It’s noon… and very busy under the scorching sun of Acapulco.
On one side of La Costera, the main road that runs along the coast, thousands of bathers are diving into the warm waters of this tourist city, once a paradise for honeymooners.
On the other side, the contrast couldn’t be more stark. A corner has been sealed off with red tape. Soldiers and police are waiting for a forensic team to pick up the body of a man lying on the ground, lifeless. Apparently, the man was a taxi driver killed by a drug gang.
We rushed to the scene. It happened just a few hours after landing in Acapulco. Local crime reporters have been incredibly busy. One killing is happening after another.
That’s exactly what I saw in the course of two hours.
Another alert. Ten minutes away, up the mountain through busy streets, a forensic team was picking up the remains of at least two dismembered bodies left on a corner, out in the open. The scenes were too horrible to describe.
Then another call came in. This time a young man who’d been in a phone booth had been shot dead.
This is what Acapulco has become by day and night.
These days members of the so-called Independent Cartel of Acapulco are fighting for control of territory.
I’ve travelled to Acapulco many times this year to cover the violence. But this time it seemed much more intense and out of control.
Violence begun spiralling in the port city when the top boss of a major drug cartel was killed by Mexican soldiers in December, 2009. Arturo Beltran Leyva’s drug organization divided. His brother Hector took over one faction and he fought Edgar Villareal known as “La Barbie”, who’d been a right hand man for Arturo Beltran.
When Villareal was caught one year ago, the fighting intensified again. Another boss, Moises Montero led an emerging powerful new group called the Independent Cartel of Acapulco. Two weeks ago he was captured.
“For days now, violence has erupted and all of us who are following the news know that this violence is in retaliation to Montero’s capture”, said Uriel Sanchez, a crime reporter covering Acapulco’s violence.
Mexico’s government strategy to target drug “capos” is having a multiplying effect. As bosses are captured or killed, drug organisations divide into smaller gangs, who are armed and with a thirst for power. They embark on a killing spree.
According Ramon Almonte, security chief of Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, the majority of violent attacks happen among rival gangs.
“I’m completely sure that the majority of the fallen is because of the decomposition of the criminal groups. That’s why I can say that 98 per cent of the dead in this wave of homicides are directly or indirectly involved in organised crime, and a very narrow number of victims are circumstantial of the situation,” he said.
The government contends the strategy is weakening the drug cartels. But on the ground the reality is that the violence is getting worse.
Acapulco’s level of violence is starting to look like that of Ciudad Juarez one year ago. Juarez is still considered Mexico’s most violent place, though the level of daily killings has now wound down in that northern border city.
Taking a stroll some blocks away from the crime scenes, Ricardo Gonzalez, a resident of Acapulco, says that life before was much better, although Acapulco has always had violence. Many like Gonzalez say they almost crave for the days when one sole kingpin was in charge.
“There were no territorial disputes, when there was one boss he had nobody to fight with, or it was between them. It was better having only one boss. The violence today is senseless.”