Bullets Along the Beaches

Come enjoy our beautiful beaches, sparkling waters, lively bars, fabulous food, and picturesque towns, boast the tourist ads for Mexico. All too true, but one activity is conspicuous in its absence from the promotion – shootings courtesy of the drug cartels.

They are on the rise in the vacation wonderland along the Caribbean in the state of Quintana Roo. In late January shootings killed two Canadian tourists in a five-star hotel in Playa del Carmen. Close by a few days later a beachfront bar manager was murdered. In December a group of men riding ski jets opened fire on a beach at Cancun, killing a drug dealer and wounding four tourists. In November visitors in Puerto Morelos were locked in their hotel rooms as gunmen opened fire on the beach, killing two people. In October an attack in a bar in Tulum left two tourists dead, one of them a U.S. travel promoter.

Homicides have dramatically increased along the beaches as tourism has risen. Where people congregate so do drugs for use and sale. The cartels arrive to pick up some loose change along with their massive U.S. profits and violence is sure to follow. Its minor compared to the mayhem elsewhere in Mexico, but important enough for the U.S. State Department to issue a warning about travel in the region. The CDC had added its own alert to the high incidence of Covid 19 in Mexico.

Armed guard with bathers on the beach. Photo by: Business Insider

Politics have played a part in the crime wave. Elections were recently held for mayor and police chief in various towns along the coast. That meant that cartels were going to have to make new arrangements with authorities to continue to operate. It also has led to renewed violent competition among the cartels for the best location at beaches, bars, and casinos.

Foreign gangsters from Russia – where else? – and Romania have joined the action, concentrating mainly on money laundering and sex trafficking. A Romanian boss who used to enjoy a cozy relationship with top Mexican officials has been caught and imprisoned, but crime fighters caution that his operation continues to function. As in the case of the local cartels, removing the man at the top hardly matters. He is quickly replaced given the money involved.

Hardy visitors to the beaches can take comfort in the fact that the cartels don’t wish them harm. They are business and killings are bad publicity. The international media is indifferent to the endless murder of Mexicans, but foreigners are another matter. Hands off. The cartels get the picture. Accidents can happen despite their best efforts of killing only their own. Bullets can go wrong. But it also should be kept in mind that there are limits to cartel patience with intruders, however innocent, on their domain. Occasionally bullets are a warning. Don’t forget who is in charge here.

Meanwhile, adventurous travelers can enjoy the reasonable prices and spectacular setting of Quintana Roo. With a little caution like not criticizing drug cartels while drinking in a bar or harassing the armed guards who mingle with tourists on the beach, it can be a fun vacation.


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