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Night of Terror: Mexican Police and Heavily Armed Cartels Face Off in Acapulco

The violence began when armed men attacked a hotel that was housing federal police officers sent to reinforce security in the latest of many special law enforcement offensives that have failed to bring peace to the once-glamorous resort city.
Photo de Jesús Espinosa/EPA

The governor of Mexico's beleaguered southern state of Guerrero has promised to step up efforts to contain local drug cartels. The pledge came in response to a night of intense violence in the coastal city of Acapulco involving multiple clashes between heavily armed men and federal police.

"We have to accept that criminal groups, especially in Acapulco, are both present and organized and out to attack the institutions," Héctor Astudillo told Radio Imagen on Monday. "This should compel us to do more to confront these criminal groups, and do it with more determination."


Astudillo went on to cite the need to modernize surveillance, improve intelligence, and work more closely with federal forces.

Such pledges have become almost routine in the coastal city, which was once the playground of Hollywood stars and honeymooning US presidents but in recent years has seen numerous special security operations. While these have sometimes temporarily calmed the situation, they have never brought anything approaching a lasting peace.

Last Sunday's violence began at around 9.30pm when armed men attacked a hotel near the famed Caleta beach that was housing federal police officers sent to reinforce security in the latest offensive launched in October.

After the security forces repelled the aggression, the hitmen fled, starting a chase along the Miguel Alemán coastal avenue, the main tourist area in Acapulco.

Related: In Photos: Acapulco, Devoted to Fun and Pursued by Horror

Panic on social media fueled rumors about more than 10 simultaneous shootouts, though it appears that only three have been fully confirmed, including an attack on another building used by the federal police.

The intense bouts of shooting lasted for about an hour, and were recorded by tourists and locals who found themselves locked inside malls, casinos, and hotels.

One of the videos, uploaded to YouTube, shows police vehicles coming under a rain of heavy fire. Another shows a woman forced to the ground by the shooting, before she begins crying out for help.


Video via YouTube.

Astudillo said calm returned by midnight. He also said the violence had left one suspected gang member dead, and one officer injured. He said no arrests were made.

The governor added that he believed Sunday's violence was a response to last week's arrest of Fredy del Valle Berdel, in the northern state of Baja California Sur.

Berdel — alias El Burro or The Donkey — was said to be one of the main leaders of the Independent Cartel of Acapulco. The relatively small cartel is just one of many such groups fighting to control territory in the state since the once-dominant Beltrán Leyva cartel started to fall apart about six years ago.

According to government figures, there were 902 murders in Acapulco last year, with the bloodiest months registered during the summer. The murder rate waned a little after that but appears to be picking up again in 2016 with 139 homicides reported in the first two months.

Sunday's gunfights came just three weeks after the governor appealed to local journalists to "speak well of Acapulco, speak well of Acapulco, speak well of Acapulco." His plea came just a week before the US State Department banned all US government employees from traveling to Guerrero, including Acapulco.

While violence in Acapulco tends to receive particular attention because of the tourism industry, there is almost nowhere in the state that can be classified as violence-free.

Related: 'Say Nice Things About Acapulco': Mexican Governor Urges Media Silence on Violence

The mountainous areas that occupy much of the state serve as bastions to a plethora of relatively small cartels with a foothold in opium poppy production, most of it designed to feed the booming heroin market in the US. These include the Guerreros Unidos cartel that, together with municipal police, has been blamed for the attack on student teachers in September 2014 that left 43 missing.

Local journalists have also come under fire. Newspaper reporter Francisco Pacheco was shot dead when he was returning home on Monday morning in the city of Taxco, which is also in Guerrero.

Follow Alan Hernández on Twitter: @alanpasten