Cubans now top the list of foreign criminals in the southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo, with the region’s shifting migration landscape having serious impacts on organized crime in the country.
Quintana Roo’s security secretary, Alberto Capello Ibarra, stressed that while most criminal activity in the state was at the hands of major Mexican gangs, foreign groups had been increasingly involved in human trafficking, money laundering and drug dealing.
The tourist hubs of Cancún and Playa del Carmen are home to around 10 foreign criminal groups, especially Cubans, although Romanians and Israelis are present as well, Capello Ibarra stated at a security conference.
“The criminal groups made up of Cubans often single out their own countrymen as targets in frauds, kidnappings, and robberies,” he was quoted as saying by Cubita Now. “The cases of Cubans kidnapping other Cubans to demand ransoms from their relatives in the United States are ever more common.”
This phenomenon is not restricted to Quintana Roo. Several Mexican states have seen a wave of crimes committed by Cubans against their own compatriots in recent months.
In August 2018, 39 Cuban migrants were rescued from a house in Cancún, where they had been held captive by a group of four Cubans and one Mexican. A similar case in January 2019 saw eight Cubans rescued from a Cuban kidnapping gang in Mérida, Yucatán, just north of Quintana Roo.
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The proliferation of Cubans as both perpetrators and victims of organized crime in Quintana Roo directly reflects how changes in US migration policy have left migrants stranded and increasingly vulnerable to gang exploitation.
Cuban migration through Mexico has surged in recent years, following President Obama’s repeal of the so-called “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy in 2017. Under this policy, Cubans had been guaranteed political asylum in the US. Now, they are resorting to clandestine overland routes.
Although most investigations into how migrants are affected by crime in Mexico have focused on Central Americans, recent reports suggest that Cuban migrants are valued targets for gangs, due to the higher likelihood that they will have relatives in the US prepared to make protection payments.
For the unscrupulous or desperate among their compatriots, this can provide an easy route into crime. Capello Ibarra highlighted that a common criminal modality in Quintana Roo is for Cubans to pass information on their fellow nationals to Mexican kidnappers, in exchange for a share of the ransom.
The number of Cuban migrants falling victim to crime in Mexico is only likely to spiral further. In July 2019, Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración – INM) reported a staggering thirty-fold increase in Cuban arrivals compared to the previous year. Cuba’s proximity to the coast of Quintana Roo makes this state a key entry point.
Furthermore, Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy now obliges migrants to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed. This leaves many stuck in migration limbo, in a country racked by criminal violence, where they are vulnerable to both gang predation and cooptation.
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