Where Tourism Thrives in Mexico, Bloodshed and Poverty Are Blocks Away

The bloodshed here has not targeted tourists and has mostly occurred out of their view, in the poorer quarters of San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, the main towns in the municipality of Los Cabos. Much of it stems from a battle among criminal groups for control of trafficking routes in the Baja California Peninsula and for dominance of local criminal enterprises, particularly the drug trade servicing tourists.


The Facebook page of Edwin Alberto López Rojas, 18, who was killed shortly after joining a criminal gang.

Rodrigo Cruz for The New York Times

But the violence, community leaders and social workers say, is also a symptom of the grave problems that afflict the region’s underclass, reflecting longstanding government neglect. While the authorities have for decades thrown their weight behind the development of the tourism sector, many of the needs of the poor and working class have languished, they say.

Los Cabos, they say, risks following the same path as Acapulco, the Pacific Coast city that was once a major vacation destination but has been devastated by drug violence.

“If they continue covering up the problems, things aren’t going to get better,” said Silvia Lupián Durán, the president of the Citizens’ Council for Security and Criminal Justice in Baja California Sur, a community group. “It’s a breeding ground for worse things.”

There is much at stake. Last year, Los Cabos had more than 2.1 million visitors, 75 percent of them international travelers and the vast majority from the United States, said Rodrigo Esponda, the managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board. The average cost of a hotel room is around $300 per night.

For most of its modern history, the region was sleepy and isolated, accessible only by boat or private plane. But with the completion of the Transpeninsular Highway in the 1970s and the expansion of the local airport, development exploded — and with it came a rise in migration as Mexicans poured in to work in construction and as chambermaids, bellhops, cooks, waiters, bartenders and landscapers.

In 1990, the municipality’s population was about 44,000. By 2015, it had climbed to about 288,000, with many people working in jobs that directly or indirectly supported tourism.

“There was no sane planning for where all the working people were going to…

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