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 gear.
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 its 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 “needed 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 in Acapulco last week, 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 was shot and killed and a nine-month-old baby passenger 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 bite.
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 this year.
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.
Jacobo Yebale was killed along with Rivera and others when the plane they were flying in mysteriously crashed over northern Mexico in December 2012.
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 Saldana Almazon, 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, Saldana said.
Worse yet, 50 percent of UAG-affiiliated 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, Saldana 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 property. Recognizing the link between poverty and delinquency, Armenta said federal authorities are working to coordinate crime prevention and anti-poverty programs.
Outgoing 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 Briseno 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.