Mexico’s Hidden Drug War

May 3rd, 2011 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Organized Crime
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The following story was produced for the Fronteras Desk, public radio, Arizona. Click here for the audio version.

Long known as Arizona’s beach town, tourists and business owners in Rocky Point, Mexico, say a recent State Department’s travel warning about this place is unfair. Victims say otherwise. They say cartel violence in Mexico has quietly crept in and goes mostly unreported.

Last year the chief of police of this quiet resort town on the Sea of Cortez was gunned down. Since then, the stories of violence here are barely mentioned. Business owners and the town’s mayor prefer to keep it that way.


But for people like Veronica, the stories of violence are hard to ignore. Veronica is a waitress in a tourist bar here. She doesn’t want her last name used; she’s afraid she’ll be murdered for talking. She says her boyfriend was a Rocky Point cop kidnapped from their home at gunpoint a few weeks ago.

“I have to be careful, I saw the people who did it, so did my son,” she says.

Police found his body the next day. Noone can agree as to why the killers had ripped his fingernails out and shot him one time. The story barely made the Mexican press and it was never mentioned north of the border. There’s other stories.

Last week, sources gave a Fronteras Desk reporter a video of a Mexican Marine being accosted in his home by the Rocky Point police chief’s bodyguards while the chief stood by watching. In the final moments of the video, his face is shown, beaten. He shot the video on his cellphone. He filed a complaint in court.

He was beaten last March. Veronica’s boyfriend’s was killed in early April. Two weeks later, nearly the entire force held a protest, demanding the chief resign.

Rocky Point mayor Alejandro Zepeda dismisses these issues. He’s speaking through his translator, Mónica Castro. The mayor says his new chief is staying put.

“The commander is ex-military, so he’s a little bit more stricter so they have to acknowledge that change and maybe some people don’t like the changes but it’s gotta be done in order to provide better service for everybody.”

Over 35,000 people have been killed in Mexico’s drug wars since 2006. Fewer than three hundred were Americans. Now The State Department’s travel warning cautions visitors to Rocky Point. It’s Washington’s broadest alert yet. It advises people to stay away from entire states in Mexico and includes small towns like Rocky Point it had never mentioned before.

Steve Holder’s been coming to Rocky Point with his friends for nearly 20 years.

“I’m going to Turkey next week and there’s a travel warning there too so what can you do,” he says as he smokes a cigar and orders another beer on the patio.

No American has been killed in Rocky Point as a result of the drug violence in Mexico. But fear has driven the tourists away. On a beautiful day in April, it takes eight hours to find a single American. Rafael Noriega gave up on American tourists.

The restaurant owner tried running a swank Italian place in the Old Port. Now he caters to the Mexican crowd with cheap, good red wine and five dollar pizzas.

“Only Mexicans now. Mexicans from all over around. There’s no Americans, well.”

Like the mayor, he says the little bit of violence that hit Rocky Point is the kind of sporadic violence that can hit any town in the world.

“Nothing special. There’s not violence in Puerto Peñasco,” he pauses. “Not really.”

That same afternoon, the Mexican Army storms through downtown.. Fifty-cal rifles are mounted on rotating turrets on the soldiers’ Humvee. Those soldiers had just shot a man in a white SUV.

This is the problem with reporting on the violence in this town. Two soldiers threatened to arrest me when I tried to photograph the crime scene. The story didn’t appear in the town’s two major papers the next morning.

The Mexican Army never admits publicly to the shooting.

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Leave a comment »

  1. well this sucks! i planned on taking my son next month…..


  2. How much money in tourism dollars is at stake here? if the need is that great, why aren’t you seeing private security groups pop up? Why haven’t these bars/resorts/hotels, etc created a co-op to hire a company to come in and seperate this? I’m not talking about an offensive group that takes on the cartels, I’m thinking (knowing) there are groups that can almost quarantine the areas of tourism, remove themselves from the goings on of the dto’s…


  3. I’m Canadian, and have been doing research on safe Mexican locations for travel. My research is used by some travel agencies and associations. Over the past 3 years, many Canadian tourists have been subjected to brutal gang type violence, robberies, and beatings, even in previously ‘safer’ locations like Cancun, or Acapulco. They are safe no more. Incredibly, in most cases it has been the victims that have been blamed for their own death. According to the Mexican authorities, Canadians are prone to jumping in front of cars, throwing themselves off balconies, and starting fights that end in massive stabbings and gunshots.

    Mexico, you had a paradise being financed by cold climate people from Saskatchewan, or Alberta seeking some sun, and warmth. Instead of a vacation, tourists get destruction, crime, and evil people with no regard for human life. Now, my recommendations are for Canadians to travel to the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and more recently the Dutch Antilles, because generally, they have laws and protection without corruption. You blew it Mexico. Call us if you get you cesspool of drug violence and political cover-up corruption cleaned up.


    Jase Reply:

    They must be, because I don’t here of that happening to Americans eh! BTW Cuba only tried to help the Russians of destroying North America. Yes Canada is in North America. You are a fool! Everyone knows Canadians trade weed for coke so until you stop buying or trading drugs, or just legalize them, there will always be drug cartels! Go buy a clue!


  4. I heard the army guys were chasing a narco and when he ran they shot him in the foot. Hey I like having the army around….now that the pickups with the 50’s are riding the highways the trouble has stopped except for inside baseball type stuff…..the police chief thing is hard to figure out….



    The crooked developers are worse than the narcos…..



    boy this will cause a big new power struggle…no way the feds got that deep without help


  7. Did this site shut down?


  8. looks that way


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