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Mar-29-2011 21:52printcomments

Politics/Human Rights News: Acapulco's Sixth Spring

Daily episodes of narco-violence are only one problem in a city largely popular with tourists.
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(ACAPULCO) - Six springs ago, winds of change descended on the old Mexican coastal resort of Acapulco and the state of Guerrero. In a historic event, an opposition politician, former Acapulco Mayor Zeferino Torreblanca, was sworn in as the Governor of Guerrero.

In a campaign that had the air of a mass movement liberating pent-up yearnings for change, Torreblanca’s successful gubernatorial bid recalled in some ways the popular mood surrounding the triumph of another Mexican opposition politician, Vicente Fox, five years earlier.

In alliance with the center-left PRD and other small opposition parties, Torreblanca’s victory over the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was greatly aided by the independently-owned Guerrero newspaper El Sur, whose editors and reporters closely covered Torreblanca’s political battles over the years and devoted great space to a charismatic leader who articulated the aspirations of many people in an impoverished city and state.

Ironically, on Saturday, March 26, only days before the end of Torreblanca’s six-year term, the staff of El Sur temporarily closed the daily’s Acapulco offices and draped a large banner across the front of building that read: “Closed because of threats by Governor Zeferino Torreblanca.”

The closure of El Sur’s Acapulco offices came a day after a caller phoned in a threat to staff. In vulgar language, an unidentified woman warned the offices would be attacked the next afternoon and “innocents” should evacuate. Before hanging up, the anonymous caller called El Sur’s director and co-founder, veteran journalist Juan Angulo, a “sh..t face.”

El Sur’s staff took the threat seriously. Last November 10, unknown gunmen sprayed the paper’s Acapulco offices with gunfire and attempted the set the building on fire. Twelve employees were in the building at the time, but none was injured.

Two hours before the phone threat, El Sur’s staff reported observing a group of five men in a Volkswagen closely watching their offices; the previous week, another suspicious group of seven men in a truck was spotted outside the building situated on Acapulco’s busiest boulevard.

The March 25 threat came on the very same day that President Felipe Calderon was in town, together with Governor Torreblanca, to inaugurate the 36th Acapulco Tourism Market, an annual event that sells Mexican vacations to foreign tourism operators.

El Sur and Zeferino Torreblanca had a bitter falling out early on during the governor’s six-year administration. El Sur Director Juan Angulo criticized many of Torreblanca’s political appointments and questioned policies and practices that reeked of business-as-usual or even corruption.

Torreblanca accused El Sur of unfairly attacking him because the paper did not get state advertising contracts; El Sur countered that it did not get official ad revenues precisely because it had an independent and often critical editorial line. In Mexico, government ad money is still a big and often crucial source of financial support for newspapers.

In the waning days of the soon-to-be ex-governor’s term, the confrontation escalated, especially after El Sur and other media published stories about Torreblanca using a medical transport helicopter supplied by the federal government for other purposes.

Angulo pointed the finger at Torreblanca for the latest threat against El Sur. Quoted in El Sur, the newspaperman said aggressions against the press in Guerrero follow a different pattern than in the northern border states, where organized crime constitutes the main source of trouble. “(Colleagues) have been threatened or murdered here more because of something that was published which a politician disliked…,” he said.

In a chat with Autonomous University of Guerrero students this week, Torreblanca flatly denied he had anything to do with threats against El Sur. He accused Angulo of playing the part of a “martyr,” adding it would be foolish and out of character to launch an attack against the Guerrero daily, especially in the last days of his administration. Torreblanca also revealed that he in fact was a minor stockholder of El Sur.

After repeating allegations that the dispute with El Sur was over money, Torreblanca addressed the broader issue of his ruptures with large sections of the PRD, an organization which elevated him to power. The longtime politician argued that he had attempted to run a government not based on political quotas.

Once a rising star on the national political scene, Torreblanca told a student that he now had no political future. “Why not? Because I fought with all the political parties,” Guerrero’s looming ex-chief executive quipped.

In recent months, Torreblanca’s administration ran numerous television spots extolling the supposed achievements of the state government during the last six years. The latest threat against El Sur was condemned by Mexican media outlets, Acapulco Bishop Carlos Garifas, Reporters without Borders, the pro-press freedom Article 19 organization and the official National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), which also renewed appeals for state protection of El Sur.

In the aftermath of the November 10 armed attack on El Sur, the CNDH requested official protection for the newspaper. The March 26 closure of El Sur’s Acapulco operations did not affect the newspaper’s headquarters in the state capital of Chilpancingo, which continued to function as normal.

Interviewed at the Acapulco Tourism Market, a pair of foreign journalists expressed support for El Sur. Marzia Bertacca of the Italian tourism magazine Trend said El Sur’s situation was not unique in the international journalism business.

“We know they suffer a very serious threat,” Bertacca said. “The President of Italy also wants to cover-up and silence commentaries in the media. I believe governments all over the world want to control free newspapers. We stand in solidarity with El Sur…”

According to Bertacca, Italian media have experienced violent attacks at the hands of Mafia figures sometimes connected to government personalities.

The attacks and threats against El Sur take place in the context of an always testy state political transition as well as extreme violence in Acapulco.

For months, several rival organized crime groups have waged a war for control of the local illegal drug market and other lucrative rackets in the Pacific port. The violence has unfolded in particularly sadistic fashion, with chopped-up bodies and severed heads placed in or scattered on public streets in broad daylight. Typically accompanied by scribbled “narco-threats,” gory exhibitions have occurred in areas where tourists and foreigners frequent, including outside a Sam’s Club and across from a McDonald’s on the Costera main drag.

On some days, the death toll equals or even exceeds that of Ciudad Juarez far to the north. The victims include local and state policemen, taxi drivers, presumed street-level drug dealers and, above all, youth, including teenagers whose mutilated corpses have been tossed on the streets.

Governor Torreblanca has blamed the carnage on the “decomposition” and “fragmentation” of organized criminal bands which have sucked in many youthful recruits. “Criminals act in a cowardly and surprising manner,” he recently declared.

Like Ciudad Juarez and other cities, Acapulco has a large population of so-called “ninis"- young people who don't study or attend school.

Stranger than fiction Order Now

When asked by a Mexican reporter last month if Acapulco was becoming the next Ciudad Juarez or Nuevo Leon (Monterrey), the head of the local military base responded in the negative.

“No, not at all,” replied General Daniel Velasco Ramirez, commander of Acapulco’s 9th Military Region. “Acapulco is totally different than the places you mention, which are close to the border and have problems of another sort.” Since General Velasco’s comments, suspected narco-violence has if anything only worsened. On March 13, for instance, 10 people were reported murdered in different incidents. On Saturday evening, March 26, a section of the Costera was closed down for a few hours because of a firefight between the Federal Police and suspected cartel gunmen.

Two helicopters, soldiers and marines joined in the action. Trapped indoors, some residents reportedly sent play-by-play accounts of the battle via Twitter; two suspected delinquents and a federal officer were reported injured. Local officials and hoteliers maintain the violence has not seriously disrupted the Mexican national tourism on which Acapulco now survives, but it has had a decidedly negative impact on what little foreign tourism still visits Acapulco.

Once a hot spot for rowdy spring-breakers from the US, Acapulco hosted about one thousand of the college-age youth this year-down from an expected 15,000, according Jesus Radilla, general director of the Acapulco Tourism Promotion Fund.

Next month, though, hundreds of thousands of people from Mexico City and other landlocked entities are expected to jam Acapulco’s beaches and lodgings for the two-week Holy Week and Easter holidays.

Extended families, old and new lovers and friends of all manner will haggle with waiters, argue with taxi drivers, dance on the sands, pose with Diana the Huntress and other statuesque, mythic beings on the Costera, and shout with joy from their hotel balconies. They will relive the Acapulco Dream celebrated in the romantic lyrics of Agustin Lara and Juan Gabriel, the lusty songs of Rocio Durcal, Luis Miguel and Elvis Presley, and the unforgettable film of Cantinflas and other celluloid heroes from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, an era when the peaceful, seductive images of tropical Acapulco stirred passions and imaginations the world over.

A few of the unlucky tourists will perish in wrecks on the treacherous highway from Mexico City or drown in the deceptive waters of Santa Lucia Bay. Presiding over this massive, annual reaffirmation of Mexican culture will be a new governor, Angel Aguirre Rivero, who is due to be inaugurated on Friday, April 1.

Like Zeferino Torreblanca before him, the PRD-supported Aguirre also attracted support from impoverished voters hungry for change and whipped old friends in the PRI machine. El Sur’s management has announced it will reopen their Acapulco offices on the day Torreblanca departs Casa Guerrero in Chilpancingo for unknown horizons. Meanwhile, the struggling newspaper continues to pump out stories about contemporary Guerrero and Mexico.

In addition to the daily episodes of narco-violence, recent stories have touched on complaints of federal neglect of Acapulco, decades-old land disputes across Guerrero, ongoing teacher shortages, unresolved forced disappearances and killings, myriad human rights violations, and mass migration to the United States.

Other than the noticeably more frequent homicide stories, the pieces pretty much conform to the same themes El Sur covered when Zeferino Torreblanca first settled into the governor's seat as whiffs of democratic change fluttered in the breezes over the Bay of Santa Lucia and the Sierra Madres six springs ago.

Additional sources:

  • La Jornada, March 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 2011. Articles by Francisca Meza Carranza and editorial staff.
  • El Universal, March 26, 2011. Article by Adriana Covarrubias.
  • Proceso/Apro, March 25, 2011. Article by Ezequiel Flores Contreras.
  •, March 25, 2011.
  • El Diario de Juarez, March 24, 2011. El Sur, February 19 and 20, 2011. Articles by Aurora Harrison and editorial staff; March 14, 26, 27, 28, 29, 2011. Articles by Xavier Rosado, Mariana Labastida, Daniel Velasquez, Zacarias Cervantes and editorial staff.

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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