February 6, 2013

Gunmen rape six tourists at bungalow in Acapulco

It was unclear whether the group of 12 Spaniards who fell prey to the attack had been targeted because of their nationality.

The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — The tourism world turned its eyes on Mexico after six Spanish women were raped by masked gunmen during a vacation in the long-troubled Pacific coast resort of Acapulco.

click image to enlarge

State police stand Tuesday at a roadblock in Acapulco, Mexico, implemented as part of stepped-up security efforts after masked armed men broke into a beach home, raping six Spanish tourists who had rented the house.

The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Mexican navy marines stand at a roadblock due to stepped up security after masked armed men broke into a beach home, raping six Spanish tourists who had rented the house in Acapulco, Mexico, Tuesday Feb. 5, 2013. According to the Mayor of Acapulco, five masked men burst into a house the Spaniards had rented on the outskirts of Acapulco, in a low-key area near the beach, and held a group of six Spanish men and one Mexican woman at gunpoint, while they raped the Spanish women before dawn on Monday. (AP Photo/Bernandino Hernandez)

While there has been talk of reviving the golden era of the '40s and '50s, international tourists have long steered away from Acapulco, even before the drug violence of recent years, as the city fell into disrepair and glitzier Cancun and Los Cabos gained favor.

The question now is whether the attack will affect other resorts as Mexico prepares for its annual spring break onslaught and peak season.

The hours-long assault was carried out by a gang of masked gunmen who burst into the beachfront home before dawn on Monday and tied up the six men inside, then raped the women. A seventh Mexican woman was unharmed.

"We are really sorry about what happened with the Spanish tourists because ... it is something that affects Mexico's image," said Juan Carlos Gonzalez, tourism secretary of Quintana Roo, the Caribbean coast state where Cancun is located and which hosted about 17 million tourists last year.

But, he added, "we are definitely not as contaminated with the crime issue as other states in Mexico."

Acapulco barely registers on U.S. tourists' radar anymore, said Kathy Gerhardt, a spokeswoman for Travel Leaders, a network of independently owned and operated travel agencies in the U.S.

"Those individuals trying to lump Acapulco into the list of top Mexico destinations for U.S. travelers are simply misinformed," she said.

In a recent survey of over 1,000 travel agency owners, managers and agents, "not a single individual chose Acapulco as a top international destination they are booking for their clients," Gerhardt said.

"We do not see any spillover effect," she added, for areas like Cancun, which Travel Leaders lists as the No. 2 foreign destination for U.S. travelers, after Caribbean island cruises.

From a 2009 shootout that killed 18 near Acapulco's fabled Flamingo Hotel to this week's attack, the resort once celebrated in Frank Sinatra songs and Elvis Presley movies has been the scene of body dumpings, beheadings and taxi-driver killings as gangs vie for drug transport routes once controlled by the now-decimated Beltran Leyva cartel.

Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises — some of the last lines making port calls in Acapulco — canceled those in December, before the latest attack.

An estimated 50,000 Spaniards travel to Mexico each year, but mostly to the Caribbean coast, not Acapulco. Mexicans and Spaniards living in Mexico like the victims, however, flock to Acapulco during Easter week and other long holiday weekends, such as Monday, when the country celebrated its Constitution Day.

Local tourists believe they can distinguish unsafe areas of the city, and even foreign travel warnings say it's safe for those who don't wander far from the beach.

"For us, this is an incredibly safe zone," said Rafael Gallego Nadal, president of the Spanish Confederation of Travel Agencies. "This was a terrible attack, but it's not the first time that something bad has happened in that part of Mexico."

He said there has been no talk of travel agencies reducing package tour prices.

Some press reports Wednesday suggested a drug purchase could have played a role in Monday's rapes, but Marcos Juarez, the chief investigator for Guerrero state prosecutors, said there was no evidence of that.

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