Several clashes between dangerous rival drug cartels in tourist areas of the state of Quintana Roo recently left two tourists dead and three others seriously injured. The region is suffering the consequences of a fierce dispute between different drug trafficking gangs fighting to monopolize the big business of drugs and prostitution.
Guests are shocked, and politicians say they have begun a fierce fight to counteract the violence of the drug trafficking groups. At stake is the safety and livelihood of millions of people in the region who live exclusively on tourists who come to the peninsula in southern Mexico, reported the Washington Post.
In late October, U.S. travel blogger Anjali Ryot, 25, and German tourist Jennifer Henzold, 35, were killed in a shooting in the upscale town of Tulum.
As reported on her social media profiles, Ryot is from Himachal, India, and lived in San Jose, California. She had more than 45,000 followers.
According to investigators, there was an armed confrontation between criminal groups dedicated to selling drugs in a restaurant in the area at 10 p.m. As a result of the gunshot wounds, Ryot died on the spot, and the German tourist died hours later in a local hospital, while three other tourists were seriously injured.
What worried local and national officials even more, was that a series of signs written in clear capital letters appeared in the Tulum market a day after the lethal confrontation.
“Attention Tulum merchants … this was a warning,” read the sign, which sought to threaten “managers and owners” of bars and restaurants in the tourist zone. Warning that they “must align themselves” with the “Los Pelones” gang or else “they will go after them.”
According to reports, this gang answers to and works for the Gulf Cartel, which has declared itself a great enemy of the fierce Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa cartels, between whom serious confrontations have broken out and caused several murders throughout the Riviera Maya.
Matters have become so dangerous in the region that on Wednesday, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced the creation of the so-called “tourist battalion,” composed of 1,500 National Guard soldiers who will wield automatic weapons to keep visitors safe.
Starting in December, the soldiers will arrive in Cancun. After that, they will be deployed to surrounding areas, including Tulum, where Mexican police said 10 groups are fighting for drug dominance in the paradise resort town.
Robert Almonte, an expert on Mexican cartels, speaking to the New York Post, said that “What we’re seeing is a huge increase in street fighting from the plaza bosses. That’s how they respond when rivals come onto their turf. They don’t lose any sleep over who they shoot. And if there are innocent bystanders, too bad. That’s the way they think.”
State Governor Carlos Joaquin called the series of worrisome clashes “a hard blow to the state’s development and security … putting the state at grave risk.”
With the rise of wars between rival cartels and gangs, homicides in the state increased from 145 in 2015 to 628 in 2020. According to Mexican statistics, that is a 333% increase in a place where 75% of the local economy is based on tourism.