Acapulco: The resort killed by drugs, guns and gangs

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The once glamorous seaside town is now deserted, with the bodies of the gangs’ victims dumped on the beach.

The American government has issued a stark warning to all potential tourists to Mexico: “Don’t go.”

It comes after the country revealed nearly 30,000 people were murdered last year – the highest number in 20 years.

The CIA says the violence levels are comparable with the war zones of Iraq and Syria.

The resort city of Acapulco, a former playground of the rich and famous, is now at the centre of a crime wave that has swept across the country. Extortion, kidnapping and murder are daily events.

Heavily armed police on patrol in Acapulco
Image:
Heavily armed police on patrol in Acapulco

I joined the Mexican Federal Police on patrol in what is now one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

A police clear-up operation of yet another murder scene quickly descends into a firefight as officers move into houses and make arrests.

It’s chaos. The heavily armed police units are firing in all directions, it is unclear if they are being attacked or not.

Although, as everyone is ducking down, they are assuming they are.

Like so many of these incidents it never reached a conclusion. It just petered out. It is life on patrol. Mexico’s crazy violence levels are simply out of control.

With murder rates higher than at any point since the government started counting, it was clear before we set out that joining a police patrol would be unusual.

In fact, outside of a war zone I have never seen anything like it. The police are in full combat gear and heavily armed.

There are four trucks of them and in support an even better armed marine unit in case things turn really nasty.

We are in Acapulco, but outside of the main city it quickly becomes very rural. Out here the gangs are in charge, out here the rule of the gun, not the law, governs everything.

We pull in to a village renowned for gang violence. There are reports there has been a new outbreak of violence since the last episode of blood letting. That last episode was the day before.

By British standards what we were about to see would have been exceptional. In Mexico it is almost normal.

Stuart Ramsay at the scene of a shooting in which eight people were killed
Image:
Stuart Ramsay at the scene of a shooting in which eight people were killed

The village leader walks me through a crime scene. On the floor of a modest single story storage building a small bunch of flowers and a lit candle have been placed on a large blood stain.

Then I see another, and another and another. In this small space eight men, some just teenagers, were murdered in a gang execution.

The village leader shows me how the men cowered before the gunman, but he killed them anyway.

The families of the dead gathered outside. They are devastated but they aren’t shocked. This is what it is like in Mexico today. Extreme violence used to settle minor incidents. It is a cycle that never seems to stop.

A tearful mum wanted to talk to me. “I want justice for the killing of my son,” she told me as broke down and sobbed.

“He was a child, he was 17, he wasn’t guilty of anything. He ran to protect himself and he was killed in that corner,” she told me pointing to another bunch of flowers.

the family of another shooting victim comfort each other
Image:
The family of another shooting victim comfort each other

In Mexico getting justice is difficult.

In the first 48 hours of my arrival in Acapulco we saw the bodies and murder scenes of 19 people. There were many more – those are just the ones we can confirm.

In the 60s, 70s and 80s Acapulco was a place of glamour and a playground for the rich and famous.

It is still beautiful, of course. But it is tainted now. Beach bars are empty or closed, there are no foreign tourists and the army are deployed on the beaches to protect Mexican families still prepared to come here.

For many years the crime gangs had an agreement not to kill in Acapulco. That agreement has gone; extortion, kidnapping and murder are daily occurrences.

Half of all the businesses on the famous seafront are shaken down by gangs every single day.

Laura Caballero says businesses are being ruined by extortion
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Laura Caballero says businesses are being ruined by extortion

“There are 50 gangs in this state, too many,” Laura Caballero, a businesswoman who mothballed three businesses to avoid losing them to the gangs, told me.

“One gang comes and wants money, then another and then another.

“I remember Acapulco in the 70s, it was vibrant with tourists from around the world. Now they are gone, its very sad,” she said.

Bodies are left dumped on the beach front or even hanging from motorway bridges as a warning to other gangs.

The Narco wars and the cartels are blamed for all of it.

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A police office guards the beach in Acapulco
Image:
A police office guards the beach in Acapulco

But in reality the violence is endemic through society. It is not just gang stuff. And there appears to be no way to stop it.

:: Watch Stuart Ramsay’s report on Mexico’s drug trade as part of Hot Spots, on Thursday night on Sky Atlantic

Heavily armed police on patrol in Acapulco

Stuart Ramsay at the scene of a shooting in which eight people were killed

the family of another shooting victim comfort each other

Laura Caballero says businesses are being ruined by extortion

A police office guards the beach in Acapulco

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