Violence in Mexico: Drug Trafficking Jeopardizes Tourism
A score of the most touristy Mexican beaches suffer the violence of drug trafficking, which begins to cause falls in the arrival of tourists.
In the sand where The Beatles, Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley once walked, today several military men are patrolling among the bathers, rifle in hand, dressed in boots and bulletproof vests under a sultry sun. Acapulco went from a tourist paradise to a hell of violence years ago. The once favorite destination for celebrities has become a narco-trafficking oasis. This South Pacific city has remained among the four most dangerous cities in the world since 2011: a homicide rate of 110.5 per 100,000 inhabitants last year, when it ranked second only behind Tijuana.
Twenty of the most touristic beaches throughout Mexico suffer the same ballast in recent years. In Cancun, there has been a 15-fold increase in the number of murders in the last four years and it is already one of the 50 most violent cities on the planet. Playa del Carmen follows in its footsteps and in general the entire Riviera Maya, in the state of Quintana Roo, where homicides doubled last year.
Increased crime in tourist areas
"Quintana Roo occupies a strategic geographical situation, because speedboats arrive that throw drugs into the sea from Panama and Honduras, and at the same time consumption has expanded," journalist Héctor Valdez told DW. He had to leave his home in Tulum to travel to the Mexican capital after several attempts to attack his alleged collusion of politicians and authorities with organized crime.
"Before, elitist tourism came, reduced, but lately there is more massive tourism and more prone to drug consumption," says the displaced reporter, citing as an example the spring breakers, young Americans who celebrate the end of high school with a trip to the Mexican coast.
In addition, the tourist areas are especially attractive for organized crime "because they are very dynamic centers, with notable flows of foreign currency that do not even force the money to be laundered," Unam professor Javier Oliva told DW, adding that "as happens throughout the territory, the fragmentation of criminal groups after the beheading of some of their leaders, such as Chapo Guzmán, led to an upsurge in the dispute over the squares for drug trafficking. In Acapulco, up to 16 gangs are fighting over this control, which triggers rates of violence.
Tourism begins to suffer
This insecurity has begun to resent a tourism sector that represents 8.9% of the country's GDP and generates nine million formal jobs. In Cancun, hotel occupancy fell by 3.1% in June this year compared to the previous year, according to data from the Association of Hotels of Cancun, and hotel rates fell between 15 and 25% this summer to avoid a greater fall. The arrival of U.S. visitors to Mexico fell by 6.8% in April 2018 compared to the same month last year, according to official data. The worst fall in seven years and a trend that would have been maintained in recent months in light of the steady rise in violence figures.
To this impact on the number of tourists is added the diversification of crime. "The very inertia of criminal activity leads to drug trafficking and then extortion," says the security expert. Organized crime's so-called floor charges to small shops and restaurants have become recurrent in tourist destinations. That floor charge can range from 20,000 to 70,000 pesos a month (about 1,000 to 3,500 dollars), says Valdez.
Lack of concrete response from the government
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in April that "the fact that workers in the sector live well, that there are no marginalized colonies, that investments are made to ensure well-being and that there is security to achieve peace and tranquility, is tourism promotion," given the demand of hotel organizations to invest 125 million dollars annually in the sector. Since then the government has earmarked 600 million pesos in some marginal areas of tourist areas, such as Acapulco or Playa del Carmen.
However, "there is no concrete security plan for tourist areas other than the deployment of the National Guard at the national level," says Oliva, who stresses the need for "greater coordination with state and municipal governments, most of which have not yet shown a strong political will".
This deployment also occurs insufficiently and late, according to several analysts consulted. In Tulum, a coastal municipality of Quintana Roo of some 30,000 inhabitants, just 60 troops arrived last month, when violence has been on the rise for a year, according to journalist Valdez about his hometown.
Faced with this fragile government response, as has happened in several parts of Mexico, "in Tulum, groups of neighbors formed surveillance squads armed with sticks," explains Valdez. The initiative barely lasted three or four months, but many excesses were committed, because, in the end, we don't fight drug trafficking, but rather the thieves against those who are harassed".