Los Cabos, the favorite place of Hollywood stars that hides one of the most violent cities in the world

For many, the Mexican municipality of Los Cabos was "peace". For others, a city that offered endless work opportunities, especially in the 90s, when it had its first tourist boom. Located in the state of Baja California Sur, between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean, this paradise of beaches and luxury resorts caught the attention of Hollywood's top celebrities. From John Wayne to Lady Gaga, many were the ones who chose the exclusive destination to rest. Its great attraction: tranquility. A place where historically nothing happened.

Los Cabos, Baja California, Mexico
Los Cabos, Baja California, Mexico

It may be that the calm of the seaside resort and its low population density - around 300,000 inhabitants - have influenced the election of Los Cabos as the venue for the G-20 Summit in 2012. Although tourism has already positioned this area worldwide destination, the celebration of the multilateral forum made Mexico the first country in Latin America to bring together the main leaders of the world. A year later the photo would start to change.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Los Cabos during the G20 summit in 2012. Photo: White House
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Los Cabos during the G20 summit in 2012. Photo: White House

At a baptism party, held on the seafront, at a resort in Los Cabos, a sicario disguised as a clown would kill the shots of the renowned drug lord Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix, member of the Tijuana cartel who, in addition to functioning as a clan family, it was one of the largest and most important organized crime organizations in Mexico. A preview of what would come: drug dealing, extortion, robbery, and homicide. When was peace lost?

According to a list released by the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, in 2017 Los Cabos led the ranking of the most violent cities in the world, with an average of 111.3 homicides per 100 thousand inhabitants. Almost one murder per day. The Mexican NGO ranked second in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, and third in the city of Acapulco, which for a few years now leads the national list. The surprise was Los Cabos.

Gwyneth Paltrow in Los Cabos in May 2018. Photo: @ gwynethpaltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow in Los Cabos in May 2018. Photo: @ gwynethpaltrow

The data is not casual: 2017 was the most violent year for Mexico in two decades, where there were around 100,000 deaths and 30,000 disappeared. "Impunity has been allowed to reach the worst levels ever recorded, there is no action for the systematic eradication of private militias of criminal groups," was the diagnosis made by the NGO about the situation in the country. Los Cabos was no exception.

Beyond some objections to the study and its methodology, such as not having taken into account cities crossed by armed conflicts, specialists consulted by LA NACION agreed that the municipality, which once knew how to be recognized for its tranquility, the variety of its landscapes - alternating desert with mountainous areas and paradisiacal beaches - and its pleasant climate (it does not present extreme temperatures), suffered between 2016 and 2017 a sudden and unusual outbreak of violence, from which it is recovering gradually. So much so, that from one year to the next, homicides tripled, as well as drug dealing and extortion became part of the landscape.

Narco-violence in Los Cabos

"This process of decomposition has been going on for more than 10 years," explained Televisa journalist Marco Antonio Coronel, regarding the origin of the violence unleashed in Los Cabos. And it relied on three aspects: the increase in population, the consumption of drugs and the rupture of the cartels in Mexico.

One of the factors that influenced was that in Baja California Sur the residents multiplied in a short period of time, especially from the labor supply that generated the tourist boom in the region. However, the population grew faster than the infrastructure. For example, drinking water is a resource that is still in dispute and is one of the main problems faced by local people, who demand greater distribution.

Murders with a narco seal in sight of tourists, in Los Cabos. Photo: Internet
Murders with a narco seal in sight of tourists, in Los Cabos. Photo: Internet

The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announced that he will fight inequality and that in this way he will eradicate the problem of insecurity in Mexico. However, Coronel clarified: "It goes further because it is about education and impunity, there are no judges who do not get corrupted because the Attorney's Office is one of the weakest institutions."

On the other hand, after the second capture of the narco Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán in 2016, there was a rearrangement within the Sinaloa cartel, an internal struggle that was triggered, in large part, by the weakening that led to his arrest.

Meanwhile, another cartel increased its power: that of Jalisco Nueva Generación. "He broke down the whole security landscape, he was more aggressive in a context where the states were not prepared," said Francisco Rivas, director of the National Citizen Observatory (ONC), and gave the state where Los Cabos is located.

The specialist defined Baja California Sur as one of the states that former President Enrique Peña Nieto overlooked, precisely because of its historical tranquility. "They did not feel the urgency of strengthening institutions, they do not spend where they can not be seen," he criticized.

The lack of local police in the Los Cabos area was one of the "fundamental errors" of the ex-government, especially in a context of constant articulation of new cartels, and in the midst of the fight against organized crime. 'the plaza' in Los Cabos, "Coronel added about the drug gangs.

But what happened to the big cartels that broke up? According to Coronel, they were transformed into "cells that did not necessarily depend on the narco", but they also began to incur in extortion, hired killers and the theft of public transport. Of course, more violent than the old narcos. "There are cells that do not have the vision of criminal bosses, they only care about charging and because they are armed they start hitting the middle class".

This last point coincides with a higher income of firearms to the country. With the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House, the control systems to prevent the exit of arms from the United States to Mexico were changed. "Trump extinguished those arcs and since then they entered more than 230 thousand arms to the country", indicated Rivas.

The impact on tourism in Los Cabos

Map of Los Cabos

However, despite the fear on the part of the business and hotel sector, the exacerbation of violence in recent years did not affect tourism. Rather the complete opposite. When Los Cabos had its biggest outbreak of homicides in 2017, it recorded a tourist record in parallel: 3 million people arrived at the luxury resort looking for a break and attracted by its golf courses, sports fishing, resorts, and luxury spa, and whale watching.

It is that those who suffered the wave of murders, narco war, robberies, and extortion were, on the one hand, the same members of the criminal groups and, on the other, their relatives and direct friends. They are the most humble neighborhoods where violence had the greatest impact, either because of frequent shootings or because of the recruitment of the youngest to criminal gangs.

The photo of Los Cabos changed. For many, the ranking of 2017 was a peak of isolated violence. For others, reality moves away from the image exhibited by actress Gwyneth Paltrow in her social networks. Meanwhile, it is likely that some years will pass before peace reigns in Los Cabos or, at least, for all those who do not appear in the photos.

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