From the renowned beaches of Acapulco and Ixtapa to the silversmiths of Taxco, Guerrero is known as a mecca for ocean-loving tourists and sports fisherman. The main economic drivers in the state’s central valley region are agriculture and livestock breeding. The area’s main farm products are maize (corn), beans, sorghum, rice, sesame, tomato, melon, lemon, coffee, coconuts and bananas. In addition, Guerrero produces more than 3 percent of the beef consumed in Mexico.
Evidence of human presence in Guerrero dates back to 300 B.C. when the Olmeca people inhabited central and southern Mexico. Even though the Olmeca primarily occupied Tabasco and Veracruz, their influence extended into modern-day Guerrero. The caves of Juxtlahuaca, 30 miles south east of Chilpancingo, feature Olmeca wall paintings dating from around 300 B.C. to 400 A.D.
The Mezcala Indians established themselves in the region during the 7th century. While they don’t appear to have built any important structures in the area, they did introduce stone sculpture and ceramics, crafts traceable to the Teotihuacán culture.
In the 10th century, Teotihuacán groups built pyramids in Texmelincán and Teloloapan. Tepaneca Indians and other tribes lived along the Pacific coast until Náhuatl (Azteca) groups invaded the region in the 11th century. After conquering central Mexico, the Aztecs divided the region that constitutes modern-day Guerrero into seven entities. Tax collection mechanisms were introduced, and the centralized Azteca government exerted influence over the local natives.
One part of Guerrero, Acapulco, never came under the direct control of the Aztecs but instead remained subject to local caciques (chiefs). Acapulco’s culture was, however, influenced by Tarasca, Mixteca, Zapoteca and Azteca civilizations.
After conquering the Aztecs at Tenochtitlán in 1521, Spanish invaders quickly assumed power over other tribes in the region. In 1534, Spanish expeditions discovered silver in Taxco, Guerrero, which attracted even more Spanish settlers and radically altered indigenous life. The natural harbor at Acapulco enabled trade with Asia, and while the rough and dangerous road between Acapulco and Mexico City took 12 days to travel, the prospect of lucrative overseas trade made it one of the busiest colonial routes in Mexico.
Trade become common during this period between Acapulco and destinations such as Peru and Asia. For more than 250 years, the Santa Anna, a special trading ship known to the English as the Manila Galleon made one annual trip from Acapulco to Manila and the Orient. Its return voyage was celebrated in Acapulco each year with an annual merchant fair, when traders bargained for the galleon’s cargo of silks, porcelain, ivory and lacquerware. In 1579, the English raider Francis Drake attacked but failed to capture the ship; nine years later, Thomas Cavendish seized the Santa Anna off Cabo San Lucas, stealing 1.2 million gold pesos and severely depressing the London bullion market.
Importing slaves from Africa and parts of Asia had long been a common Spanish practice, and during the 16th century Acapulco became a center for slave trade. Most slaves were put to work in the silver and gold mines. Those who managed to escape formed slave communities in the mountainous regions of the southern and western part of the state, which remained active until the mid-19th century. Modern-day descendants of African slaves still live along the southern Pacific coast.
During the Mexican War of Independence (1810-21), José Morelos was commissioned by Mexican priest and revolutionary Miguel Hidalgo to form an independence army in Guerrero. More than 3,000 soldiers joined Morelos, and they liberated Chilpancingo from Spanish control and declared it the nation’s capital in 1813. Following Morelos’ death, the struggle for independence continued with Vicente Guerrero eventually emerging as the movement’s strongest leader. The movement succeeded in wresting Mexico from Spanish control, and in 1821 the Plan of Iguala was implemented. It mandated independence, a single national religion (Roman Catholicism) and social equality.
After Mexico gained its independence, Guerrero was appointed as chief of the southern region of Mexico, where he fiercely fought for the establishment of a federal republic. He eventually became president of Mexico in 1829 but was assassinated just nine months later. As the government of the young country struggled to win control of all of its territory, indigenous rebels — discontent with Antonio López de Santa Anna, president of Mexico from 1833 to 1836 — attacked government installations and civilian homes and businesses, exacerbating the region’s political and military instability.
In retaliation for Mexico’s refusal to pay long-standing debts, France invaded Mexico in 1862. Many constitutionalist and liberal leaders sought refuge in Guerrero, where they attempted to reorganize their opposition to French Emperor Maximilian II. Benito Juárez, Mexico’s ex-president (1861-1872), led the opposition to the French empire and was supported by Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, a Guerrero writer and journalist of Nahua descent. Juárez finally regained control of the country in 1867.
In the period between 1880 and 1910, while dictator-president Porfirio Díaz was in power, conflicts between powerful caudillos, who were political-military leaders, made it difficult for state authorities to control Guerrero. As early as 1893, dissidents from Guerrero, lead by Canuto Neri, organized revolts against the federal-sponsored state government. Because of the constant presence of militias and the weak state government in Guerrero, there was no central authority with the power to effectively control the revolution as it escalated in the state. Most of the state’s population agreed with the philosophy of Emiliano Zapata that those who worked the land should own it.
When the revolution finally ended, successfully for the rebels, over a decade later, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) emerged as the national political force, and old conflicts between local caudillo families in Guerrero subsided. The presidency of Miguel Alemán (1946-1952) helped promote economic development in the state, particularly in Acapulco.
In the 1960s and 1970s, widespread poverty and inequality fueled support for different guerrilla groups in Guerrero. Rural violence by insurgent groups continued into the early 21st century. Today, insurgent groups are still active in Guerrero countryside; the strongest of these groups is the Ejército Popular Revolucionario (EPR), which seeks to install a communist regime in Mexico.
Economic development in the 1980s and the consolidation of Acapulco, Ixtapa and Taxco as tourist attractions have benefited the state economy, which is mainly supported by tourism, farming, commerce and transportation.
Guerrero is rich in natural resources, and manufacturing, mining and energy production are growing industries. After the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)–a trade agreement among Mexico, the United States and Canada — took effect in 1994, many new maquiladoras (assembly plants) were established, which generated additional income for the state.
Guerrero is currently plagued by violence and lawlessness perpetrated by politically motivated guerrillas and drug cartels. The state’s location along the Pacific coast as well as its dense rainforests and mountains makes law enforcement in the area difficult.
Facts & Figures
- Capital: Chilpancingo
- Major Cities (population): Acapulco (717,766) Chilpancingo (214,219) Iguala (128,444) Chilapa (105,146) Zihuatanejo (104,609)
- Size/Area: 24,819 square miles
- Population: 3,115,202 (2005 Census)
- Year of Statehood: 1849
- Guerrero’s coat of arms was designed by renowned Mexican muralist Diego Rivera in 1923. The central design features a Caballero Tigre (Tiger Knight) on a field of blue. The highest ranking soldier in the Mexica (Aztec) army, the knight is dressed in the traditional jaguar skin battle suit. In his left hand is a typical Mexica shield; in his right is a macuahuitl, a club-like weapon embedded with sharp stones. The crest is topped by a colorful royal plume. Rivera chose this image because guerrero is Spanish for knight, and the Tiger Knight was a powerful figure among the Aztecs who populated the region before the arrival of the Spanish.
- The state’s three main areas of tourism (Acapulco, Taxco and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo) form what is known as the Triángulo del Sol (Sun Triangle). Acapulco and Ixtapa are popular beach destinations, while Taxco is an old colonial silver mining center known for its silverwork and handmade crafts.
- Acapulco was once a port for Manila galleons, Spanish trading ships that sailed between Manila and Acapulco. Acapulco is still a commercial port, but it is now known primarily for its tourist attractions.
- In the 1970s, a trip to Acapulco from Mexico City took seven to eight hours by car; travel time was cut in half after the Autopista del Sol, a new highway, was opened in 1996.
- Two future U.S. presidents and their wives–John and Jackie Kennedy and Bill and Hillary Clinton–honeymooned in Acapulco.
- Residents of Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, enjoy about 300 days of sunshine per year.
- Local celebrities from Guerrero include Rodolfo Neri Vela, Mexico’s first astronaut, who was born in Chilpancingo, and Jorge Campos, a well-known soccer player during the 1990s, who was born in Acapulco.
- Cuauhtemoc, the last Aztec emperor, is buried in the Santa Maria de la Asunción Church in Ixcateopan, Guerrero. The town holds a festival each year, including traditional dance and dress, in honor of the anniversary of his death.
Thousands of tourists travel from all over the world to visit Acapulco’s renowned beaches. The area features two main bays, Puerto Marques and the Bay of Santa Lucia (Acapulco Bay), and the city is surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range. In addition to beautiful beaches, Acapulco offers diving and snorkeling sites, fishing, jet skiing and power boating as well as the opportunity to swim with dolphins. The Mexican Tennis Open is held in Acapulco every February.
Another famous site in Acapulco is La Quebrada, where cliff divers plunge 41.5 meters (136 feet) into the Pacific below, landing in water only 2.9 meters (9.5 feet) deep. Since the 1940s, the divers have been one of Mexico’s most famous attractions, with five daily performances.
Taxco Silver Taxco, a mountain town accessed by small stone-paved roads, is famous for its silversmiths and silver shops. Surrounding the Borda Plaza in the center of town are numerous shops offering extensive displays of fine silver jewelry, goblets, platters and decorative articles.
Grutas de Cacahuamilpa
Located in the northern part of the state of Guerrero, the Grutas de Cacahuamipla are shoreline caverns full of stalactites and stalagmites. Discovered in 1834 by Manuel Saenz de la Peña, the caves became a National Park in 1937. The mouth of the caverns is 21 meters (69 feet) high and 42 meters (138 feet) wide. Only one-seventh of the estimated 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) of passages and chambers inside the caverns has been explored to date.
Every day, visitors take guided tours through approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of Grutas de Cacahuampila’s underground labyrinth, careful not to lose their balance on paths slick with moisture and deposits.
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Vicente Guerrero, (born Aug. 10, 1782, Tixtla, Mex.—died Feb. 14, 1831, Chilapa), hero of the Mexican efforts to secure independence.
Guerrero began his military career in 1810, and soon the early Mexican independence leader José Maria Morelos commissioned him to promote the revolutionary movement in the highlands of southwestern Mexico. After Morelos’ execution by the Spanish in 1815, Guerrero continued to lead his guerrilla forces against the Spanish until 1821, when he joined forces with Agustín de Iturbide and with him issued the Plan of Iguala, which became the political platform for the conservative wing of the Mexican independence movement. The Mexican forces triumphed over the Spaniards and achieved independence for Mexico in August 1821.
Guerrero continued to participate in the military and political struggles that followed independence, and in March 1829 he attained the presidency of Mexico as the result of a successful liberal revolt against the conservative candidate who had been chosen president in the election of 1828. But the aged Guerrerro proved to be less adept at political administration than at military command, and that same year he was unseated by General Antonio López de Santa Anna, who replaced him in the presidency with Anastasio Bustamante. After leading rebel forces Guerrero was captured, tried, and executed.
Guerrero at war: chronicling southern Mexico's forgotten conflict – photo essay
L ife in Guerrero seems to hover at the edge of violence. The threat is pervasive: in the armed men at roadblocks, the empty nighttime streets, the kindling of street protests. Then it erupts, in a brief convulsion. What endures is the wreckage left behind.
An altar for a young boy killed by the Tequileros. Many members of the self-defence group of Sierra of San Miguel have lost their sons, brothers, fathers and loved ones fighting against the Tequileros.
The aftermath is what originally drew Alfredo Bosco, an Italian photographer who had worked on the frontlines of the conflict in Ukraine, to Guerrero. He came to the state in southern Mexico, one of the country’s poorest, to document the ghost villages emptied out by fear.
“I immediately realized the story of Guerrero was so much more,” said Bosco. He made repeated trips back to Guerrero between 2018 and the beginning of this year to photograph armed groups battling over mountain villages, the inhabitants who resist, and those who flee.
Federal police patrolling the once touristic city of Acapulco
A man was shot three times and rescued by paramedics, in the suburbs of Acapulco
He also documented the decay of Acapulco, the Pacific coast resort that was once a haunt for Hollywood stars and the Kennedys’ honeymoon retreat. For years, Guerrero’s largest city has been under siege by extortion rackets. Nobody is exempt: teachers, restaurant owners, even the women who run market stalls in the city’s working-class hinterland must all pay up.
The easy narrative of Guerrero’s violence would be to explain it as the outcome of drug trafficking. Some of that is true. Marijuana and then opium poppies have been cultivated in the state since the 1960s. Guerrero is believed to supply more than half of all the heroin produced in Mexico and the state lies on a major transit route to the United States.
The Mexican army eradicating a poppy crop in Chilpancingo
To stop the story there, though, would be to dismiss the overlapping injustices that stalk Mexico and find their sharpest expression in Guerrero. The state is mountainous and has poor communications, which marginalizes its rural population. The most discriminated of all are Guerrero’s indigenous communities, accounting for some 15% of the state’s 3.5 million people.
Federal police inside the house of the former local commissioner in a town near Chilapa. He was one of the leaders of the Los Rojos cartel
A small white elite and local bosses control economic and political power. When social movements have tried to challenge that dominance over the decades, the government has repressed them. With the hope of peaceful change dashed, small guerrilla groups have taken up arms, according to the Mexican historian Carlos Illades. The government conducted a dirty war in the 1970s against one of those groups, a peasant movement led by teachers, normalizing the tools of counterinsurgency, including disappearances, as standard procedure.
Displaced peope coming from the town of Los Morelos heading to the Chichihualco auditorium
In a region where the state’s presence is limited to shows of force, rule of law is an afterthought. Even old scores, over land, or water, or causes that nobody remembers, are settled by violence.
“When we talk about violence, we have to talk about many kinds of violence,” said Vania Pigeonutt, an editor and reporter for Amapola Periodismo, a Guerrero-based news site, who worked closely with Bosco.
Impunity allows this violence to flourish. For most of Mexico’s history, policing and justice have been simply a tool of political power. Homicides are barely investigated, almost never solved.
A man sniffs the blade of the machete he’s digging with hoping to smell victims’ corpses or body parts, as he searches for missing loved ones in Iguala
Mr Rogelio by his wife and his son’s graves, Iguala 2018. His son disappeared in 2012 and was found dead the year after
When one large criminal organization controlled trafficking in Guerrero, the violence was constrained – often aided by an agreement with authorities who only simulated efforts at interdiction. Calderón ordered Mexico’s military to take down the leaders of the main drug groups and generated an upheaval that his successors have failed to subdue.
The national guard, the new security force that the Mexican government wants to deal with the serious problem of lack of security, formally began its operations on 30 June
In Guerrero, the larger groups splintered into local gangs, which branched out into kidnapping and extortion. They also found additional profits in illegal mining and clandestine logging.
Instead of moving drugs, these gangs needed control over territory and they subjected villages to waves of terror when their armed men descended to lay claim to power.
Unlike the kind of mafia control that Bosco saw in eastern Ukraine or in southern Italy, where he is from, Mexico’s criminals are indiscriminate. “Everyone can be a target,” he said. “The school must close: we attack the teacher coming back home.”
Children training in Ayahualtempa village. After being attacked several times in 2019 by the cartel of Los Ardillos, the village community police has decided to involve children in armed defense training
Displaced people in the village of Ayahualtempa. They are all relatives and have been hosted for some time under the protection of the CRAC-PF indigenous community police. Many of them are women and children
The criminals easily corrupted poorly trained and poorly paid local police forces, bribing them to look the other way, or even turning them into an arm of their operation.
All of those moving parts came together in the kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students from a rural teachers’ college in September 2014. They are believed to have been handed over by local police to a local gang, Guerreros Unidos, which killed them. Federal officials have also been implicated in covering up the investigation. The remains of only two of the young men have been identified and the motive for their disappearance is still unclear.
Local indigenous community police CRAC-PF, Rincón de Chautla
The attention on that case lifted the silence over other disappearances and families banded together to search for mass graves that pockmarked the mountains in the hope of finding their relatives.
In response to gangs like Guerreros Unidos, militias known as self-defense groups have formed in many regions of Guerrero.
These groups are not always what they seem. While some truly are community police, concerned with protecting their families and property, other groups look for a way to coexist with criminal gangs or evolve into a shadow authority. They may even be units of gangs masquerading behind the credibility of self-defense groups.
A CRAC-PF volunteer in her house, in Rincón de Chautla.
A mother from Rincón de Chautla with her children
Much of Bosco’s work focuses on these groups. He turns his gaze on the women of Rincón de Chautla, a village in the central region of the state, who have joined the community police. They look straight ahead, calm and defiant.
He also saw children receive military training and a few weeks later, when photos of children on parade with guns appeared in the Mexican press, the country was outraged.
Members of the self-defence group of Policia Ciudadana de Leonardo Bravo holding their positions in Los Timontos
Members of a self defense group in a poppy field. Member of the indigenous community police CRAC-PF, with a child who’s joining the self-defence group
In contrast, the men of the self-defence forces are masked. Bosco shows them in action, guarding positions, clustered around a fire at night, always wary. But their concealed faces hint at hidden motives.
The balance of forces could change at any moment, creating a new alliance, prompting a new exodus.
Vicente Guerrero (1783-1831)
Vicente Guerrero was born in the small village of Tixla in the state of Guerrero. His parents were Pedro Guerrero, an African Mexican and Guadalupe Saldana, an Indian. Vicente was of humble origins. In his youth he worked as a mule driver on his father’s mule run. His travels took him to different parts of Mexico where he heard of the ideas of independence. Through one of these trips he met rebel General Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon. In November 1810, Guerrero decided to join Morelos. Upon the assassination of Morelos by the Spaniards, Guerrero became Commander in Chief. In that position he made a deal with Spanish General Agustin de Iturbide.
Iturbide joined the independence movement and agreed with Guerrero on a series of measures known as “El plan de Iguala.” This plan gave civil rights to Indians but not to African Mexicans. Guerrero refused to sign the plan unless equal rights were also given to African Mexicans and mulattos. Clause 12 was then incorporated into the plan. It read: “All inhabitants . . . without distinction of their European, African or Indian origins are citizens . . . with full freedom to pursue their livelihoods according to their merits and virtues.”
Subsequently, Guerrero served in a three person “Junta” that governed the then independent Mexico from 1823-24, until the election that brought into power the first president of Mexico Guadalupe Victoria. Guerrero, as head of the “People’s Party,” called for public schools, land title reforms, and other programs of a liberal nature. Guerrero was elected the second president of Mexico in 1829. As president, Guerrero went on to champion the cause not only of the racially oppressed but also of the economically oppressed.
Guerrero formally abolished slavery on September 16, 1829. Shortly thereafter, he was betrayed by a group of reactionaries who drove him out of his house, captured and ultimately executed him. Guerrero’s political discourse was one of civil rights for all, but especially for African Mexicans. Mexicans with hearts full of pride call him the “greatest man of color.”
The slave ship Guerrero was lost off the coast of south Florida on December 19, 1827, with 561 Africans aboard.
Underwater archaeologists believe that the ship has been found.
The Diving with a Purpose Underwater Archaeology Program began in conjunction with the National Park Service and the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, to have African Americans participate in the search for the slave ship Guerrero.
That effort was filmed for the PBS documentary series “Changing Seas” in the episode “Sunken Stories.” The program is produced by WPBT2 in Miami, and can be viewed on their web site at changingseas.tv.
“One of the main stars of the documentary was the late Brenda Lanzendorf, who was the underwater archaeologist for the Biscayne National Park,” says Erik Denson, lead diving instructor for the Diving with a Purpose Underwater Archaeology Program. “The National Park Service has over a hundred shipwrecks in the Biscayne National Park Area. She needed help to document the shipwrecks.”
Lanzendorf taught Denson and his group of mostly African American divers the basics of underwater archeology so they could assist in the discovery and documentation of the Guerrero.
“They gave us the skills to do a good job and to actually understand what we were doing as far as underwater archeology is concerned,” says Denson.
The illegal slave ship Guerrero was operated by pirates. The Guerrero was bound for Cuba with about 700 slaves aboard when the British Navy ship Nimble pursued and attacked. A storm came and both ships were shipwrecked on the reef off the coast of Key Largo.
As a result of the shipwreck, 561 of the Africans aboard the Guerrero perished.
Wreckers came to help get the ships off of the reef, but received an unexpected greeting.
“The pirates actually took one of the wrecker’s ships and ended up going to Cuba with some of the remaining slaves,” Denson says. “Some of the slaves were rescued and they ended up going to Key West, and eventually made their way back to Liberia.”
There were several possible places where the remains of the Guerrero could be located. Working with the Mel Fisher Heritage Society and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during excavations in 2010 and 2012, Denson believes they found and identified the slave ship.
“Through historical documentation we got an idea where this battle took place and where the shipwrecks came about,” says Denson. “We had a few different sites that we wanted to explore. We did magnetometer and site scan sonar to get hits in certain areas, so we narrowed it down.”
Positive identification of particular shipwrecks can be challenging.
Some of the artifacts uncovered that are believed to be from the Guerrero include a cologne bottle from the early 1800s, bone china, lead shot, blue edged earthenware, metal rigging, copper fasteners, and wooden plank fragments.
“Those key pieces of artifacts and evidence really point to that time frame,” says Denson. “We know that the Nimble lost its anchor during the battle, and we found an anchor for that type of ship, that era. So a lot of empirical evidence points to that site, that wreck.”
The artifacts from shipwrecks are not as easy to spot as it might seem. It takes experienced divers with trained eyes to locate these objects.
“These things have been down there for hundreds of years, and they’re covered with corral,” says Denson. “You have to look for things that don’t occur in nature, right angles and shapes that look man made.”
Denson and his divers meticulously document shipwrecks with trilateration mapping, drawings, measurements, and photographs.
The members of Diving with a Purpose are not treasure hunters searching for gold and other valuable objects.
“We abide by a code of ethics,” says Denson. “These are historical sites that need to be preserved and protected. In the case of the Guerrero, there may be human remains there.”
Since forming in 2005, Diving with a Purpose Underwater Archaeology Program has trained many underwater archaeology advocates who have become DWP instructors themselves. The organization has assisted with the search for slave shipwrecks around the world, including off the coast of Africa.
Pedro W. Guerrero
(Excerpt taken from Dedication Ceremony program-2001.)
Born in Solomonville, Arizona in 1896, Pedro W Guerrero came to Mesa as a young man and impacted this community greatly with his activism and civil contributions. He was a Mesa pioneer, prominent businessman and leader in the community.
In 1916 he founded one of the longest running sign companies in the state of Arizona, the Guerrero-Lindsey Sign company. In the early 1950s, inspired by Rosaura's cooking, the Guerrero family created Rosarita Foods, which later became a national company. In 1962, Pedro became the first American of Mexican descent to be the District Governor of the Rotary Club in the State of Arizona. His position of leadership opened the doors of many other businesses to flourish in the area.
Pedro along with his wife Rosaura were ahead of their times when in 1938 they established "La Division Juvenil" which took Mexican American youth of the streets of Mesa to provide them with counseling, mentorship and programs that stressed pride in themselves, in their culture and emphasized responsible citizenship qualities and sportsmanship.
The Guerrero Decree, which abolished slavery throughout the Republic of Mexico except in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, was issued by President Vicente R. Guerrero on September 15, 1829. Guerrero may have acted under the influence of José María Tornel, who hoped the decree would be a check on American immigration, or he may have issued it as a personal measure because his enemies accused him of being partly of African descent. The decree reached Texas on October 16, but Ramón Músquiz, the political chief, withheld its publication because it was in violation of the colonization laws, which guaranteed the settlers security for their persons and property. The news of the decree did alarm the Texans, who petitioned Guerrero to exempt Texas from the operation of the law. On December 2 Agustín Viesca, secretary of relations, wrote the governor of Texas that no change would be made respecting the slaves in Texas. Though the decree was never put into operation, it left a conviction in the minds of many Texas colonists that their interests were not safe.
Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1925 rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1949 New York: AMS Press, 1970). Eugene C. Barker, Mexico and Texas, 1821&ndash1835 (Dallas: Turner, 1928). Eugene Wilson Harrell, Vicente Guerrero and the Birth of Modern Mexico (Ph.D. dissertation, Tulane University, 1976). William F. Sprague, The Life of Vicente Guerrero, Mexican Revolutionary Patriot, 1782&ndash1831 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1934).
B. Backlash from the Kingpin Strategy
Violence in Guerrero reached a zenith after the Mexican government’s kingpin strategy backfired. [fn] The “kingpin strategy” was a key building block of the “war on drugs”. It is grounded in the belief that criminal organisations wither when their leaders, or “kingpins”, are captured or killed. “La kingpin strategy: ¿qué es y cómo llegó a México?”, Nexos, 21 October 2019.Hide Footnote On 16 December 2009, the Mexican navy killed Arturo Beltrán Leyva, the eponymous group’s dominant figure, in an action that then-president Felipe Calderón hailed as a victory in the “war on drugs”. [fn] Calderón, who made militarisation of public security the centrepiece of his presidency, said at the time: “This action represents an important success for the Mexican people and the Mexican government and a decisive blow against one of Mexico’s and the continent’s most dangerous criminal organisations”. “La muerte de Beltrán Leyva es un golpe contundente: Calderón”, Informador, 17 December 2009.Hide Footnote The Beltrán Leyva group had, by that time, gained the upper hand in Guerrero, most prominently under the command of the kingpin’s lieutenant Jesús Nava Romero, aka “El Rojo”. [fn] “La lucha por el mercado de la droga en Guerrero”, Nexos, 12 March 2015 Pantoja, “La permanente crisis de Guerrero”, op. cit.Hide Footnote
The Beltrán Leyva group attained its position partly by lending muscle – personnel and firepower – to existing crime rings and assuring them of market access. It thus proved particularly effective at installing local satellites. A leader of one prominent criminal band, for instance, said the new group’s arrival gave his prior poppy growing and trafficking operations a boost: “Initially, we received support from them”. [fn] Crisis Group interview, Chichihualco, September 2019.Hide Footnote This backing appears to have aided his group, the South Cartel, in its ascent in Guerrero’s heroin business. [fn] Padgett, Guerrero, op. cit.Hide Footnote The South Cartel, along with other criminal groups, have become synonymous with insecurity in the state. Among the others are Los Rojos (“The Red Ones”), the original satellite set up by the Beltrán Leyva group and headed by Nava Romero, and its splinters Los Ardillos and Los Guerreros Unidos (“The United Warriors”). [fn] The former group’s name is derived from its founder’s nickname, La Ardilla, or “the Squirrel”.Hide Footnote The latter group is widely believed to have been involved in the disappearance of 43 students at the Ayotzinapa teaching college in 2014. [fn] “Informe Ayotzinapa II”, op. cit.Hide Footnote
Beltrán Leyva’s death robbed Guerrero’s criminal landscape of its central figure, leading to far greater autonomy for the local units making up his network and to factiousness that stoked violent conflict. First, it introduced more potential conflict parties, with approximately 40 illegal armed groups active in Guerrero today. [fn] Organisational fragmentation as a result of the kingpin strategy is widely described as a driving force of Mexico’s rising violence in the past thirteen years. The number of criminal armed groups in Mexico is 231, according to one estimate. “Mapa criminal de México 2020. Informe sobre las organizaciones criminales con presencia en México”, Lantia Consultores, 2020.Hide Footnote The extraordinary density of criminal factions gave rise to extreme territorial fragmentation, one of the greatest challenges to improving security in Guerrero. [fn] Even the Jalisco Cartel New Generation, which many portray as Mexico’s next criminal hegemon, has been unable to pacify the areas for which it contends, including its core territory of the state of Jalisco. In other high-conflict areas, a similar hyper-fragmentation can be observed. “Células criminales avanzan con violencia grandes cárteles se han fraccionado en grupos rivales”, Excélsior, 4 February 2020.Hide Footnote Each faction fights to protect and expand its own little patch of turf. Rivalries are kindled by mistrust and personal animosity among criminal bosses. A high-ranking officer said:
All of them were part of the same [structure]. They all know each other they all came up together. But when the big one [Arturo Beltrán Leyva] wasn’t around anymore, nobody accepted the other’s leadership and they started betraying and fighting each other. That’s the situation we’re in today. [fn] Crisis Group interview, Guerrero, May 2019. The informant described himself as close to Beltrán Leyva, a description corroborated independently by third parties. Crisis Group interviews, Guerrero, May, June and September 2019.Hide Footnote
Secondly, as connections between groups in the drug production and trafficking chain broke, many small to medium-sized criminal groups phased switched from narcotics to predatory rackets. [fn] For a discussion of changes within Mexico’s criminal economy and the trend toward extortion, see Vanda Felbab-Brown, “Mexico’s Out-of-Control Criminal Market”, Brookings Institution, March 2019.Hide Footnote Extortion increased sharply and has become a chronic affliction across the state, particularly in cities. In 2018, the extortion rate per 100,000 inhabitants in Guerrero was 18,478, meaning that nearly one in five people said someone had tried to bully them into paying for “protection”. [fn] “Encuesta Nacional de Victimización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública 2019”, INEGI, September 2019.Hide Footnote Merchants in Chilpancingo refer to “generalised extortion”, with businesses as small as produce stalls being charged such payments. [fn] Crisis Group interviews, Chilpancingo, June 2019.Hide Footnote One businessperson drove Crisis Group by a restaurant that was shuttered in 2019, after the owner was shot dead for refusing to meet extortion demands. The interviewee said, “the choice is to pay up, flee or face the consequences for us and our family members”, adding that competition over extortion and kidnapping rackets underlies the city’s violence. [fn] Crisis Group interviews, Chilpancingo, May, June and September 2019. The media has documented extortion in Acapulco extensively. See, eg, “How Acapulco exemplifies Mexico’s ongoing security crisis”, Forbes, 21 March 2019.Hide Footnote Guerrero is among the Mexican states hardest hit by economic losses due to insecurity. [fn] According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, overall economic losses in Mexico due to insecurity amount to 2.5 trillion Mexican pesos ($130 billion) per annum, equivalent to 11 per cent of Mexico’s 2018 GDP. See “Mexico Peace Index 2019”, Institute for Economics and Peace, April 2019. The same report ranks Guerrero as the second least peaceful state in Mexico. By 2017, according to some estimates, insecurity had forced 2,000 businesses to close in Acapulco alone. See Teresa Santiago and Carlos Illades, “La guerra irregular en Guerrero, 2007-2017”, Relaciones, Estudios de Historia y Sociedad, vol. 40, no. 1 (2019). According to Moody’s, Acapulco’s tourism industry suffered a 63 per cent loss in international visitors from 2012 through 2017. See “Moody’s alerta sobre el impacto de la violencia en la economía de Acapulco”, Proceso, 5 March 2019.Hide Footnote
Predatory criminality is worse in rural areas such as the Tierra Caliente, or Hot Land, which borders Michoacán. What happens in these areas stays largely outside the public eye, as criminals intimidate media outlets into self-censorship with violence or the threat thereof. [fn] Crisis Group interviews, Guerrero, May, June and September 2019. According to the think-tank CASEDE, criminal organisations in Mexico often create “zones of silence”, mainly through threats and physical violence directed at journalists and others, as a means of social control. “Informe 2019: Libertad de expresión en México”, CASEDE, September 2019. In 2019, eleven journalists were murdered in Mexico. Since no one investigates the killings, the culprits are unknown. “Journalists killed in 2019”, Committee to Protect Journalists, 2020.Hide Footnote Groups such as La Familia Michoacana and Los Viagras have built veritable fiefdoms in the Hot Land. [fn] Crisis Group interviews and text message exchanges, residents and criminal organisation members, Guerrero and Michoacán, May-June 2019, January 2020. La Familia Michoacana is originally from Michoacán but has expanded deep into Guerrero. See Pantoja, “La permanente crisis de Guerrero”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Residents of the region’s north, parts of which are controlled by La Familia Michoacana, said the group charges each household a monthly cuota, or tax, of around $10. [fn] Crisis Group interview, Guerrero, June 2019.Hide Footnote Criminals reportedly also strong-arm local business owners into making a “contribution” ranging from $250 to $2,500 per month, forcing many to flee the area. [fn] “El éxodo de Tierra Caliente”, Forbes, 4 May 2018.Hide Footnote
Criminal groups in the Hot Land also exploit their territorial control to levy taxes on commerce. [fn] Crisis Group interviews, Guerrero, May-June 2019.Hide Footnote In 2018, for instance, Coca-Cola Mexico ceased production and distribution in the area due to extortion and physical attacks on personnel and facilities. [fn] “El éxodo de Tierra Caliente”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Local merchants said criminals now import and sell soft drinks themselves at up to three times the market price. [fn] Crisis Group interviews, Guerrero, May 2019.Hide Footnote Traders said they no longer enter the area due to continuous threats. [fn] Crisis Group interviews, Guerrero, June 2019.Hide Footnote
Last name: Guerrero
This unusual and interesting surname is of Old French pre 9th century origins. Recorded in many spellings including Guerre, Guierre, Laguerre (French), Guerra, Guerrero, (Spanish), Guerreiro (Portugese), Guerri (Italian), Guerriero (Sicillian), and Warr or Warre (English), the name derives from the word 'guerre' meaning 'war'. Seemingly the surname was originally a nickname, which described either a soldier who had returned home 'from the wars', or a 'belligerent' person. The word as 'guerre' was introduced into England by the Normans after the Conquest of 1066, but it is by no means clear as to how the surname spread to Italy and the Spanish peninsula, as it does not appear to have a Latin base. --> Medieval nicknames were given for a variety of reasons including personal appearance, physical peculiarities, or moral characteristics. This gave rise to some very unusual surnames, many of which were obscene and crude! Examples of name recordings taken from various countries include John Warre of Lincoln, England, in 1468, Jan Guerre, at Bornville, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France, on August 7th 1575, Magdalena Ortiz Guerra, at Nazar, Navarra, Spain, on October 19th 1586, and Bartolome Guerro, at San Sebastian, Spain, on September 28th 1613, when he married Ana de Ortega. An interesting recording is that of Maria Joseph Guerra-Noriega, at Santa Barbara, California, on July 2nd 1826. The ancient coat of arms has the distinctive blazon of a red field, charged with a single silver lure. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Herebertus la Guerre, which was dated 1179, in the pipe rolls of the county of Dorset, England, during the reign of King Henry 11, known as "The church builder", 1154 - 1189. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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The ship ran into a storm near Jamaica, and was wrecked. It has been claimed that there were only 20 survivors, who managed to get into a small skiff. About half of them are said to have perished before reaching the shores of the Yucatan coast. The survivors were then enslaved by the Mayans. One by one, the Spanish slaves died, and eventually only two were left alive.
One was Gonzal Guerrero, whilst the other was a Franciscan friar by the name of Geronimo de Aguilar. According to one source, the two men escaped from their original captors, and travelled southwards. Another source claims that they were captured by another tribe.
Both men are said to have been assimilated into the culture of their captors, and learnt the Mayan language. Nevertheless, the degree of assimilation between the two was different. The friar, for example, kept his Spanish and Catholic identity, as well as his priestly vows. Nevertheless, he had learnt enough of the Mayan language, and eventually served as a translator to Hernan Cortes.
On the other hand, Gonzalo embraced the culture of the Mayans, and became much more integrated into their culture than the friar. Gonzalo became a warrior, and rose to the rank of captain. Furthermore, he was given the hand of Zazil Ha, the daughter of a Mayan chief, in marriage. Their children were the first mestizos in Mexico. Gonzalo is recorded to have been killed in the 1530s during a battle with the Spanish.
Statue by Raúl Ayala Arellano in Akumal, Quintana Roo commemorating Gonzalo Guerrero. ( Public Domain )