For restaurateurs in Mexico's coastal state of Quintana Roo, daily extortion fees are unavoidable. Competing cartels lean on the industry as a bedrock for exploitative financing.
In a March 23 interview, the president of the local restaurant association estimated that some 60 percent of member restaurants contend with extortion on a daily basis.
Marcy Bezaleel Pacheco Mendoza told local media that organized crime extorts constantly from the restaurant industry, emphasizing that "scaring businessmen and restaurateurs is their modus operandi for making profit."
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Bezaleel also related that extortionists use networks of "halcones" or lookouts to surveil a particular restaurant and send in extortionists, further cultivating a sense of fear in the area.
One local business owner in the southeastern state told El País that he is forced to pay a monthly fee of roughly $1200 USD to extortionists per business.
The latest complaints from business owners in Quintana Roo fit with a larger reality persisting throughout the tourism and restaurant sector in Mexico's popular tourist hub, the Riviera Maya.
Extortion is a fact of life or all manner of businesses there. Lacking a single dominant cartel, Quintana Roo in particular has long been looked at as a coveted center for criminal groups looking to leech off of the juggernaut tourism industry.
A 2021 report by the think tank México Evalúa explained how these targeted range from owners of upscale restaurants to costumed entertainers on the street. The report cited cases where individuals were shaken down for payments from multiple cartels.
Additionally, common criminals are also known to pose as members of larger criminal organizations, allowing for copycat extorsion as well. In either case the extortion fee or "cobro de piso" is collected under the threat of violence.
Those threats are routinely backed up with murders all over Quintana Roo. Mexican nationals and foreigners alike are being killed, raising alarm bells that the area's status as Mexico's premier tourist destination could eventually be ruined.
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In response to extortion and rising insecurity in the Riviera Maya, the Mexican government formed the "Tourist Security Battalion" in December 2021.
The force is comprised of nearly 1,500 members of the National Guard and tasked with patrolling and delivering security to the area. The state police also received a serious boost in their surveillance capabilities last year, with the inauguration of a high-tech monitoring center in Cancún.
Thus far, an influx of technology and the increased presence of heavily armed troops has not managed to bring down homicides. Thirty-three killings were recorded in the first month of 2022, just a tick under last year's most violent month in Quintana Roo.
Meanwhile, successes in curbing extortion are difficult to measure as law enforcement officials admit that the vast majority of cases are not reported for fear of reprisals.