On Wednesday, April 14, the same day that First Lady Michelle Obama arrived for a two-day visit to Mexico City, drug violence erupted in Acapulco, one of Mexico’s most famous resort cities, 190 miles southwest of the Mexican capital on the Pacific coast. The shootings and murders (six people were killed; five wounded) were startling because they occurred during the day, on the main boulevard of the tourist zone, and three bystanders were victims. However, no tourists were among the casualties and the violence seems to have resulted from a power struggle within a drug cartel operating in Guerrero, the state in which Acapulco is located.
Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón launched a crackdown on cartels in 2007, the Mexican government has demonstrated success in breaking apart the larger drug traffickers, but the pressure has caused newer, smaller cartels to vie for turf within Mexico, including southern states such as Sinaloa and Guerrero. Still, drug violence remains concentrated along the border (especially the towns of Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana, Nogales, Matamoros) and in northern Mexico, and not popular tourist destinations such as Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Cancún, the Riviera Maya, and Cozumel.
While Mrs. Obama did not address directly the incident in Acapulco, she did stress in a speech to thousands of university students in Mexico City that those privileged to attend college had a responsibility to provide opportunities to the less fortunate: “those of you who have a seat at the table must do your part to make room for others who don’t,” an exhortation that resounds loudly in a country where economic disparity is both a social issue and a factor in the drug trade—the majority of the drug war’s victims as well as criminals are under 30.
T+L contributing editor Michael Gross, who was in Acapulco last week, reported:
“I’ll admit I briefly worried, having read about the drug-related troubles in Mexico, but reassured by friends who live there, I went on my trip and I felt absolutely no sense of menace or threat or fear among the populace while I was there. When I left an ATM card in a machine, the person who found it chased me down the street to return it.
The fact is, there is violence all over the world. There was a shooting a few blocks from my home in midtown New York City a few days before I left for Mexico. Even though I passed through the very intersection where Wednesday’s shooting occurred less than 24 hours before it happened, I wouldn’t hesitate to return to Acapulco tomorrow. I took reasonable precautions, remained alert when away from my hotel, and think that any reasonably intelligent traveler would do the same.”
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens should consult the U.S. Department of State website: travel.state.gov; up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 888-407-4747 in the United States or from Mexico 001-202-501-4444.
Mario Mercado is the arts editor at Travel + Leisure and covers Mexico, Central, and South America.