Drug Violence Rocks Acapulco
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
An explosion of drug related violence has hit the Mexican resort of Acapulco. At least 13 people have been killed in the last two months. Local officials are worried that the violence is hurting the city's image just as thousands of U.S. college students prepare to arrive for Spring Break. Michael O'Boyle reports from Acapulco.
MICHAEL O'BOYLE, reporting:
The beaches of Acapulco are one the most famous tourist destinations in the world. In the 1950s Hollywood stars like John Wayne made its palm-lined beaches their playground. Scores of high rise hotels, nightclubs, and luxury resorts followed. Today it's a mini-metropolis estimated to have a population of over a million. And it's in danger of earning a new reputation as Mexico's warring drug cartels bring their battles to its streets.
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O'BOYLE: On a hot Friday afternoon in late January local police engaged in a forty minute fire fight with suspected drug traffickers as heard in this video recorded from a nearby high school. The battle erupted after police stopped a convoy of three SUVs at a major intersection a little over a mile from the beachfront strip. Four suspected drug traffickers were killed and several police wounded. Such battles have become almost common occurrences in Mexico's violence-racked border town of Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana, but they are new to Acapulco and its citizens are shocked and scared. Delilah Belanco(ph) had a front-row seat for her soup stand at the side of the road when the shooting started. She ducked under her pots with her fifeteen-year-old daughter, and the two huddled in fear as the battle raged.
DELILAH BELANCO (Mexican resident): (Through Translator) Now, won't want to go out to eat or even to the supermarket to do our shopping because we are afraid. My daughter wanted to go see a singer the other night at the Convention Center, and I said; no, you aren't going, it's dangerous. Now, in the evenings, it looks empty around here. The streets are lonely because the people are afraid.
O'BOYLE: Authorities say one of the men killed in the shootout was a top lieutenant, a reputed drug lord, Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, a leader of the powerful Seena Lowa(ph) cartel that controls Acapulco. Locals expect drug traffickers will soon exact revenge upon the police. Already, several grenades have been thrown at police stations in the dead of night, but no one has been injured. Acapulco has seen a spike in drug-related violence since late 2004. Mayor Felix Salgado says increased local traffic of cocaine and crack is to blame.
Mayor FELIX SALGADO (Acapulco, Mexico): (Through Translator) It is a cancer that is afflicting our port. After the U.S. coc market inclined, they began to distribute here in big cities, including Acapulco. Before, it all went to the U.S. Now, the cocaine stays here, and it has found a big market.
O'BOYLE: Following the shootout, federal authorities sent in 200 troops to aid local police. Despite increased security, violence has continued. Just after midnight last Monday, two youths were killed in a drive-by shooting, but Ron Lavender, the American real estate dealer that has lived in Acapulco for 50 years, said law-abiding locals and tourists have little to fear.
RON LAVENDER (American Resident, Acapulco): My feeling on it, and I think that most of friends who live here and who visit here, we're not very concerned about this because these are narcos, who are fighting with one another over turf for drugs, and it's one narco group's fighting another narco group, and they're not after tourists, they're not after people who live here. They're after one another. It's a war between themselves.
O'BOYLE: Tony, a Mexican-born drug dealer, agrees, dealing drugs here on the strip of Acapulco's nightclub for business. He used to live in Los Angeles, but now resides here after serving a drug conviction and being deported. From Tony's standpoint, Acapulco hasn't seen anything yet.
TONY (Drug dealer, Acapulco): They've been making more of a deal than what it really is. It ain't no big deal. It ain't bad at all because, you know, it's a lot of killing going on in Los Angeles every day, New York, and it's worse than here, much worse, and especially right here in tourist zone, nothing ever happens. It's pretty much is bad, I mean, there's drugs going on, but it ain't no violence going on in this area.
O'BOYLE: Mexico has estimated 15,000 to 20,000 U.S. and Canadian spring-breakers will hit the beach and bars. Acapulco has been growing steadily as a spring-break destination, even more expected this year, since much of Cancun is still cleaning up after Hurricane Wilma. For now, the party is still on. For NPR News, I'm Michael O'Boyle.
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