MEXICO CITY (AP) — Authorities are investigating the murders of six people, four of whom were hung from highway overpasses, near the twin beach destinations of Los Cabos in Baja California Sur state, which has seen an explosion of violence this year.
The state's murder rate of 50 per 100,000 residents now ranks third in Mexico, trailing only Colima and Guerrero. Violence has surged over the past three years as the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels battle for territory in the state.
The bodies were found early Wednesday hanging from three overpasses, two of which were above highways running to the airports in La Paz and Los Cabos, raising the question of whether organized crime was specifically trying to hurt the tourism sector, which generates about 90 percent of the economic activity in Los Cabos.
These were the first known cases of bodies hung from bridges, a public terror tactic seen in other cities such as Nuevo Laredo and Mexico City. The killings raised fears that cartel violence could affect tourism as it has to devastating effect in Acapulco in Guerrero state.
On Thursday, Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of Los Cabos Tourism Board, tried to allay those fears saying that the public and private sectors have invested heavily in security.
"We are confident that the destination will remain safe," Esponda said.
He outlined several measures taken in Los Cabos in recent months to confront the violence: creation of a rapid response network to share information among hotels and businesses about security issues; expansion of surveillance cameras to 250 by the end of year from the current 40; construction of a new marine base as the military presence expands; formation of a hotel security committee to discuss security measures; and, implementation of international security training protocols for hotels and businesses.
Esponda said that tourist visits were up 16 percent despite the fact that the state's murder rate has doubled this year. According to federal government statistics, investigations into more than 400 murders between January and October have been opened.
State prosecutor Daniel de la Rosa Anaya said the four bodies were discovered before dawn in three different locations: La Paz, San Jose de Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. The victims had not been identified.
In many cases, the violence has been focused away from Baja California Sur's tourist enclaves, but there have been exceptions. In July, the bodies of three people were found shot inside a car in the parking lot of a condominium in Cabo San Lucas' hotel zone.
In August, there was a shootout at the entrance to crowded Playa Palmilla, a popular beach next to San Jose del Cabo. Three men were killed and two people were wounded.
In October, the U.S. State Department issued a warning that included Los Cabos, noting that bystanders had been wounded in daytime shootings.
The Caribbean beaches around Cancun have also been impacted by shootings this year. Early Thursday, authorities found a decapitated body and a message threatening a top local police official on one of the main avenues of the tourism destination.
AP writer Gabriel Alcocer in Cancun, Mexico contributed to this report.
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