Drug violence may be behind the killing of four taxi drivers in the picturesque central Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende, a popular tourism destination that is home to thousands of American retirees, authorities said Thursday.
Mayor Ricardo Villarreal said that while the investigation into the Wednesday night slayings was continuing, the bloodshed appeared to be a "score settling" within the world of street-level drug sales.
Villarreal said in an interview with Radio Formula that because San Miguel is a tourist destination, it is prone to small-scale drug sales.
Saying the city remains a safe place, he said the four slain taxi drivers were targeted, not the victims of random attacks. He said the drivers apparently were all called to the location on the town's outskirts where they were killed in their cabs.
A statement from the city said two other men were wounded.
Mexico has struggled with increased drug gang violence in some of its most popular tourism spots. Killings and attacks have occurred recently in Cancun, Zihuatanejo and Los Cabos, though the attacks have not targeted tourists.
San Miguel de Allende is a city and municipality located in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico. It is part of the macroregion of Bajío. It is 274 km (170 mi) from Mexico City and 97 km (60 mi) from the state capital of Guanajuato.Historically, the town is important as being the birthplace of Ignacio Allende, whose surname was added to the town’s name in 1826, as well as the first municipality declared independent of Spanish rule by the nascent insurgent army during the Mexican War of Independence.
The city has been known by various names since the Spanish founded the settlement. It was called Izcuinapan by the indigenous peoples. The Spanish originally called it San Miguel el Grande and sometimes San Miguel de los Chichimecas. San Miguel refers to the founder of the city, Father Juan de San Miguel.The name of the town was changed in 1826 to San Miguel de Allende in order to honor Ignacio Allende, who was born here.
The surrounding municipality is officially called Allende, both seat and municipality are called San Miguel (de Allende). The municipality has a coat of arms that was designed by a group called Amigos de San Miguel, but it has not been officially recognized.
The layout of the center of the city is mostly a straight grid, which was favored by the Spanish during colonial times. However, due to the terrain, many roads are not straight. There are no parking meters, no traffic signals and no fast food restaurants.These roads are lined with colonial era homes and churches.
With a few exceptions, the architecture is domestic rather than monumental, with well-tended courtyards and rich architectural details.The houses have solid walls against the sidewalks, painted in various colors, many with bougainvillea vines falling down the outside and the occasional iron-grated window. Many of the larger structures have large front doors which used to be used by horses and carriages.
The town is noted for its streetscapes with narrow cobblestone lanes, that rise and fall over the hilly terrain, and occasionally defy colonial attempts to make a straight grid. It is still a small city, and at night, many wander the narrow streets with relative safety.The people on the streets are a mix of Mexicans, foreigners and indigenous. Its cultural and artistic reputation has brought many people from Mexico and abroad here to live. Several publications have named it one of the top 10 places to retire.
About half of the colonial buildings have been partially or fully converted into businesses such as stores, restaurants, galleries, workshops and hotels. Since there is no zoning, residential and commercial establishments are well-mixed. Although it is small and rural, it has a wide variety of upscale and ethnic restaurants, specialty shops and art galleries. All around the historic center there are over 80 bars and cantinas as well as various nightclubs. To compete, many offer two-for-one drink specials.Others rely on gimmicks such as the frontier themed bar on Mesones Street called “El Gato” with swinging cantina doors like those seen on “Old West” movies.
Despite being less than five percent of the total municipal population, foreign residents have considerable cultural and economic impact. Most foreign residents are retirees from the United States, Canada and Europe attracted by the mild climate, cultural opportunities and low crime. It is only a ten-hour drive to the U.S. border.Many of the home buyers are from this segment of the population as well. Estimates of foreign residents range from 5,000 to 8,000 with at least half of these from the United States.
Outside of the main town and in these smaller communities are the municipality's indigenous groups, mostly Otomi and Nahuas. The Otomi are the largest group, accounting for just under 38% of the municipal population. The Nahuas follow at about 20%. Other groups include the Mazahua, Huasteca and Purépecha. However, according to the 2005 Census, only 355 people speak an indigenous language.
Due to its growth as a tourist destination, some of the most obvious culture seen on the streets of the town relates to visitors, both foreign and Mexican. To cater to these visitors, the town contains organic cafes, boutiques, art galleries, upscale restaurants and hotels, and a wide variety of bars and nightclubs.Bars and nightclubs range from DJs or loud bands catering to young people, to jazz clubs, sports bars and even those that specialize in traditional Mexican music such as mariachi.
Some were founded by foreigners and reflect that ownership, for example the Berlin Bar & Bistro.Shops around the Jardin Principal sell art, handcrafts, furniture and decorative items. The Fabrica La Aurora is an old textile mill that has been converted into galleries and shops selling art, furnishings and antiques; it has a lot of open space along with a café and restaurant.
Many of the festivals here are purely Mexican, combining social activity with religious expression. Throughout the year there are pilgrimages, all-night vigils, ringing church bells, processions and fireworks. The largest celebration of the year is that of the town's patron saint, the Archangel Michael. The angel's feast day is 29 September, but festivities take place for an entire week. Activities include private parties, sporting events, cultural events, indigenous dance and more.
The week is popularly called the Fiestas de San Miguel de Allende. An event, now discontinued for safety concerns, was the "Sanmiguelada", a running of the bulls event similar to that in Pamplona.Youths fill the streets showing off their "matador" talents in front of the bulls.The finale is a parade through the street in honor of Michael and a fireworks "castle" competition to see who can build the most elaborate frame from which fireworks are lit.
Holy Week begins with a exhibition of altars dedicated to the Virgin of Sorrows and end with the Procession of Silence.Prior to the Procession of Silence, there is a reenactment of the judgment of Jesus by Pontius Pilate, on one side of the San Miguel Parish. Then the procession begins, which represents the fourteen scenes of the Passion before his crucifixion.
Many of the townspeople participate in the event, with children dressed as angels and adults in period clothing carrying statues of Jesus. The procession winds its way along the main streets of the historic center completely in silence.Another large religious celebration is the feast of Nuestro Señor de la Columna.
There are also secular, cultural festivals during the year. The annual Festival de Música de Cámara or Chamber Music Festival occurs each year in August in the city's historic center. One of the purposes of the event is to bring this type of music to streets and other public venues as well as traditional concert halls such as the event's home of the Angela Peralta Theater.
The 2009 edition had over 100 singers invited to various events, three major conferences, and instrument exhibition and ten classes taught by prominent persons in the field. Some of the groups invited that year included Yale Glee Club, the Cuerdas Amernet Cuartet, the Alientos de Bellas Artes Trio, soprano Guadalupe Jimenez and pianist Natasha Tarasova .
San Miguel de Allende has long had a reputation as a haven for visual artists. Since the 1950s, when Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros worked there, it has attracted professional and amateur painters, sculptors and printmakers to the classes and workshops frequently held.
In addition to two major art institutions (Instituto Allende and Bellas Artes), artists and art venues can be seen in various parts of the town. One notable art gallery is the Galería Manuel Chacon, which carries contemporary art.On the streets, it is not unusual to see someone sketching people on the street or selling their own work.
Much of the municipality's economy is now tied to the influx of tourists and foreigners who come to live, mostly retirees. In 2002, 250,000 visitors spent about 8.4 million USD at the town's attractions, but those who live here contribute far more to the economy.Most of this is concentrated in the town of San Miguel proper.
Hotel occupancy typically reaches 80% on weekends with about 50% occupancy on weekdays, when rates can be about half. Most visitors are vacationers and about 60% are domestic visitors, interested in the town's history and role in the Mexican War of Independence. Another attraction for visitors are the two main art/cultural institutions of Instituto Allende and Bellas Artes as well as a number of Spanish language schools.
Most domestic visitors come from Mexico's large urban centers like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Queretaro. This growth has spurred the development of newer hotels, resort and vacation home developments, especially on the corridor between San Miguel and Atotonilco.There are 149 hotels, nine of which are 5-star. The town has just over 9% of all hotel rooms in the state, and this percentage is growing. Another important sector is restaurants.
In 2006, the town invested 800,000 pesos to implement an online marketing plan to increase services to potential tourists. The town now has presence on Facebook and Twitter.
Outside of the town of San Miguel, the economy is more traditional. A bit over half of the land is used for grazing with 37% used for crops. Over 80% of the crops are grown during the rainy season with less than 20% grown on irrigated lands. Forestry is minimal. Agriculture produces 25% of the employment in the municipality. Principal crops include corn, beans, wheat, and alfalfa, which account for 84% of harvests.
Another important agricultural activity is fruit orchards. The most important livestock is domestic fowl, especially poultry. The municipality raises over 12% of the state's chickens. Another important product is honey, of which the municipality provides 7.5% of the state’s total.