A Gang Rape Reinforces Acapulco’s Decline, but What of Mexico’s Other Resorts?

The once iconic tourist mecca no longer attracts the huge numbers it once did, but tourism is till booming in the rest of Mexico

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Jesus Espinosa / ZUMA PRESS

This Feb. 5, 2013 photo shows a general view of the place where six Spanish tourists were raped while on vacation

The onetime tourist mecca of Acapulco is still reeling from the horrific details of a Feb. 4 attack as the alleged details continue to filter into the Mexican and Spanish press. According to the reports, at 2 a.m. on that Monday morning, five masked gunmen stormed a holiday bungalow where a dozen Spanish tourists were staying; they tied up six Spanish men with phone cables and bathing shorts, robbed them of their money and drank their mescal, then they gang-raped six Spanish women; they allegedly spared one Mexican woman who was with them because of her nationality; throughout the three-hour ordeal — filled with screaming and shouting — no neighbors called the police.

In the aftermath of the incident, Mexican officials struggled to limit the fallout on Mexico’s image and tourist industry. Acapulco Mayor Luis Walton initially made the mistake of saying that such things happen “everywhere in the world” and had to apologize for it the next day, weeping on television as he tried to look penitent for trying to minimize the atrocity. Mexico’s Congress approved a special commission to look into the crime as Senator Mariana Gómez accused the mayor of shedding crocodile tears. State prosecutors promised arrests the day after the attack but still had none three days later. President Enrique Peña Nieto finally stepped in Thursday calling for a federal response to what would normally be a state-level crime. “It is inadmissible what happened recently in Acapulco, where six women of our sister nation of Spain were raped,” Peña Nieto said.

(MORE: Mexico Seeks Culprits in Rape of Six Spaniards)

To add to the Pacific resort’s woes, a Mexican think thank released a report Thursday that classified Acapulco as the second most murderous city on the planet. There were 143 homicides per 100,000 residents there last year, just behind San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with 169 per 100,000, according to the Citizens’ Council for Public Security. The government of Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, lashed back, challenging the numbers as a “distortion of reality,” while Mayor Walton waded in again, saying the report “hurts me.”

It is yet to be seen how much damage the gang rape could do to Mexico’s wider tourist industry, which is expecting its annual influx of American spring breakers. U.S.-based tour operators are quick to point out that Acapulco is now rarely visited by Americans and Europeans anyway, with most going to the cleaner and safer resorts of Cabo, Cancún and others. John Hecht, a travel writer who treks far afield in Mexico, agrees that one cannot generalize about violence in Mexico’s vast 760,000 sq. mi. of turf. “It definitely shouldn’t reflect on Mexico as a whole. The stuff that is going on is happening in pockets of the country, and most tourists are not affected by its violence,” Hecht says. “You have to let people know that things are not as bad as they think they are.”

Homicide figures support the argument that all of Mexico shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush. Yucatán, the country’s safest state, has the same murder rate per capita as Belgium, and even the seething capital, Mexico City, has a homicide rate of nine per 100,000, similar to Boston and much lower than Detroit or New Orleans. During the past five years of intense Mexican drug violence, foreign tourists generally seemed to have recognized this distinction. While visits plummeted to border cities such as Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juárez, the white Caribbean beaches south of Cancún remained packed. Mexico had its best tourism year on record in 2011, with 22.7 million foreign holidaymakers.

(MORE: Return of the Zapatista: Are Mexico’s Rebels Still Relevant?)

Still, Acapulco has always garnered special attention as the granddaddy of Mexican tourist resorts. It was around its bay that Elvis Presley and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller sipped margaritas out of coconut shells back in the 1960s. As the city mushroomed into a sprawling metropolis, gangsters used it is as a Pacific trafficking point, local drug market and a place to buy real estate. Turf wars between rival cartels left severed heads on the beaches and firefights on downtown streets. When Mexican security forces shot or arrested the kingpins who controlled Acapulco crime, such as Arturo “The Beard” Beltrán Leyva and Edgar “The Barbie” Valdez, it left many trained hit men without leaders. Squads of gunmen only loosely linked to cartels now operate in the city extorting money, kidnapping people and carrying out atrocities.

The gang rape has also drawn attention to sexual violence in Mexico, where police have been overwhelmed with cartel mass murders and massacres. Mexico has certainly not suffered the same levels of these crimes as South Africa, where another gang-rape case gained international attention this week. Police data shows that Mexico had 13 reported rapes per 100,000 in 2010, much lower than many countries around the world. But figures on sexual violence are very murky. Sweden has one of the highest number of reported rapes, but it is also has a culture that encourages people to denounce such crimes.

Whatever the total numbers, there have been various high-profile incidents of sexual violence in Mexico. Hundreds of rapes and murders in Ciudad Juárez over the past two decades have garnered global concern. Sandra Ramírez, a Juárez social worker, says the proliferation of armed groups linked to drug cartels has exacerbated a problem of sexual violence that was already latent. “They can use rape to sow terror and send territorial messages. Women have always been victims of war,” Ramírez says. In an earlier shocking case, a group of gunmen raped seven young Mexican women at a church retreat in Mexico state in July 2012. “The case of Acapulco illustrates the combination of impunity and underlying sexual aggression in Mexico,” Ramírez says. “They carried out this attack openly without any fear of the consequences.”

PHOTOS: Inside Mexico’s Drug Tunnels

18 comments
JodiArmstrong
JodiArmstrong

I visited Acapulco in 1989...stayed at the Las Brisas.  It was very beautiful, and since I was so young and naive at the time, I didn't take precautions.  I drove in my jeep all through the local mountains by myself (I was a 21 yr old female)  Got lost a few times, and when I stopped, a bunch of little local boys trying to sell me pottery actually robbed me!  They grabbed my wallet and ran.  Ha, at least it wasn't a gang rape.  But you couldn't pay me enough money to step foot inside Mexico these days.  No thanks..a lawless, corrupt country does not appeal to this older and wiser woman.  I feel sorry for the good Mexican people that are stuck there and have no way to get out.  A shame, it is a beautiful place. 

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

Yeah the president of mex sounds like a real intellectual firecracker. "It is inadmissible" what happened. Ya know, they say the first step is admitting there is a problem. Three hours of screaming and shouting and no call to police. Mexico is sad and sounds like a scary place to live in, visit,or be near.

Obbop
Obbop

A minimal amount of Web research will reveal a plethora of negatives about the general culture inside Mexico. The obvious discord between the despised Anglos; especially the Norte de Americanos, and the several ethnic groups inside Mexico has caused problems in the USA and Mexico.

Gge.Ga
Gge.Ga

As it turns out and was not written about in this article, the tourists bought drugs from these guys the day before.  The police know who they are and are searching for them.  Buy drugs in Mexico and expect the worst. 

BobJan
BobJan

But "abortion" is against the law. LOL

Erno
Erno

I find it difficult to understand that various organisations and representatives come out to defend their 'records' by rolling out statistics at such an awful time for thirteen real, living, flesh-and-bone, emotional and thinking people. If Mexican officials want to avoid damage to their tourist industry they should clean up their country, period! Not after an atrocity, but before they can happen. To say that these things happen all over the world is absolutely beside the point anyway, it happened in Mexico, not somewhere else, and although a supposed 'heartfelt' apology was offered for a thoughtless, careless, cruel and callous statement, it amounts to nothing much given the first thing on their minds was not the victims but the bottom line. It beggars belief why people want to spend time in a place like Mexico given it's current state. People in their right minds should know that to boycott the place completely would soon generate action by relevant authorities to clean house. My feeling on Mexico is that it's completely out of control, and it's a gamble going there for any reason. You could have a great time as a tourist, propping up a completely corrupt and impotent social system, or you could be the victim of a random act of violence and become a sad statistic soon to be forgotten by. This story will soon be old news as they keep rolling off the presses. I'd sooner read the history books and look at the pictures. I certainly won't be visiting Mexico.

RobertFreund
RobertFreund

Ok - The Mexicans have long stopped reporting crimes to the police. Only 2% of all crimes are ever solved . That leaves a 98% impunity rate... what woman is going to report a rape only to be harassed by the police and further humiliated . This knowing full well that the culprit will never be caught.

fatality1515
fatality1515

South and Central America now looks like tourist destination more than ever.. Good thing I ditched my spanish lessons and started to learn a more useful language..

I feel really sorry for the victims of this heinous crime..

spanishNY
spanishNY

Not anymore, @El_Narco_Book one Ukrainian man was murdered weeks ago, and a Ukrainian lady is still missing in Yucatán.

Bloodlust
Bloodlust

22.5 million people visited last year - who's wrong, 22 million or you?  Pathetic.  Stay in your house cowering with your gun, American, you make us sick.

Gge.Ga
Gge.Ga

@Erno  You have no idea about Mexico and probably have never visited Mexico. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.  How about the hundreds of millions of dollars that foreign investors have put into Mexico this year, the new car manufacturing and aerospace factories being built? How about a 4% increase in the economy projected by just about every rating agency in the world? As compared to the US may be 2% at best. Be sure to speak up when you have a clue what you are writing about.

david.c.ha
david.c.ha

@fatality1515south and central america speak spanish ALSO.  spanish will be VERY useful almost everywhere you go on those parts of the continents.

Erno
Erno

@Shaka2Felt Exactly my point. As long as people keep flocking to Mexico for their breaks and holidays, no reason to change anything. If your idea of being on holiday is to be herded like livestock from one sterile tourist friendly'safe zone' attraction to the next and 'cowering' in air-conditioned hotel rooms, I'm happy for you. Personally I prefer to go somewhere I can immerse myself in local culture without an overwhelming sensation that I might just have my whole life changed or taken from me at a random moment's notice. I'm Dutch, don't own a gun and just because 22 million people do something, doesn't make it right. Take cigarette smokers as a good example.

Erno
Erno

@Gge.Ga @Erno yeah I'm really happy for you, nice figures. I think you're missing my point though. Anyway.., I love to travel, I'm very keen on learning about foreign cultures and you're right, I've never visited Mexico, but you can keep your beloved country to yourself for now.

kandw101
kandw101

@Gge.Ga @Erno

  • The millions of U.S. workers STILL mired in longtime underemployment and unemployment are so happy to hear that Mexico is continuing to do well by importing jobs and EXPORTING their
    population. Lifes good, OLE'! IMO