Monday, July 27,
Acapulco: No longer a Crown Jewel of Mexican Tourism
Bullets and bodies haven’t stopped
Mexican tourists from visiting the traditional summer playground of Acapulco. Despite a cresting wave of violence in recent
days, local authorities tagged the hotel occupancy rate at 69.8 percent on July 21, when summer vacation 2015 was in full
But since the beginning of the month, Acapulco’s streets have been painted in blood with three, four, five or
more homicides registered practically every day. In some cases, roving bands of gunslingers have shot it out with rivals in
low-income residential neighborhoods.
Although the Pacific Coast city has been submerged in violence for years, the
latest outbreak has been distinguished by the high number of female victims, as well as ample gunplay during daylight hours
in areas frequented by tourists.
In July, tourists and workers were robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight at a
small restaurant in La Dalia Marketplace, a man was gunned down at a seafood restaurant in the popular La Condesa entertainment
zone, a couple was executed on Hornos Beach, and multiple shootings shattered the peace in the downtown zone.
In a chilling
act, the body of a dismembered woman was tossed on a street just off the Costera tourist strip. In another incident that rattled
the local psyche, a group of diners was fired upon at the 4 pm peak eating time in the Los Buzos restaurant, a very popular
establishment which is also located just off the Costera. Two people were reported killed outright and three injured in the
Los Buzos attack.
In many of the shootings, 9 mm and other powerful pistols have been the favored weapons of assassins.
In response to the bloodletting, authorities announced the deployment of 400 Gendarmes in the tourist zone. In other
parts of the city, security is delegated to the Mexican army and municipal police, a force greatly affected by recent purges
and long questioned for links to organized crime.
Interim Governor Rogelio Ortega blamed the mayhem on territorial
disputes between organized criminal bands. The current violence, he admitted, “is a phenomenon that overwhelms institutions,
because it has penetrated the social fabric, and because it recruits from poverty.” Violence, Governor Ortega added,
was a matter that “needs to be addressed.”
Some of the most recent murders bear the signs of a new “limpieza,”
or a cleansing of real or imagined enemies by one group making a ploy for domination of a plaza, or drug marketplace, with
narco-like messages left on or near some victims fulminating against “extortionists” and “kidnappers.”
The Guerrero daily El Sur reported at least 411 people were murdered in Acapulco between January 1 and July
14 of this year. Last month, the bodies of at least seven men and three women were retrieved from a so-called narco fosa,
or clandestine burial ground, near El Veladero Park on the upper edge of Acapulco.
In a study presented earlier this month
in Acapulco, the non-governmental Institute for Economics and Peace rated the city as among the five most violent in Mexico.
The slayings of ten women within a span of a few days this month caught the attention of many, including Elsa Zamora Acosta,
director of the Acapulco Municipal Women’s Institute.
“We have never seen such a grave situation in Acapulco and
Guerrero before, even during the most critical times…,” Zamora said. “They are femicides, because all these
deaths are violent. (Victims) are chopped up, murdered on the street, in their car with their children, and eating….”
In a recent multiple homicide a couple driving in a car were shot and killed and a nine-month-old baby passenger was
injured. While security force corruption and complicity cannot be underestimated in the perpetuation of criminal violence,
geography is another factor in considering Acapulco’s chaotic violence, especially in the poorer sections of the city
where arroyos, winding streets, jutted and unpaved roads, steep climbs, abrupt turns and thick, tropical foliage make control
of the streets a major challenge.
Perhaps in this sense, the irregular (and often illegal) development pattern
of Acapulco, which is ringed by low-income neighborhoods segregated from the glitter of the tourist zones, has come back to
Conforming to a long pattern, most of the recent homicide victims were “anonymous” people – taxi
drivers, flower sellers, street vendors and the like. Notably, violence intensified as the summer vacation season approached
and opportunities increased for making money from selling the illegal recreational drugs coveted by tourists seeking fun in
the sun and stress relief.
In a high-profile July 20 murder, a former Acapulco city official and politician was gunned down
in a rural zone outside the urban core. Carlos Yebale de la O served as the director of business permits and parking meters
during the former administration of Luis Walton, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the governorship of Guerrero state earlier
In Mexico, control over business permits gives officials power to open or close bars and other businesses
that may or may not be conduits for money laundering.
Politically, in Mexican parlance, Yebale de la O was a chapulin
(grasshopper), or someone who jumps from one political party to the next, regardless of ideology.
Once with the
PRD party, he variously served in the administration of former Citizen Movement party Mayor Walton, supported PRI candidate
Hector Astudillo for governor, and even ran as an unsuccessful PRI primary candidate for the state legislature. Reportedly,
Yebale de la O was the brother of Jacobo Yebale, who was the make-up artist for the late popular singer Jenni Rivera.
was killed along with Rivera and others when the plane they were flying in mysteriously crashed over northern Mexico in December
Looking ahead, Acapulco’s social and economic landscape virtually guarantees a steady flow of new recruits into
the ranks of organized crime. Long abandoned by international tourism, the city now survives economically from lower-spending
Mexican tourists, out-of-towners with weekend getaway homes, and whatever business and professional conventions can be snagged.
Yet as the population grows to the one million mark, the economic pie is thinner than ever before. No manufacturing
or other industries of great job significance operate in the Bay of Santa Lucia. Tourism was and remains the name of the game.
In such circumstances, street-level drug dealing, prostitution, thievery and other illegal activities provide employment
opportunities for the young. For the immediate future, economic prospects for youth look dim.
According to Autonomous University of
Guerrero (UAG) Rector Javier Saldaña Almazan, about 15,000 students dropped out of the university this year, mainly
from Acapulco and the Tierra Caliente region in the northern part of the state. The drop-out numbers represented approximately
15 percent of the overall UAG student body, Saldaña said.
Worse yet, 50 percent of UAG-affiliated high school graduates
will be unable to gain admission to the university for the 2015-16 academic year due to a lack of space from inadequate financial
services, Saldaña added.
Juan Manuel Armenta Tello, Acapulco delegate for the federal Secretariat for
Social Development, maintained that poverty has decreased, but acknowledged that 70 percent of Guerrero’s population
is still poor, with about one million people living in extreme poverty. Recognizing the link between poverty and delinquency,
Armenta said federal authorities are working to coordinate crime prevention and anti-poverty programs.
Governor Ortega, who will hand over power to the PRI’s Hector Astudillo in October, said he will propose a debate on
drug legalization before he leaves office.
“Organized crime linked to drug trafficking is a big structural problem
of Mexico,” he said. "How is the problem solved? In my opinion, by getting rid of prohibition and regulating drugs….”
Sources: La Jornada (Guerrero edition)
July 17 and 21, 2015. Articles by Hector Briseño and editorial staff. El Sur, July 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 18,
20, 21, 22, 2015. Articles by Carlos Moreno A. Jacob Morales Antonio,
Mariana Labastida, Karina Contreras, Aurora Harrison, Karla Garlace Sosa, and editorial staff. Proceso/Apro, June 22, 2015.
Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source; translation FNS. Frontera NorteSur (FNS), Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico