Organized crime groups unleash reign of terror in Acapulco

Mexico’s former tourism jewel has been rocked by a fresh wave of violence, including kidnappings, murders and narco-blockades, in recent days

Armed men set fire to an urban public transport bus on August 2, 2023 in Acapulco, Guerrero.Carlos Alberto Carbajal (CUARTOSCURO)
Elías Camhaji

The murder of a well-known local businessman last weekend. The body of a young woman abandoned in a garbage bag on a highway on Monday. A cab set on fire and its driver burned on Tuesday. Narco-blockades with more than a dozen vehicles burned on Wednesday. A ministerial agent killed on Thursday. There is no respite from a growing wave of violence in Acapulco. The Mexican Pacific resort, a former jewel of international tourism, is in the grip of a new reign of terror at the hands of organized crime groups. The State Police, the Army, the Navy, and the National Guard have announced that they will reinforce security and support municipal authorities to restore order in the coastal city in the middle of the summer holiday season.

The state of Guerrero has been plagued for over a decade by a war between criminal organizations that erupted after the dismantling of the Beltrán Leyva Cartel, which controlled the area until the beginning of the last decade, security sources explained to this newspaper. The end of the Beltrán Leyva Cartel’s dominance has left behind a complex criminal map and an ongoing battle for control of the main towns in the southern Mexican state, as well as frequent confrontations between the cartels and smaller groups involved in crimes such as drug dealing and extortion.

The murder of Henner Thomas, a 38-year-old ministerial agent, was the latest event to rock Acapulco and brought the situation under the spotlight of the national press. Thomas, who worked for the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Enforced Disappearances, was kidnapped by a group of armed men who broke into his house in the town of Tres Palos, some 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the tourist area of the municipality. The body of the official was found in broad daylight in the trunk of an abandoned pickup truck on the Viaducto Diamante, which leads to one of the most affluent parts of the city.

“Citizens are asked to ignore false information spread on social networks that only seeks to generate anxiety,” the Guerrero Public Security Secretariat said. The statement was issued around four hours after the body of the ministerial agent was found and a day after members of criminal groups cut off the Acapulco-Zihuatanejo highway, one of the city’s main arteries, with burning vehicles including vans, private trucks, and a municipal bus. Narco-blockades usually occur — according to the modus operandi of organized crime in other parts of the country — in retaliation for the arrest of members of their organizations or following operations against them by the authorities.

The State Police indicated it would undertake coordinated operations with federal entities, such as the Secretariat of National Defense, the Navy and the National Guard, as well as with the State Attorney General’s Office, as well carrying out patrols and security checks to ensure that the population could move safely along the busiest streets.

The apparent common thread of the latest wave of violence is the visibility of the attacks: they have all been made in plain sight and on some of the main roads connecting the port with other cities and surrounding areas. Harumi Montalvo, an 18-year-old student, was found on the Mexico-Acapulco highway earlier this week after her relatives reported her missing. Like Thomas, armed men forced their way into her home and kidnapped her. A day later her remains were identified.

Soldiers on patrol in Acapulco, where armed groups set fire to vehicles including municipal buses during a wave of violence in the city.
Soldiers on patrol in Acapulco, where armed groups set fire to vehicles including municipal buses during a wave of violence in the city. Carlos Alberto Carbajal (CUARTOSCURO)

Security to the fore on presidential campaign trail

Over the weekend, the murder of José Fuentes Brito, an Acapulco businessman with ties to former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard, and his son, as well as of a truck driver, were reported on the so-called Autopista del Sol, as the highway that connects Acapulco with Mexico City is known. The first hypotheses of the investigation points to an assault, although there are also versions that suggest it was a targeted attack. Sources consulted stated that the homicide was “reckless” as it was carried out on a stretch of the highway known for having a high incidence of robberies, but which is also heavily guarded by federal forces such as the National Guard.

Ebrard, who stepped down from his position at the Foreign Ministry to run in the 2024 presidential elections, said he would provide a report on the progress of the investigation Friday. The presidential candidate visited Acapulco on Thursday during his campaign tours for the leadership of Morena, Mexico’s ruling party. Both Ebrard and Claudia Sheinbaum, his main rival for the candidacy, have brought the issue of security to the campaign trail this week.

Ebrard presented Plan Angel, his security proposal, at an event in the port and he was not the only presidential candidate to visit the city this week. Senator Ricardo Monreal stated on Tuesday that citizens in Guerrero do not deserve to live in a state ravaged by crime. “The most serious thing in Mexico is that its authorities become accomplices or protectors [of criminal organizations],” Monreal said of the controversy generated by a meeting reportedly held by Norma Otilia Hernández, the mayor of the state capital Chilpancingo, with a high-ranking drug trafficker.

Governor Evelyn Salgado stated that she is working on the “pacification” of the state, which has been engulfed by violence for almost two decades, with a frontal attack on organized crime and an investigation into to the structural causes of insecurity. A city under permanent siege by criminal groups, Acapulco is once again under national scrutiny.

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