- Title: MEXICO: Drug violence worries residents and tourists in Acapulco
- Date: 23rd April 2010
- Summary: CHILDREN GOING TO SCHOOL VARIOUS OF TOURISTS ON BEACH
- Embargoed: 8th May 2010 15:16
- Location: Mexico
- Country: Mexico
- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement
- Reuters ID: LVADXP62UK0EL75QIUHNS2SSMAXV
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: A week after three civilians - including two children - died in crossfire during a gun battle between drug hitmen and police on the Pacific beach resort of Acapulco's tourist strip, dozens of people marched through the streets on Thursday (April 22) demanding peace.
Residents marched in silence and dressed in white carrying candles and banners honouring the fallen victims in the shootout. They marched from a main plaza to the place where a mother and her two children were killed.
When they arrived at the scene where the shootout took place, the father and grandfather of the minors placed crucifix's in memory of the victims and then continued marching to a large Mexican flag on the port where others left lit candles, flowers and sung the National Anthem.
Acapulco residents were deeply affected by the April 14 shootout, as they see their personal safety being altered but they also feel the wave of violence diminishes the image of the port and their source of income, tourism.
"We want peace, no more crime because it only affects innocent people," local resident, Maria, said.
In recent months tourism has already fallen by almost a quarter in the first three months of this year, airport operator OMA said.
Dozens of soldiers were sent to Acapulco this week to tighten security ahead of an annual banking convention.
Pedro Falcon, who directs Travel Service, a tour operator, is outraged at the deaths of civilians in the recent cross-fire between cartels and security forces.
"The serious thing about this situation is that innocent people have been affected. The latest event was very dramatic, very sad, very disappointing, shocking. However I think people in Acapulco, the least they can do is continue working, continue treating visiting tourists well and well that's a reality we're unable to change," he said.
Falcon said tight security should be upheld at all times, not only when there are important events taking place.
"How can you inhibit this? Surveillance should be more frequent and more effective. During the banking convention, we're going to be surrounded by soldiers and policemen but it'll be over, they will go and we'll go back to everyday life," he said.
Drug murders have skyrocketed to about 22,700 since Calderon took power and the brutality is shocking the public. Hitmen dump severed heads in streets, hang bodies from bridges and leave threatening messages over corpses dumped on roads.
Gory news reports of daily shootouts between drug cartel hitmen are fueling concerns among North Americans and Europeans that Mexico is increasingly unsafe, even if most of the violence is along the U.S. border, far from top tourist areas.
Mexico's tourism industry is still likely to grow in 2010 compared to last year, when fears of swine flu emptied beaches, but businesses worry a perception of danger hangs over Mexico that could continue to undermine the industry.
Those who have ignored, U.S. State Department warnings against nonessential travel along the U.S.-Mexico border, prefer to stick to the beaten track and follow agendas set by tour operators.
Many have bumped into heavily-armed truck-loads of soldiers.
Australian tourist, Stephen Hanlon was surprised by feelings of security and intimidation .
"You have two senses. You have the police driving around in their four-wheel-drive, on open back, four-wheel-drives with balaclavas and automatic rifles and we walked past another police car yesterday where a guy was just standing looking over his roof with his automatic weapon and his finger on the trigger and that creates two senses, one a sense of intimidation and the other one a sense of security and I am not quite sure which one is winning out at the moment."
Others feel they should avoid feelings of paranoia and enjoy their holiday.
"Yes, what is happening is worrying. It's worrying to see images where drug trafficking is being swept away. There are youngsters who are getting killed. There are innocent victims as in any situation of these characteristics but we can't become paranoid if we want to enjoy what we want to do here today," said Argentinean tourist, Ruben, who was sunbathing with friends on the beach.
The arrival of cruise ships carrying thousands of tourists compensates for falling tourism. They arrive during the day when security is tighter to visit the port's tourist attractions but quickly leave as night falls.
A U.S tourist from Florida, Bob Jansen, was happy to see more security.
"I like to see them trying to make things safer for us, this is their economy I mean it's tourism so they should keep us in good shape or we're not going to come."
Nightlife has also been affected but some continue to stay up until dawn in bars and nightclubs around the city.
Many business people blame the news media for exaggerating the extent of drug murders, which are mainly between gang members and corrupt police. Mexico's beaches, Mayan ruins and colonial-era churches are far from the conflict, they say.
With more than 20 million visitors a year, Mexico is one of the world's top destinations. Tourism makes up 8 percent of Mexico's economy. Spending by tourists in Mexico fell 15 percent in 2009, hit by swine flu and the global recession.
Now the government is banking on a rebound, but forums on travel websites are filled with queries from prospective tourists frightened by the drug war. Many cite false claims, like a post that said "a tourist was being killed every day."
The December killing of drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva, the biggest strike yet in Calderon's war, has sparked fighting around the Mexican capital as factions within the Beltran Leyva cartel push for leadership.
The battleground includes the marijuana- and opium-producing state of Guerrero and the famous beach resort of Acapulco, a key transit point for South American cocaine.
In Cuernavaca, the colonial tourist town outside Mexico City where Beltran Leyva was killed by marines, violence has surged in recent weeks with bodies hung from bridges and piled up on the side of roads.
Traffickers also want control of Mexico City for its big local drug market and the capital's highway links northward to the U.S. border
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