A popular tourist destination has now become the prime location for several murders by drug trafficking gangs as tensions increase between Mexico and the U.S.
According to Newsweek, gangs throughout Cancun, Mexico have stepped up their violent actions as the U.S. attempts to regain control of the opioid epidemic.
There were 14 murders in just 36 hours — Mexico’s highest in their recorded history — at the foreign country’s most popular tourist destination. The violence happened at the beginning of April and left at least five others with gunshot wounds.
By April 11, the corpse of a middle-aged woman had been found in the city, with evidence that she had been beaten and a rope was placed around her neck with a note that said, “go to hell.”
Notes such as the one found with the victim are called “narco mantas” and are letters left with the body by cartel gangs.
Although more than 100 people have been murdered in the popular party city since 2018 began, the U.S. Department of State has not advised against travel to the destination due to the homicides appearing to be “targeted, criminal organization assassinations.”
However, the state department did impose a “do not travel” advisory for such locations as Sinaloa, Colima and Guerrero, and even temporarily closed the U.S. consulate in Cancun on Feb. 21, after the explosion of a tourist ferry, left 24 injured — including five Americans.
Explosives had also been found on a separate ferry owned by the same company, prompting safeguards such as bomb-sniffing dogs and heavily armed security to patrol the area for some time after.
As USA Today reported, crime is only getting worse as cartels have switched to producing heroin in response to the U.S. opioid crisis.
And in a city that hosts nearly 4.8 million visitors per year, many of the crimes have gone unsolved.
Though experts such as National Citizen Observatory director Francisco Rivas admit that the violence in vacation cities such as Los Caboc and Cancun are similar to the rest of the country, it is particularly troubling as these murders threaten Mexico’s tourism industry.
“The common thread in Los Cabos and Quintana Roo is the public security system had been totally dismantled,” said Rivas, whose company monitors security issues in Mexico. “There were prosecutor’s offices that didn’t investigate and police that couldn’t prevent or react to crime.”
Rivas cited incidents such as outlying vacation hotspots like Quintana Roo serving adulterated liquor to tourists to police targeting visitors for bribes.
In 2017, Mexico was recorded as having the most murders (29,158) with the homicide rate already 21 percent over what it had been within the first two months of the year.
Analysts such as Rivas have warned that the rising crime throughout Mexico may only get worse as drug cartels increase their violence due to the opioid crisis, which has prompted cartels to move from growing marijuana to producing heroin.
The spike in violence, according to USA Today, can be accounted for Mexico’s cartels fighting for control over opium-producing poppy territories for their production of heroin.
Leticia Rodriguez Lara, known as “Dona Lety,” is alleged to be just one leader of a particular gang that dominates the tourist city and who is facing trial — along with her son — on charges of drug trafficking as well as managing a network linked to a large Sinaloa cartel headed by El Chapo.
Lara is said to have been a former police officer and is known as the leader of a gang that controls the sale of drugs in both Playa del Carmen and Cancun.
And though the murders throughout the region have only continued, many locals such as Danial Villaseñorar Pérez are hopeful that the U.S. travel advisory already set in certain regions may help bring awareness to the crisis spreading throughout Mexico.
“This is something that will open our government’s eyes,” said Pérez, who lives in Cancun as a lawyer and community activist. “The threat here is real.”
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