A number of foreigners have been killed in Mexico’s Caribbean resort town of Tulum, bringing a spotlight on a rapid rise in violence in one of the most sought-after destinations in all of Latin America.
Between January and September 2021, the town registered 65 murders, an 80.5 percent increase over the same period last year when just 36 murders took place, according to statistics from Mexico’s national system of public security.
And the violence has only continued. On October 20, two foreign tourists, a travel blogger from India and a German citizen were shot dead at a restaurant in Tulum, due to a shootout between gangs. Three other tourists were injured.
While these killings only account for a fraction of the total death toll among Mexican citizens, local businesses are highly concerned that the violence is driving away tourism. In October, the German government issued a travel advisory warning about visiting Tulum, although this was later retracted.
In 2020, a record number of American tourists visited the Riviera Maya, a long strip of resort towns which includes Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, allegedly to escape COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to the Washington Post.
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Tulum may have become a victim of its own success, with criminal groups being attracted to the drug trafficking and extortion possibilities offered by this tourist hotspot.
The local hotel association says it knows who to blame. According to David Ortiz Mena, president of the Tulum Hotels Association, large raves and dance parties have led to an increase in demand for drugs, which attracted organized crime.
Speaking to the newspaper El Heraldo, Ortiz Mena explained that while the world shut down during the pandemic, Tulum became known for continuing to hold raves and music festivals. This was accompanied by a rise in demand for drugs, he said.
Extortion attempts on hotels, restaurants and visitors have also increased. “Hotel owners are alarmed because their clients, tourists, are being threatened by the bad guys. And when they demand attention from authorities, they don’t get a response,” Juan Noriega Granados, another member of the Tulum Hotels Association, told the press.
The situation has grown so dire that security forces have had to be sent in. 450 federal troops were sent to Tulum in late October, following the murder of the two tourists.
While a number of criminal groups, including national-level threats such as the Zetas Vieja Escuela and local gangs such as the Bonfil, have long operated in Tulum, the arrival of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) has been blamed for an escalation in violence.
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