2 Mexican marines found dead in resort of Cancun

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Authorities found the bodies of two Mexican marines wrapped in blood-stained sheets and dumped on a street in the Caribbean coast resort of Cancun on Wednesday.

The bodies were found in downtown Cancun, relatively far from most of the resort's hotels. The prosecutor's office said the two marines, aged 24 and 36, had been stabbed to death.

The Mexican navy condemned the killings, saying the two marines were off duty when they were killed. The two servicemen were based in the nearby township of Isla Mujeres.

Before 2017 Cancun was relatively calm, but killings have increased. In the first eight months of 2018, there were 342 homicides in Cancun — about 1.4 killings a day in the city of 750,000, more than double the 148 killings in the same period of 2017. In a single day in August, police found eight bodies strewn at various points on the streets of Cancun.

The deaths in Mexico's busiest resort echo the bloody violence in Acapulco that started in 2006 and eventually brought down the once-glittering Pacific resort.

"It is the new Acapulco," Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said of Cancun, suggesting the resort needed "a massive federal intervention and changes in state government personnel."

The government of Quintana Roo state, where Cancun is located, hired anti-crime activist Alberto Capella as the state's top police official Wednesday. Capella previously served in the state of Morelos and in Tijuana during that border city's crackdown on violence.

"It's sign they are starting to take the problem seriously," Hope said.

Mexico's experience suggests Cancun doesn't have to take the long slide into chaos that Acapulco experienced, after rival drug cartels began warring over the Pacific resort in the early 2000s.

The resort of Los Cabos was wracked by waves of killings in 2017 that gave Baja California Sur Mexico's second-highest homicide rate, at 69 per 100,000 inhabitants. But an infusion of thousands of troops and federal police early this year brought those killings down rapidly.

"They were able to turn it around in Los Cabos," Hope said, but added: "It is possible, but it requires a relatively big intervention."

Once a city gets as bad as Acapulco, it is hard to get back under control.

The State Department again warned U.S. citizens this week to avoid Acapulco, after authorities disarmed the municipal police force because they suspected drug gangs had infiltrated the police department.

In 2017, Acapulco had a homicide rate of 103 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in Mexico and the world. By comparison Cancun had a homicide rate of about 33 per 100,000, a fraction of Acapulco's rate but still above Mexico's national average of about 25 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The violence in Acapulco started with drug gangs warring for control of the city, with severed heads appearing in the resort and shootouts occurring on the well-known coastal boulevard.

Cancun has not yet seen many such public shootouts, but in July five people were killed and three wounded when assailants entered a shop in Cancun and opened fire on a group of police officers. The attack on the shop between Puerto Juarez and Puerto Sam, where visitors frequently take ferries to Isla Mujeres, killed one officer and four shop employees. No tourists or foreigners were among the injured or killed.