24 to September 10. Official numbers released
by the Guerrero state government during the first week of September reported that 797 gangland-style homicides were recorded
in Acapulco since the commencement of the government's Operation Safe Guerrero anti-crime campaign in October 2011.
The murder victims include taxi and bus drivers, businessmen, current and former police officers
and many, many young people. On Sunday afternoon, September 9, gunmen stormed a city bus, shot driver Antonio Ullua Suastegui
repeated times and then doused their victim in gasoline before setting his vehicle ablaze; 20 terrified passengers fled the
Victor Manuel Cadena Macari, a former federal police official who
served as chief of the Acapulco transit police during the 2005-2008 municipal administration of Felix Salgado Macedonio of
the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), was assassinated in a local restaurant on September 5. Cadena also had been
associated with the Guerrero state police during the term of former Governor Zeferino Torreblanca.
At the time of his murder, Cadena was president of the Guerrero State Federation of Transport Organizations, a group
of private bus owners embroiled in a conflict over the operation of a major bus line in Acapulco.
While killings often occur in low-income districts like the massive El Coloso housing project, or Colonia Zapata
and other neighborhoods in the city's periphery, incidents take place throughout the city, frequently in broad daylight,
and even touch the Costera main drag in plain view of tourists. For instance, public panic ensued August 4 when a daytime
shootout broke out just off the Costera, leaving three bystanders wounded.
in Acapulco and Guerrero can't be fully grasped without analyzing the interplay of geography, economics, politics and
demographics. Endowed with a breathtaking beauty that embraces tropical bays, bountiful beaches and big lagoons, as well as
high and isolated mountains, the state's landscape is fertile ground for illegal drug cultivation and smuggling.
Reaching a population of nearly 800,000 people by the time of the 2010 census, Acapulco is
a youthful city with 29.5 percent of its residents under the age of 15. But a tourism-dependent economy can no longer absorb
the potential workforce, and rackets in small-scale drug sales, money laundering, prostitution, gambling, extortion, and pirated
products form an alternative economy.
Historically, emigration has been
another means of survival. Rodrigo Cortes Vivar, Guerrero state undersecretary for the international migrant, estimated that
approximately one third of Guerrero's population resides in the United States. Of the one million Guerrenses living in
El Norte, fully one-half hail from Acapulco, according to Cortes.
Guerrero's population is migrating to other Mexican states, expelled not only by poverty and economic hardship but also
"The poverty belts surrounding Renacimiento, Coloso
and the rest of the suburbs are terrible," Cortes remarked to a reporter earlier this year. "Acapulco is a city
with a lot of social inequality ... migration is also happening because of the wave of violence."
Guerrero-born citizens now work in the more tranquil tourist zones of Los Cabos, Cancun and
Puerto Vallarta, toil away in the agro-export fields of Sinaloa, and labor in the maquiladoras of the northern border region.
For a long time Acapulco's economy of vice flourished without much violence. But the
peace began to unravel during 2004-2006, when violent confrontations broke out between Sinaloa-based organizations like the
one headed by the Beltran Leyva brothers that long enjoyed sway in Acapulco and Guerrero, and challengers from the Gulf Cartel/Zetas.
The bloodletting subsided for a spell, with the Beltran Leyva organization apparently reigning
over the Acapulco plaza, only to resume with even more fury after the Mexican navy killed Arturo Beltran Leyva in December
Beltran Leyva's successor in Acapulco, Texan Edgar "La
Barbie" Valdez, was captured in August 2010, leading to the emergence of the Independent Cartel of Acapulco (CIDA), which
in turn splintered into feuding factions, including one group calling itself La Barredora.
In addition to Acapulco proper, the CIDA is said to have a presence in the Costa Chica region south of the city.
Six members of La Barredora were recently arrested for the murder of politician Margarito Genchi, a PRD candidate for the
Guerrero state legislature who was killed during the campaign last June.
CIDA and its offshoots, other groups including La Familia and the Knights Templar moved to fill in the void left by the fractured
Beltran Leyva organization. In a twist on an old saying, all roads -- and guns -- seemingly led to Acapulco.
Not surprisingly, the post-2009 violence -- dovetailing with the world economic crash and
the swine flu scare -- spelled disaster for Acapulco's tourism economy, which had survived a historic drop in international
visitation years ago thanks to national tourism.
Roberto Balbuena Naves,
leader of Section 113 of the Workers Confederation of Mexico, calculates that 1,300 local businesses have since shut down
or are on the verge of calling it quits. Balbuena judged the last three years as "worse" than the period after Hurricane
Paulina devastated the port city in October 1997.
In contemporary times,
what remained of the once-thriving foreign tourism flow sailed in on cruise ships. But according to the Acapulco Integral
Port Authority, boat dockings have plunged from the 120-140 cruise ships that brought about 240,000 passengers annually prior
to 2010, to a projected 14 ships with 10,000 passengers in 2012.
the economic impact of cruise ship tourism is sometimes exaggerated by industry boosters, millions of dollars in legal income
have disappeared from the streets of Acapulco, a city also now burdened with a municipal debt of about $32 million and a thousand
lawsuits pursued by disgruntled city workers.
Immersed in crisis, employers
have fallen behind in payments to the Federal Electricity Commission while evaporated tax contributions from thousands of
laid-off workers translate into less revenue for the social security and public health systems.
Acapulco's newly-elected mayor, businessman Luis Walton of the Citizen Movement party, will inherit a multi-layered
mess caked with violence when he takes office at the end of the month.
Mexican press provided more clues on the profiteering, intrigues, corruptions, and betrayals of all stripes behind the Acapulco
catastrophe after the arrests of six high-ranking army officers this year on federal organized crime charges.
Citing case documents, the stories alleged that the officers provided protection for the
Beltran Leyva group in return for millions of dollars between 2007 and 2009. One story also claimed that Edgar Valdez unsuccessfully
colluded with Mexican military officials to nab fugitive drug lord and former ally Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
Two cooperating witnesses, "Jennifer," identified as Valdez associate Roberto Lopez
Najera, and "Mateo," former Beltran Leyva enforcer Sergio Villareal, are at the heart of the government's cases
against retired Gen. Tomas Angeles Dauahare, Brigadier Gen. Roberto Dawe Gonzalez, retired Gen. Ricardo Escorcia, Gen. Ruben
Perez Ramirez, retired Lt. Col. Silvio Isidro de Jesus Hernandez Soto, and Maj. Ivan Reyna Muñoz.
A former undersecretary of defense in the Calderon administration, Gen. Dauahare held other
positions of note in his career, serving as the personal secretary of Mexican Defense Secretary Enrique Cervantes during the
presidency of Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), and also as a military attaché in Washington, D.C.
General Dawe was briefly the delegate for the federal attorney general's office in the state of Chihuahua, in
2009, precisely at the moment when an underworld war between Chapo Guzman's forces and the Juarez Cartel was tearing Ciudad
Juarez apart and spreading to the rest of the state, before going on to a military command in Sinaloa.
Lawyers for Gen. Dauahare and the other defendants vigorously challenge the accusations,
arguing that the charges are based on the hearsay of informants. Meanwhile, Villareal, a former federal cop, has been extradited
to the United States, while his one-time ally and subsequent foe Valdez awaits a similar fate.
Although violence continues to savage Acapulco and many regions of Guerrero, military and civilian leaders insist
the overall situation has improved with the advent of Operation Safe Guerrero, a multi-agency campaign involving 7,000 soldiers
as well as units of the Mexican navy, Federal Police and Guerrero state law enforcement.
In a message to reporters, Guerrero state spokesman Arturo Martinez pointed to the 797 murders tallied in Acapulco
between October 2011 and early September 2012 as an improvement over the comparable period from 2010 to 2011, when 849 similar
homicides were counted in the city.
Martinez also emphasized state intervention
in the social sphere: "There is a commitment to reconstruct the social fabric in the seven regions of Guerrero, with
the reoccupation of public spaces and investments in artistic and cultural activities that will foment healthy well-being
and distance our young people from delinquency."
On September 5,
the Federal Police detained Jose Alberto Perez, aka "Juan Diego," an alleged leader of CIDA, along with 11 associates.
Separately, the commander of the Mexican Army's 68th Infantry Battalion, Benito Medina
Herrera, affirmed to reporters that even though Acapulco and other regions of the state had experienced recent rebounds in
violence, the overall security panorama was getting brighter.
the latest violent outbreaks to power struggles involving the criminal organizations. "When they lose a leader, they
kill each other," the military officer was quoted. Medina appealed for more resources and public support to continue
the government's campaign.
However, when pressed by reporters Guerrero
Governor Angel Aguirre acknowledged that not all is going well in the eyes of many residents. Aguirre said he would ask outgoing
Interior Minister Alejandro Poire to "review" Operation Safe Guerrero so the state and federal governments can "strengthen
and reinforce more actions in terms of public safety."
On the economic
front, some voice optimism. Javier Aluni Montes, state secretary for tourism promotion, reported that Acapulco's room
occupancy for the month of July, the peak of Mexico's summer tourism season, reached 65.4 percent, an improvement over
July 2011, when the occupancy rate was gauged at 55.8 percent.
to Aluni, this July's room occupancy was even better than in July 2008, a time when violence was at a much lower level.
"We are doing something good in Guerrero," Aluni quipped. Later, the state official predicted that Acapulco's
room occupancy rate will exceed 90 percent during the long weekend of September 15-16, when Mexicans celebrate their Independence
Currently, the Aguirre administration is polishing up a new
promotion abroad of Acapulco's and Guerrero's tourist attractions, and courting the cruise ship industry to send more
ships back to the Bay of Santa Lucia.
In the United States at least, Acapulco's
promoters face a tough sell. Mexico's pioneering international resort was mentioned on the latest edition of The Travel
Show, a nationally-syndicated radio program produced by the influential travel writers Arthur and Pauline Frommer. Responding
to a caller interested in traveling to Mexico, co-host Pauline Frommer heartily recommended Cancun and other Mexican beach
resorts but pointedly excluded Acapulco from the list. "Unfortunately," she told the caller, (Acapulco) is not safe
Additional sources: El Sur, August 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 2012; September 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 2012. Articles by
Carlos Morena A., Israel Flores, Francisco Magana, Daniel Aguirre, Salvador Sena, Daniel Velzaquez, Karla Galarce, and editorial
staff. El Universal, May 16, 2012; August 5, 2012; September 7 and 9, 2012. Articles by Silvia Otero and Adriana Covarrubias.
El Diario de Juarez, August 4, 6 and 9, 2012; September 1, 9 and 10, 2012. Articles by El Universal and Milenio. Proceso/Apro,
May 16, 2012; August 26, 2012; September 6 and 10, 2012. Articles by Patricia Davila, Ezequiel Flores and editorial
staff. La Jornada, May 11 and 18, 2012; August 4, 6 and 8, 2012; September 8, 2012. Articles by Hector Briseño,
Gustavo Castillo, Sergio Ocampo, Notimex and editorial staff. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), March 2, 2012; June 2, 2012;
July 24, 2012; August 5, 7, 20, 25, 28, 2012. September 6 and 9, 2012, Articles by Citlal Giles Sanchez, Hector Briseño,
Francisca Meza Carranza, Rodolfo Valadez Luviano, Margena de la O, and editorial staff.
Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source; translation FNS