food / travel

How Acapulco Went From Tropical Paradise To Capital Of Murder, Drugs And Hunger

Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost
Augusto Assia

ACAPULCO — Before coming to Acapulco, I had heard many disturbing things about the city. For example, that six Spanish girls were brutally raped on the top floor of a beautiful beachfront villa last February as their boyfriends, handcuffed, were made to watch.

That Acapulco had suddenly become the most violent city in Mexico — a statistic about as newsworthy as a French student graduating from the Sorbonne. That UNICEF has placed this coastal city at the top of its child prostitution lists, edging out Cancún and Tijuana (in the evenings, there are many 13- and 14-year-old girls along the city's main tourist strip offering a “tourist’s menu” for just a few dollars).

But as disturbing as all that it, to me the most surprising news was from April last year, when five taxi drivers were murdered. And then the following month, another five. Why taxi drivers? “In fact, they’re kids who sell drugs and sell them from the cabs,” one longtime driver says. The man has a grey moustache and an impeccable white shirt. He goes to open the doors for his clients. “The blue taxis are banned from going any further than where we are right now. They think they’re thugs, but if they go up, they get killed,” he adds.

Blood on the streets

So to get to the Simón Bolívar district of the city we have to take a bus, and the photographer I’m with takes a macabre survey of each corner. “Here, I arrived late to a shootout, and this school over here was closed for two years because the teachers were too afraid to come. And over here on this corner I took the most difficult photo of my life. It was of a woman who was gunned down and died shielding her two babies with her body,” he explains.

Now it’s a few months after that incident and Janet, 23, sits breastfeeding her baby in the same spot the photo was taken. As she sits on the sidewalk outside the clinic, she eerily resembles the aforementioned woman who died. This clinic isn’t even in a building — it’s in a van parked on the street so it can treat the poor for free. “Even the drugs are free, and they don’t need to bring any documents with them,” she says. The majority of her neighbors come here with dengue fever, stomach parasites or malnutrition.

For this reason, this was the location chosen by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s minister, Rosario Robles, to begin a crusade against hunger — the most ambitious social project of this government. It’s an imitation of the Hambre 0 ("Hunger 0") project launched in Brazil by Lula da Silva.

“But here, the main problem is violence. After 9 p.m., we can’t go out on the streets. What happened to those Spanish girls is what we live with everyday, but nobody cares about us because we’re not foreigners,” explains Janet, without moving her baby from her breast. Until a year ago she worked making beds in one of the big hotels, for just $15 a day. “But I was fired when I got pregnant,” she says.

The Zapata, Renacimiento and Simón Bolívar areas are the poorest and most violent in the city that epitomized glamor in the 1970s. But today almost 400,000 of its 750,000 inhabitants — 51% of the population — live in poverty.

Hope for a deadly city?

Acapulco is top of the leaderboard when it comes to murders: 143 for every 100,000 people, which is eight times more than the national average. In 2012, it earned the dishonorable distinction of the second-most dangerous city in the world, beaten only by San Pedro Sula in Honduras, with its 169.3 deaths.

On the other side of the city, hundreds of young people dance and drink imported vodka on the beach. Argentine models, hired for the occasion, go in and out of the water to the rhythm of the techno beat. It’s noon on a hot July Saturday and the scene opposite the Boca Chica hotel — where celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and John Wayne once stayed — seems more suited to Ibiza than a city with one of the biggest slums on either of the American continents.

But there may be hope for Acapulco now. The richest man in the world has just bought the Boca Chica hotel to relaunch it as part of a much larger investment package. “We all know that Carlos Slim doesn’t tolerate failure,” says Roberto Zurita, general manager of this precious vintage hotel, where a room costs $200 a night.

This hotel is the only thing that remains from a well-photographed past. It was the ’60s and one of the most beautiful bays in Mexico was gaining prestige as the big hotels and spectacular mansions grew.

The Hollywood stars swapped revolutionary Cuba for the liberal Acapulco as their favorite place to indulge in excess. Well-known actors came with presidents, artists and writers. Everyone who was “anyone” had to have their photo taken at the parties in Acapulco. It made no difference whether it was Orson Wells, Fidel Castro, Dalí, the Kennedys on their honeymoon, the Shah of Iran, Eisenhower, Nixon or the great American astronauts. Even Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller and the excentric film producer Howard Hughes sought refuge on the beaches here.

But the old Acapulco with its glamor is just a picture on a postcard for tourists now. In 2012, only 300 young people came on mini-breaks to Acapulco, compared to the 45,000 who chose Cancún for partying instead.

Today in Acapulco all possible evils are available. In the mountains, opiates and marijuana are grown. Local cartels fight over the routes for drug smuggling, and internal consumption is soaring. Within these 1,882 square kilometers, everything you need to be a criminal is available: incredible beaches, cheap drugs and an abundance of hotels that range from $12 to $200 per night, separated by just a few meters. A far fall from the glamorous hot spot it once was.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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