The shooting at a bar in Playa del Carmen early Monday brought to the forefront an issue that many have known about and feared for some time: drug trafficking and extortion are a part of the landscape.
“There’s a lot of drugs, everywhere. They are blatantly sold in any bar; if you go to the restrooms you’re offered coke, pot, ecstasy,” one local resident told the news agency EFE.
That period of time has been enough for Alberto to become aware of a notable increase in drug sales during events such as the BPM Festival, which concluded Monday morning with five fatalities and 15 people wounded.
Authorities are following three lines of investigation: a personal dispute between two individuals, a fight over drug-dealing territory and extortion. Among residents of Playa del Carmen there’s a strong notion that the dispute was over drug sales.
Not only are drugs accessible at bars and nightclubs, but on the streets, too, say residents. Some say taxi drivers and police are involved as well.
Extortion of business owners by organized crime is also seen as a likely cause for the violence, although few dare speak aloud about it.
“I am a businessman, but I wouldn’t open a business here,” said a local resident who owns businesses in Jalisco. “You have to pay derecho de piso [a tariff charged by criminals that gives businesses the freedom to operate]. That’s the only way you can work. They threaten you and if you don’t pay, they kill you.”
Street vendors are also victims.
One told EFE that “some men” that do not belong to the municipal government show up once a week demanding a set amount of cash.
“If you can’t pay them, they tell you to pick your stuff up and leave,” she said.
That may be the word among the people of the resort town, but state and municipal authorities don’t necessarily agree.
Quintana Roo Governor Carlos Joaquín has said that Monday’s shooting was a “conflict between two parties,” while the mayor of the municipality of Solidaridad, where Playa del Carmen is located, has only addressed the issue tangentially.
Cristina Torres, who took office last October, acknowledged that the service industry has complained about a steady increase in small-scale drug trafficking and extortion but said they were issues that her administration inherited.
“The municipality was in crisis in all respects and security was not the exception. It is a problem we’re seeing the consequences of. We want to regain the trust [of the people] but it is no easy task,” she said.
Part of the crisis, according to the mayor, is related to the shape in which her administration found the municipal police, particularly that deployed in tourist areas such as Playa del Carmen.
Torres asserted that since there have been no legal complaints there is no evidence of the police being in collusion with drug traffickers that operate in the local bars.
In this regard, her administration has started by appointing new police chiefs and investing in training and equipment.
Torres has also initiated control and trustworthiness tests on its police officers, the first time they have been conducted in the municipality.