An upsurge of drug-related violence in Baja California Sur has dealt a damaging blow to the state’s tourism industry, causing the cancelation of thousands of hotel reservations in popular vacation destinations.
The Los Cabos Hotel Association reported 35,000 hotel room cancelations for the upcoming holiday season, a figure almost double the total number of rooms available in the twin destinations of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo.
Association president Paloma Palacios Domínguez said that insurance companies automatically cancel insurance on trips to destinations for which the United States Department of State has issued travel alerts, such as Los Cabos and La Paz. The department released a new warning in August.
The tourism industry had remained resilient in the face of the significant upturn in violence, but the latest statistics show that fears that tourist numbers would plunge are beginning to be realized.
Palacios said that the cancellations represented a 210-million-peso (just over US $11-million) loss to the hotel sector.
Violence has surged in recent years, transforming Baja California Sur from one of Mexico’s most peaceful states to one of its most violent.
In the first eight months of this year, there were 268 preliminary investigations for homicide, making Baja California Sur the fourth most deadly state in Mexico with a murder rate of 33 per 100,000 inhabitants. The figure has already easily exceeded the 2016 total of 192.
Only Colima, Guerrero and Baja California have higher per-capita homicide rates, according to official statistics.
This week has been particularly violent with 33 homicides recorded in two southern municipalities in a five-day period from Monday to Friday. Nineteen of the deaths occurred in La Paz and 14 in Los Cabos. Five people suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds. One shootout on Wednesday left two dead just meters from popular hotels in San José del Cabo.
State authorities say the sharp increase in violence is related to turf wars between opposing cartels and, according to state governor Carlos Mendoza, in-fighting between members of the Sinaloa Cartel.
The director of a citizens’ council that advocates for public security said that state and federal authorities have adopted a strategy of confrontation but have done little to prevent violence.
“It’s a toothless strategy and it’s not going to give them the results they are supposedly expecting because it doesn’t bring in the public to [help] prevent and report [crime] . . .” Silvia Lupian Durán said.
Members of the National Gendarmerie — an elite division of the Federal Police — only protect tourist areas, she added.
The state president of the Mexican Employer’s Federation, Coparmex, said that business owners have had to invest in their own security personnel and all residents are forced to take precautionary measures in the face of rising violence.
“The waves of violence . . . have not abated,” Fabricio González Rodríguez said.
Among the most alarming incidents that have occurred this year in the tourism-dependent state are the discovery of a mass grave in the municipality of Los Cabos in the same week that 19 people were killed in June and the murder of three people on a beach in August.