Touring Mexico's Most Violent City

Father Jesus Mendoza said that, in his parish of La Laja, criminal gangs that five or six years ago focused solely on selling drugs have diversified into kidnappings and "taxing" local businesses as they seek new sources of steady revenue.

"Vendors with fruit and vegetable stalls at the market were recently being charged some 20 pesos [$2] per day," said Mendoza, who hears constantly about local crime problems from parish members. According to him, some local school kids were also kidnapped in this area last year by criminals who asked for "liberation" fees of $30,000 to 50,000 pesos ($2,000-$4,000).

"Fifteen years ago, they only used to kidnap people with a lot of money," said Mendoza, who has worked in La Laja for almost two decades. "Now anyone can be a kidnapping victim."

Compared to the tourist zone, he said his area gets "second rate" treatment.

Father Jesus Mendoza in his office at the San Nicolas de Bari Church in La Laja

"For the Christmas holidays, the government sent 500 extra soldiers to Acapulco, but most of them were in the tourist area," Mendoza said. He added that his neighborhood is patrolled mostly by municipal police, who have less training and are more likely to be "infiltrated" by local gangs than the federal and state police officers who cover Acapulco's tourist strip.

Mendoza's suspicions about corruption in the municipal police are probably correct. Acapulco is currently planning to lay off 500 police officers who have not passed anti-corruption background checks. The number of cops whose job are going to be cut is equivalent to 40 percent of the city's police force.

So is security in Acapulco a privilege of the rich?

"It's not [a privilege] of the rich, but of the tourist zone," Acapulco mayor Luis Walton told ABC/Univision. Walton acknowledged that security in the working class neighborhoods of Acapulco was "not the same" as in the tourist zone. But he said that federal forces should continue to focus on protecting Acapulco's hotel strip.

"If we do not protect tourists, the city will lose its income. Tourism is the only big industry in this city," said the mayor, who faced a barrage of media criticism after six Spanish tourists were raped in February in one of Acapulco's rare incidents of scandalous crimes against foreigners.

Acapulco tries to attract tourists by hosting big events, in this photo models pose outside a booth for a sporting goods brand at the Mexican Tennis Open

According to Walton, the municipal government is working on solutions for crime in the city's poor neighborhoods. Such solutions include better coordination with state and federal law enforcement forces, and investment in social programs, like sports clinics, meant to prevent kids from joining gangs.

Walton has also asked for an extra 800 million pesos from the Federal government to expand the water supply to include areas of the city that currently get no running water.

But some residents of Acapulco want more immediate solutions to the problems affecting their communities.

On February 24, federal police forces were busy increasing security arrangements around a five-star hotel which was set to host the annual Mexico Open Tennis Tournament. Meanwhile, residents of Acapulco's rural area announced they would form self-defense squads that will patrol certain parts of the municipality with their own antiquated guns.

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