Mexico's Paradise, Lost

PHOTO:  A Mexican federal policeman stands guard near the beach on March 4, 2012 in Acapulco, Mexico.

How to promote tourism in a place where visitors have been robbed, raped, killed and kidnapped? That's what Angel Aguirre, governor of the Mexican state of Guerrero, is trying to do. The answer: It may not be possible.

It's true that Mexico is a geographically blessed country, famed for its pristine beaches, magnificent mountains and canyons, and stunning desert vistas. Some of the most beautiful spots in the world, the basis of the nation's huge tourism industry, are found within its borders. But it is also one of the most dangerous countries in the Americas. The average number of drug-related deaths per month, an unofficial number that currently stands around 1,000, hasn't changed significantly since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December 2012.

There has been some great news lately, about the recent capture of the leader of the Zetas drug cartel, Miguel Ángel Treviño, aka Z-40, which shows clear coordination and communication between the different law enforcement agencies and the army. He was one of the most sought-after drug traffickers in Mexico, second only to Joaquin Guzman Loera, aka Chapo Guzman, who is still at large. But Treviño's capture does not suggest any change in strategy on the war on drugs. Peña Nieto hasn't done anything different from his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, regarding public security matters, except to stop talking about the violence.

But although Mexico has a new president and a different political party is in power, Mexicans and tourists are just seeing more of the same. Though Treviño is in jail, others just as terrifying will take his place. People in Mexico will continue to be subject to violence, as usual.

During a recent interview in Miami, Aguirre pointed out that, despite the violence, Mexico is a beautiful country, with a lot to offer to visitors."You came here on an impossible mission," I said. He smiled and told me about his administration's plans: to build a tunnel in the port of Acapulco to reduce traffic congestion; to offer "vaporetto" ferry service, like in Venice, to transport tourists across the bay; to provide "sun insurance" to visitors ("If the sun doesn't shine at least three hours on a given day, we'll make it up to you with an extra hotel night"); and even to launch an advertising campaign featuring the singer Luis Miguel.

But Guerrero was the most violent state in Mexico in 2012, tallying the highest number of rapes, abductions and murders, according to Mexico's Center for Research Development. And Acapulco was the most dangerous municipality in the country, according to the Citizen Council for Public Security and Justice."You want visitors to come visit the most dangerous city and the most violent state in Mexico," I said to the governor.

"I wouldn't put it that way," he answered. "I can also produce numbers showing that criminality has decreased by 40 percent in Acapulco. We haven't had major incidents or crime in recent months, and the tourism sector is perfectly secured."

I pointed out that in February, six Spanish women who were vacationing together in the Acapulco area were raped by masked gunmen who broke into their bungalow. In May, 11 people were found murdered in Guerrero. The same month some police cars were stolen from Acapulco's police department. The media is full of stories about similar cases.

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