Drug violence surge hits Mexico's iconic Acapulco
By Noel Randewich
ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) - Violent drug gangs are terrorizing Mexico's famed Acapulco beach resort, with hitmen shooting at rivals on the hotel strip and dumping beheaded bodies in a battle for control of the port city.
Bloodshed has jumped in the area, a flashpoint in President Felipe Calderon's drug war, since troops killed cartel kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva in December, triggering a power struggle within his organization.
Hitmen have been deployed in Acapulco, a playground for Hollywood stars in the 1950s, as two would-be leaders of the Beltran Leyva gang vie for control of smuggling routes from the Pacific coast to Mexico City and the U.S. border, federal police and analysts say.
A broad daylight shootout on Acapulco's main strip earlier this month killed six people, including three bystanders, forcing cars to swerve out of control and causing tourists to dive for cover along a palm-tree lined boulevard.
"It was like we were in the middle of a war on the main tourist strip. That's just not right," said Celso Sanchez, the director of a private school that saw two of its pupils shot dead in the cross-fire.
Surging violence, also visible in the colonial getaway town of Cuernavaca on the road from Mexico City to Acapulco, has pressured the tourism industry across Mexico as well as adding to the worries of foreign investors.
Acapulco's older hotels, once exclusive getaways for millionaires and stars like Frank Sinatra, John Wayne and Rita Hayworth, have struggled to compete with newer and flashier all-inclusive rivals in the Caribbean and Baja California.
Since a highway was built in the 1990s to connect the town to Mexico City, Acapulco has seen a boom in Mexican tourists. But they spend much less than foreigners who now tend to prefer beach resorts like Los Cabos or Puerto Vallarta. Continued...