The events that unfolded yesterday in Puerto Vallarta read like a horrifying attack on the city of Puerto Vallarta, and even the state of Jalisco, however the reality of the situation was less dire. This is not to downplay the significance of the attacks suspected to be carried out by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, but yet an attempt to put the events in perspective.
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On May 1, while Labor Day was being celebrated in Puerto Vallarta, a call to authorities at 11 AM reported a burning gas station in the city. Upon arriving, authorities learned that employees at the gas station were warned by armed gunmen to get out of the way of danger and told them they were going to burn the station. This same scene played out at 5 gas stations and 3 banks in Puerto Vallarta all without injury or death.
The total time of the events spanned less than an hour, but the rumors and fear mongering carried on for much of the day into late afternoon. Reports of gunshots on the Malecón, Plaza Caracol, and a local hotel were all made and all locations were stormed by special units only to learn the reports were false and that people in all three locations were going about life as normal. Even though the reports of such activity were false, they were quickly distributed through social media as reality and caused fear among many, proving Social Media is not a reliable source for news.
The airport, bus stations, and highways were temporarily closed until authorities could sweep the locations and bring in extra security to maintain ‘Code Red’ security during the events. This would also allow significant police and military presence to monitor people attempting to leave the city that might have been involved in the incidents. This is standard protocol when a municipality is put into “Code Red” status for security purposes.
There were also reports, even by the US Consultant office in Guadalajara, that the city of Puerto Vallarta was on lockdown and all residents were ordered to remain indoors. While authorities did ask residents to stay home if possible, there was never a legal mandate given, otherwise hundreds or even thousands of people outside would have been arrested and businesses would have been forced closed by authorities, events that never happened in the city. The US Government announcement went beyond the actual events happening on the ground, perhaps by misinformation, which seemed to be the bulk of available information.
Many businesses chose to close in Puerto Vallarta because of the national holiday, not because of the events of the day. In Mexico you must pay your employees 3X their wages if you wish for them to work on a national holiday, that is my understanding of the law, so many businesses do close on holidays anyway.
Early calls by authorities asking people to stay home were the right calls while they assessed the situation and concluded the danger had passed. Nothing less would be expected in any other place around the world.
As horrifying as the thought is about yesterday’s attacks, there is also a reality that should offer some peace of mind. These attacks were carried out in Puerto Vallarta by six men in two pickup trucks with their weapons being a dozen bottles with gasoline. The attacks were armature and the weapons of choice were the lowest level of engineering possible. The attackers also warned people to get out of harm’s way before they started their fires, an indication that there was a desire to keep people safe even by the attackers. The general public was never at risk, and it seemed that was the objective of the attackers launching their plans at closed businesses. The events were a clear sign to authorities that the cartel has the ability to organize and respond quickly to the government crackdown on their organization.
People who actually were in the city can testify to the rapid response of local and federal police, along with the military. The teams were well trained and acted with precision, we must give kudos to these men and women for their work yesterday.
Adding to the confusion and rumors was the city’s official statement released at 8 PM. The statement did not mention anything about the incidents in Puerto Vallarta, simply referring to incidents in the state and around the country. The city report also clearly stated that no activities have been canceled for the weekend and the city is confident that Puerto Vallarta is safe and moving forward. The report even encouraged people to attend Saturday’s Bugambilia Festival, which is mostly sponsored by the city, however moments later the Festival announced they were cancelling all planned activities, sending the wrong message to the rest of the world.
Today, the day after these attacks, there were more fear mongering. Including the burning of a cremeria being reported as cartel related, however the State Attorney denies that and is treating the case as vandalism. A false bomb threat was reported for nightclub Strana, and a car overheated on the GDL-Colima highway but was reported as a cartel activity. One news organization reported 3 more gas station fire on Saturday in Puerto Vallarta, which is proven to be untrue.
I stand by my personal opinion and my publication’s statement that Puerto Vallarta is safe, but that is an easier statement to make when living here and understanding the daily reality outside of a single snapshot of an hour in our day yesterday. Already our social media and website has seen many would be tourists suggest they are rethinking Puerto Vallarta as their vacation destination, even one couple going as far as canceling their plans to retire in the city after yesterday
The cartels have an interest in keeping the main economy running in Mexico, tourism. Tourists are typically not the target for violent crime in Mexico, and the government goes to great lengths to keep the millions of tourists that travel to Mexico safe each year. Even a once strong tourist destination that has since fallen, Acapulco, rarely saw cartel violence, it was violence in the state that sealed Acapulco’s fate late last year.
The city of Puerto Vallarta was pushed into a tipping point yesterday, one they had unsuccessfully wished away and a point that was inevitable for years. The question isn’t the safety of Puerto Vallarta, but yet the reputation of Puerto Vallarta. Yesterday would have been a prime time to hurt people if that was the objective, but instead the attackers seemed to want to keep people safe. That action certainly does not nominate the attackers for sainthood, however it is an indication that they are not seeking violence in their ranks. The city needs to study the ways Acapulco handled the media pressure of uncontrollable events in their state, and do the exact opposite of Acapulco.
Events similar to those that happened in Puerto Vallarta took place in 19 other municipalities in the state of Jalisco, and by admission the executed plan statewide was spectacular for a cartel, but these opinions only address the events that took place in Puerto Vallarta.
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These are the opinions of Vallarta Daily founder, Ian Hayden Parker. Ian occasionally writes a personal column on Vallarta Daily named “Ian-Sanity” providing a personal opinion on trending news topics in Puerto Vallarta.