ACAPULCO (AFP) – Mexico’s embattled President Enrique Pena Nieto pledged Thursday to revive tourism in Acapulco during his first visit to violence-torn Guerrero state since the apparent massacre of 43 students in September.
His trip to the Pacific port came one day after hundreds of federal police and troops took over security in the once thriving beach city ahead of the Christmas break.
Pena Nieto, who has visited the impoverished state many times before, had not been back to Guerrero since gang-linked police attacked busloads of students in the city of Iguala on September 26.
Authorities say officers delivered 43 students to members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, who told investigators they killed the young men and incinerated their bodies.
The case has caused outrage across Mexico, triggering nationwide protests, with angry demonstrators torching government buildings in Guerrero and blocking the highway between Mexico City and Acapulco.
“What happened in Iguala was a terrible event that has caused indignation and led us to an introspection because such things should never happen again,” Pena Nieto said.
The president had been expected to visit Iguala on Wednesday to announce the new security measures, but his trip was called off and his interior minister and national security chief went instead.
Pena Nieto visited Acapulco to announce an economic recovery plan for the city and the state, which has been ravaged by gang violence and natural disasters.
The recent roadblocks and violence have hurt Acapulco’s tourism industry, with the US embassy advising Americans to defer non-essential travel to the city last month.
“To have a vacation season, we need people to feel safe and be able to circulate on the highway in peace, without blockades,” Pedro Haces Sordo, president of the Acapulco Tourism Promotion Trust, told Pena Neto at a public event.
Hotels have seen many reservations canceled, Haces said, calling for an international advertising campaign for Acapulco.
“We need to change this perception that people have of Acapulco being an unsafe place,” he said. “We must change the impression people have that Acapulco is an old and tired destination. Acapulco is a wonderful place.”
“We need to recover the Canadian and American market, which we have lost,” Haces said.
While the city lost its appeal among American tourists and Hollywood stars long ago, it remains an important destination for domestic visitors.
Pena Nieto said federal police would reinforce security on the highway and that toll booths would be half price.
He also announced tax breaks for Acapulco and four other towns, a special fund for struggling small companies, a tourism advertising blitz, and winter air fare deals.
“We are here because after what has happened, we recognise that Guerrero’s most important economic activity has decelerated,” Pena Nieto said.
His economic plan for the state came one week after he unveiled constitutional reforms aimed at disbanding the country’s notoriously corrupt municipal forces and allowing the federal government to take over gang-infiltrated municipalities.
As part of his security plan, which must be approved by Congress, Pena Nieto deployed 900 federal forces to Acapulco and another 2,000 to 36 towns of the states of Guerrero, Michoacan, Morelos and Mexico.
But security experts have voiced skepticism, saying the plan should tackle corruption at the state and federal levels too.