Five deaths in mariachi plaza shootout pose test for Mexico’s new government

MEXICO CITY: Five people died after a dramatic shootout at a famed Mexico City mariachi plaza, officials said on Saturday, the latest in a recent string of crimes in the capital that will soon put to the test the incoming government’s new tactics to fight violence.

At Plaza Garibaldi in the capital’s historic downtown on Friday night, gunmen said by witnesses to be dressed as mariachi musicians opened fire with pistols and rifles, injuring eight and sending onlookers running and screaming. The incident left three men and two women dead, city officials said.

A view of a crime scene on the edge of the tourist Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City

Homicides have surged since 2014 in Mexico City, an arts, food and culture hotspot for tourists from around the globe that has been spared much of the drug violence plaguing cartel strongholds, which has even hit resort towns Cancun, Los Cabos and Acapulco.

The capital is on track to register a record number of homicides this year, and reversing that trend is part of incoming President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s enormous challenge to stem crime and violence nationwide.

The former Mexico City mayor, who takes office Dec. 1, has vowed that new strategies under the city’s incoming mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, will be effective.

"I am sure they will resolve the problems that are being suffered in Mexico City … Claudia will restore peace," he told local media on Saturday when asked about plans to halt violence in the capital.

Sheinbaum’s priorities are to stamp out police corruption and improve the implementation of a U.S.-style justice reform, she said in a recent interview.

In contrast, the current government adopted an intense surveillance strategy in recent months, deploying low-flying helicopters meant to intimidate drug dealers and robbers.

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Plaza Garibaldi borders Mexico City’s notorious Tepito neighbourhood, home to La Union gang, which police say is behind a surge of drug-dealing and protection rackets.

The historic site is also blocks from one of Latin America’s largest public squares, where thousands will flock on Saturday night to see President Enrique Pena Nieto deliver the traditional cry of "Long Live Mexico!" to celebrate Independence Day.

Similar festivities planned for two cities in Guerrero and another in Guanajuato were cancelled due to recent violence, local media said.

Police blame much of the capital’s crime on retail drug dealing and protection rackets run by violent gangs, though the government says at least one of these has links to a national trafficking group, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy)