Not far from top resorts, killings are surging again
LOS CABOS, Mexico — In recruiting foot soldiers, the drug gang did not have to look hard to find 18-year-old Edwin Alberto Lopez Rojas. He, in fact, had been looking for them.
He admired the traffickers’ lifestyle and power. And the money he stood to make promised admission to the ranks of the international elite who cavorted in the luxury resorts mere blocks — yet a universe away — from the poor neighborhoods where he grew up in Los Cabos, a tourism mecca at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula.
On July 28, he told relatives, the Jalisco New Generation criminal organization gave him a car, cash and some drugs to push. Eight days later he was dead, shot by an unidentified assailant on the street.
His death is among hundreds that have bloodied this once-peaceful area — homicides are up more than threefold this year compared with last, a surge that has stunned residents, bedeviled officials and alarmed leaders in the booming tourism industry. The sharp rise in killings prompted the U.S. State Department last month to heighten its travel warning for the state of Baja California Sur, home to Los Cabos.
The bloodshed here has not targeted tourists and has mostly occurred out of their view, in the poorer quarters of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, the main towns in the municipality of Los Cabos. Much of it stems from a battle among criminal groups for control of trafficking routes in the Baja California Peninsula and for dominance of local criminal enterprises, particularly the drug trade servicing tourists.
But the violence, community leaders and social workers say, is also a symptom of the grave problems that afflict the region’s underclass, reflecting long-standing government neglect. Los Cabos, they say, risks following the same path as Acapulco, the Pacific Coast city that was once a major vacation destination but has been devastated by drug violence.
“If they continue covering up the problems, things aren’t going to get better,” said Silvia Lupian Duran, president of the Citizens’ Council for Security and Criminal Justice in Baja California Sur, a community group. “It’s a breeding ground for worse things.”