Sunday, May 19, 2024

US issues travel alert for Taxco, Guerrero, after violence against public transport workers

The United States government has issued a security alert for Taxco, a pretty colonial city in Guerrero where public transport services were suspended last week due to violence and threats against drivers.

The United States Embassy in Mexico issued the alert last Friday, informing U.S. citizens that “due to recent security incidents, U.S. government employees may not travel to Taxco, Guerrero.”

The alert noted that the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Advisory for Guerrero is “level 4 — Do not travel due to crime” and advised U.S. citizens to monitor local media for updates, review their “personal security plans” and follow the instructions of local authorities.

A magical town marred by insecurity 

The U.S. security alert came six days after the driver of a public transport van was killed by armed men in the historic center of Taxco, one of Mexico’s 177 pueblos mágicos, or magical towns. A woman, reportedly a tourist, was injured in the incident.

Public transport operators in Taxco promptly suspended services and maintained the suspension throughout last week, before reopening routes on Monday. Many businesses also closed their doors last week, while schools in the municipality, located about 180 kilometers southwest of Mexico City, were shut.

Men and women ride in the back of a pickup police truck.
Police and Civil Protection vehicles helped ferry some residents around town amid the public transportation shut down. (Taxco Municipal Government)

Few people were seen on the streets of Taxco last week, giving the city the appearance of a ghost town.

“There is fear and despair [in Taxco],” one resident told the Proceso news magazine.

Public transport operators have received threats from La Familia Michoacana and Los Tlacos, crime groups vying for control of Taxco and other parts of Guerrero. Many criminal organizations in Mexico engage in extortion, targeting numerous sectors, including public transport.

One transport sector leader in Taxco told the Excélsior newspaper that La Familia Michoacana has forced drivers to act as lookouts (halcones, or hawks) because they can pass on information such as where police are located at any given time.

“We’re sick of this, they force us with threats to be their lookouts and now those from the other criminal group called La Federación Guerrense [as Los Tlacos are also known] … are asking us the same thing and threatening us by saying that if we’re with the opposing group they’ll kill us. We’re between a rock and a hard place,” he said.

The Pacific coast cities of Acapulco and Zihuatanejo, also located in Guerrero, are among the other places in Mexico where public transport workers, including taxi drivers, have been targeted by organized crime.

In Taxco, public transport drivers have been killed before the most recent murder, while shops that sell chicken, beer, tortillas and jewelry — the city is famous for its silver — have been victims of extortion, the Reforma newspaper reported.

State police patrol the historic center of Taxco.
State police patrol the historic center of Taxco. (SSC Taxco)

Citing police and media reports, Proceso said that the “security crisis” in Taxco intensified in 2021.

Municipal workers and teachers also among the victims of violence in Taxco

Last Wednesday, the Guerrero Attorney General’s Office reported that the bodies of two state police officers had been found in Tlamacazapa, a small town in the municipality of Taxco. The officers, Higinio Villanueva and Ángel Meza, disappeared the previous day in Pilcaya, a municipality north of Taxco on the border with México state and Morelos.

Earlier in January, a butcher was shot dead as he served customers in his shop.

In late December, eight municipal sanitation workers, the city’s director of sanitation, the manager of the local dump and two other people including a pregnant woman were abducted by a criminal group at the dump. Four of that number were located alive but the other eight are still missing.

Also in December, a married couple, both teachers, were abducted and killed by armed men.

In November, three journalists and the adult son of one of them were kidnapped, but they were subsequently released.

The El Financiero newspaper reported that at least 20 criminal organizations operate in Guerrero, Mexico’s seventh most violent state in 2023 with 1,688 homicides, according to preliminary data.

Authorities’ response to the current situation 

In a statement last Monday, the Taxco municipal government said that, in conjunction with state and federal authorities, it was seeking dialogue aimed at reestablishing public transport services.

“Attending to the just demand of the population of Taxco, … patrols are being carried out to guarantee conditions of safety and certainty for drivers, owners and passengers of transport units,” the statement added.

The Guerrero state government announced in a statement on Sunday that public transport services would resume Monday after “intense work meetings with transport leaders and representatives of all three levels of government.”

A long line of people wait at a minibus stop.
Public transportation reopened on Monday. (X)

“In the meetings … it was agreed to continue with actions of social proximity and security operations so that transport workers can carry out their work,” the statement said.

“… The priority of the current state administration is for the population to have the necessary services and safety to carry out their activities in a normal way,” it added.

Mayor Mario Figueroa Mundo was in Spain last week to promote Taxco at a tourism fair, but returned from the trip early due to the troubling situation in the city. In a video posted to social media last Thursday, he defended his decision to travel to Madrid for the International Tourism Trade Fair, saying that “Taxco is a great product,” but still has to be continuously promoted.

“I know that these little rough patches are going to continue happening. We went [to Spain] for the whole week, but unfortunately this is happening and here I am showing my face,” Figueroa added.

Excélsior reported that La Familia Michoacana’s “control” of Taxco has been “obvious” since the mayor took office in 2021.

There are many cases in which people have been abducted after speaking out against the actions of the mayor, the newspaper added.

With reports from El Financiero, El País, Proceso, El Sur and Excélsior

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