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Recent Data Paint a Clearer Picture of Acapulco’s Struggle with Bad News

By: JWF | Real Acapulco News - 07 April, 2011

For several years, Acapulco has been battered by negative media reports that have left its tourist-dependent economy in ruins and have propagated a feeling of disillusionment and helplessness across the city.

According to these recently compiled data, Acapulco ranks fifth in the category of total murders out of the 1,167 Mexican areas surveyed during the four years from 2007 through 2010:

Juárez 6,437
Culiacán 1,890
Tijuana 1,667
Chihuahua 1,415
Acapulco 661

The data also suggest that Acapulco remains a hotspot for murders nationally showing the forth-largest increase in total murders from 2009 to 2010 with a jump of 220 murders from the previous year (behind only Juarez with 508, Chihuahua with 256, and Mazatlan with 223), an increase of 150% - and the unfortunate trend looks as if it is set to continue in 2011.

But does one really put their life at risk by virtue of setting foot on Acapulco soil? Is Acapulco’s reputation as one of the most dangerous places on earth deserved?

Despite the sensational press accounts of mass insecurity in Acapulco, the data tell a remarkably different story.

Rather than telling the story of a once glorious tourist resort turned into hell on earth by warring gangs of narco-traffickers, the data lends considerable weight to charges locals have been making all along - that the crime problem in Acapulco has been greatly exaggerated. While certainly not what one would call good news for the port city, the numbers confirm that Acapulco remains a comparatively safe destination, if one far from its more idyllic past.

The measure most widely used to compare murder rates across disparate populations is to express the figure in terms of murders per 100,000 residents. Using such a ratio removes a good deal of distortion from the discussion. A large city, which, other things being equal, would have a higher number of total murders by virtue of its larger total population can be compared on equal terms with a smaller location to determine the probability that murder happens – a far more meaningful statistic in determining which location is really “more dangerous.”

In the year 2008, the year in which Acapulco’s media problem began in earnest, the area (assuming a population of 710,000) had a murder rate of 9.85 per 100,000 residents making it as statistically safe as virtually any urban area of comparable size in the United States.

In 2009, a very bad year by Acapulco’s historically peaceful standards with 150 murders, the city had a murder rate of 21.13 per 100,000 residents. Thus, making Acapulco statistically less dangerous than U.S. cities such as Memphis, Tennessee at 21.8 murders per 100,000 residents and Miami, Florida at 24.4 murders per 100,000 residents that same year. In 2009, Acapulco was more than twice as safe as New Orleans, Louisiana, population 343,829, with 50.6 murders per 100,000 residents.

While there were no panic-stricken press reports or government travel advisories warning travelers to avoid Memphis or Miami, Acapulco was under assault.

In 2010, Acapulco’s worst year to date with 370 murders, the city had a murder rate of 52.11 per 100,000 residents. Despite this grim statistic, Acapulco can still state with confidence that it is not a prohibitively dangerous city.

While Spring Break in Acapulco was all but called off during 2011 and many in the media went into embarrassing hysterics about the safety of tennis players at the Mexican Open held in Acapulco, Mardi Gras went forward without hesitation in New Orleans – a city with a comparable murder rate to Acapulco in 2010. What gives?

According to available data, in 2010 Acapulco remained safer than many U.S. cities. More so when one considers that Acapulco’s murder rate is distorted by the fact that Acapulco’s murder statistics are calculated at the municipal level rather than confined to the traditional city limits where its tourist infrastructure lies.

Virtually all of the violent crime that has plagued “Acapulco” has actually taken far from the tourist areas in towns located on the opposite side of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Moreover, many of the wilder reports of violence attributed to Acapulco did not even take place near the municipality of Acapulco, much less within the city limits.

The result would be similar to blaming New York for the crime wave that is taking place in nearby Newark, New Jersey.

To date, there has not been a single report of a drug gang-related attack on a foreign tourist in Acapulco. This cannot be said of many U.S. tourist destinations, and much less so in many international tourist destinations, where street gangs consider tourists prime targets.

No one should whitewash the problem of violence in Acapulco. Acapulco has a problem. A serious problem. One that is complex and defies easy solutions. Given the general inertia in Mexico’s drug war, it is a problem that may last for years.

At the same time, one should not ignore the wanton destruction of Acapulco’s tourist industry by the irresponsibility of many journalists and talking heads in United States and Canada. Many seemed to have rained hell fire down on the port city for seemingly no other reason than just because they could. Others simply seemed unconcerned about the facts.

Such irresponsible reporting has inflicted grievous harm on a city that did not deserve it. In the process, hundreds of local businesses have closed and tens of thousands of people have been thrown into poverty.

Going by the available data, not until 2010 would Acapulco’s murder rate have approached those present in some of the more troubled U.S. cities. There remains much evidence to suggest that Acapulco to this day remains safer than innumerable popular tourist destinations in which average U.S. or Canadian tourists would not hesitate to vacation.

As the statistics demonstrate, Acapulco has been a repeated victim of slander and libel. That the people of Acapulco must wonder who has done more damage to the city, the narcos or the media north of the border, puts Acapulco’s recent state of affairs into perspective.

Then again, why allow distractions such as verifiable facts to get in the way of such an entertaining story? And one must admit, the purveyors of the Acapulco demise myth rarely fail to cite the ponderously important facts - like that Elizabeth Taylor once vacationed here.