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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Case of the 20 Missing Mexican Tourists Doesn't Add Up

By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times

It's one of the more puzzling episodes in a drug war heaped with unsolved cases: 20 Mexican men travel to Acapulco together and are kidnapped en masse as soon as they arrive.

Two weeks later, there has been no trace of the men. Investigators have yet to announce any good leads, even though two others from the group were not taken.

Against the backdrop of Mexico's extraordinary drug violence, it's tempting to write off the Sept. 30 disappearance as another grim skirmish between rival traffickers. Group kidnappings have been a common feature of the feuding, though generally with fewer victims.

But in the Acapulco case, the pieces don't add up neatly.

Relatives back in the western state of Michoacan insist they were no drug henchmen, but ordinary guys: mechanics, students, deliverymen, an accountant, a physician. Loved ones said the friends and co-workers saved up for months for an annual, guys-only weekend in the seaside resort.

"None of them had any ties or relationship with any group that is involved in illicit acts … and had no conflicts with anyone, or threats of any kind," the relatives said in a joint statement issued shortly after the men disappeared.

Family members listed the men's names and ages — 17 to 58 — and jobs. Nine of the missing worked in the same wheel-alignment shop in Michoacan.

Still, it's hard to explain why 20 law-abiding men would be seized at gunpoint on the way to beach-side relaxation. Authorities have made comments casting doubt that the men were mere tourists, but have not specified a motive for the disappearances.

The outcome of the mystery matters to Acapulco, which is struggling to recover some of its former cachet and can hardly afford the image of gunmen seizing innocent visitors.

Sensitive to the effect of violence on the country's crucial tourism industry, Mexican officials have said the rising bloodshed nationwide is not aimed at travelers. That has been largely true: Even though drug-related violence has killed more than 300 people in and around Acapulco since 2006, for instance, most of it has been far from the main tourist zone.

The missing men arrived in four cars from Michoacan, itself a violent, drug-trafficking hot spot, and were apparently heading to or hunting for a hotel when captured. The kidnappings were reported by one of two members of the group who split off to go to the store when the others were seized.

A state police commander first raised an eyebrow, saying it was unusual for a group of men to go on vacation without family members. And Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo, governor of the state of Guerrero, where Acapulco is located, was also quick to express skepticism.

"We assume it has to do with organized crime," Torreblanca said a day after the news broke. "I don't think anyone comes to deliberately carry out an attack on 20 tourists."

When the families complained that officials appeared to be blaming the victims, the authorities backed off, announcing that checks showed that none of the missing men had criminal records.

When the men's vehicles were recovered, investigators found signs of a road trip — suitcases, beer, cookies — but no weapons or contraband.

But last week, Mexico's tourism minister, Gloria Guevara, reignited tensions when she said the missing men "didn't fit the usual profile" of a tourist.

"A tourist usually travels with family, has a hotel reservation, arrives directly at his hotel and fits certain profiles," she told a congressional committee when a question about the case came up. Guevara stopped short of tying the men to criminal activities, but the implication seemed clear.

Families of the men fired back, accusing Guevara of a "lack of responsibility" and offering papers showing the group had reserved rooms for the three-day stay in a hotel they did not publicly identify.

"We're very worried about our family members because we don't know anything about them, and now we are angry that [officials] keep insisting that they weren't tourists," a relative who identified herself only by her first name, Katia, said during a radio interview.

Early this year, President Felipe Calderon came under fire and apologized to grieving survivors in Ciudad Juarez after he initially said gang revenge was behind a fatal shooting attack that killed 15 people at a teen party. It turned out that none of the victims had anything to do with gangs.

The Michoacan families say they don't want the mystery of the missing men to be brushed aside. "What we want is to have news about them and for our suffering to end," Katia said.

On Wednesday, Guerrero's state prosecutor, David Augusto Sotelo, announced that investigators were following two possible leads. But he refused to say what they were.


  1. Rumor has it la FM is trying to expand its territory to Acapulo ever since la barbie was captured and is fighting currently with los beltran leyva after he has been hard this yr, with all this henchmen were killed or captured. So case of mistaken identity probably, but also you never know they could be working for la FM, who knows, these days anything is possible??

  2. I'm thinking it could have been Hector Beltran's men trying to secure the plaza, from La Familia/Sinaloa, maybe somehow the 20 tourists from Michoacan got mis labeled as gunmen, or reinforcements for La Familia. I mean 20 men, no women traveling together from Michoacan? On paper it seems suspicious. I hope it ends well.

  3. The facts have meshed a bit. There were TWO mass kidnappings that weekend. One was the 22 from Morelia. All Mechanics working for the same company saved all year to go on this trip. Often common folk do not have reservations and it is a resort town they would have no trouble getting rooms and good rates with that many people. especially since tourism is down, due to the escalating violence in Acapulco. This was the first report for the 2 of the party that were in the market when it happened. Bad guys do not call the police to report incidents, not even good folk report. They called. Acapulco wants this to go away..the tourist industry there has hit the dust this year.

    the other incident on the same weekend, I can't remember which state, but those 8 were professionals, physician, accountants etc and 3 were american born.

  4. Guys, you have to give the benefit of the doubt. Let's turn the table around. If this happened in the Great State of Texas une smilar circumstance: large party of young men, roadtripping, no women, co workers at same place AND just for spice, let's add some guns or, as newspapers like to sensionalize "high power rifles" (.308/ 30-06 etc)

    What would you think?
    Were all the affected: "narco soldiers"? "reinforcements"?

    Well, think....a lot of us do set ourselves up in this manner right around this time of the year: hunting season.

    No lodging reserved.
    No women.
    No children and "armed to the teeth".

    Going back to actual incident in Acapulco: I would say that some overzealous ringmen made a fatal mistake confusing the tourists for "reinforcements".

    Mistake for which they must've already been executed themselves.

    Much like in the Hartley case, in Falcon lake.

  5. I once thought Cancun, Acapulco, and Los Cabos would be interesting places to visit, but unfortunately not anymore. I have relatives in San Diego, and I have been to Tijuana a few times, but won't be doing that anymore. It's sad that the Mexican people have to live in such fear.

  6. Like I said before, La Barbie used this method of shipping Mara's in from Central America for los Beltran Leyva to work as sicarios, even before he had the falling out. Whomever did it La Familia, CDJ, or El Peinado and the Sinaloan Federation, it was definetly because they thought the men worked for los Beltran Leyva's or what's left of La Barbie's faction.

  7. I agree with Buela...if these were criminals they wouldn't have reported anything, right? Also, Acapulco doesn't want to scare off tourists. If the authorities declared that these were innocent people then that would scare off a lot of potential tourist and thus depress the local economy even more. maybe i'm wrong, but it seems logical.

  8. There are also 7 young men missing who were last seen between Tecoman and Manzanillo, Colima State. They were doctors, engineers, professionals. On the same afternoon, there was a huge military operation that included grenade fights near El Ranchito, Michoacan which is just on the other side of Tecoman. Their car was found in Tecoman, Southeast of where they were last seen (a toll booth 0n the cuota hwy). It is fishy because they were driving northwest and would have had to turn around on the hwy to get to where their car was later found by the military. The local news and government has blacked out this story(as they do with most). PLEASE INVESTIGATE. A lot of real bad things are happening in Colima State. Thanks

  9. I have noticed there have been quite a few news stories coming out of Colima. Hope to have something typed up soon.


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