Criminal groups from at least eight foreign countries including China, Russia and Colombia operate in Quintana Roo, according to a report by the newspaper Milenio.
Citing information from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Interpol and Mexican authorities, Milenio said the Caribbean coast state – home to popular tourist destinations such as Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum – has become crucial territory for Mexican and international criminal organizations.
The presence of criminal groups from Israel, Romania, Russia, China, Italy, Guatemala, Colombia and Venezuela has been documented in Quintana Roo, the newspaper said.
Among the Russian groups are the Saint Petersburg-based Tambov Gang and the Moscow-based Solntsevskaya gang. A Romanian mafia led by a man known as “The Shark” allegedly skimmed bank cards in Quintana Roo and other states as part of a scheme that facilitated the theft of millions of dollars.
Mexico’s most powerful cartels, including the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf Cartel, as well as smaller local gangs, also operate in the state, which for decades has been used as an intermediate destination for cocaine headed to the United States from South America.
A lucrative local drug market has also attracted criminal groups and triggered turf wars over that trade as well as extortion and human trafficking rackets.
“Local intelligence reports speak of close to 100 million pesos [US $4.8 million] of drug sales per month in the tourist zone of Cancún alone,” a federal government source told the newspaper Reforma.
“There is another area, la Quinta Avenida [in Playa del Carmen], that is also very lucrative. Some beaches are also highly attractive [for drug sales] and important and very dangerous [criminal] networks have been created [to serve them],” the source said.
There has been a recent spate of armed attacks in Quintana Roo, including one that claimed the lives of two foreign tourists in Tulum last October. Two Canadians – both of whom had long criminal histories – were shot and killed in a hotel between Playa del Carmen and Tulum earlier this month.
Such violence is largely perpetrated by Mexican cartels and gangs, while members of foreign criminal groups are typically less ostentatious, a strategy that helps them stay under the radar.
In addition to the drug trade, foreign criminals that operate in the state are involved in crimes such as money laundering, arms trafficking, child pornography, extortion, currency forgery, bank card cloning and kidnapping, according to reports by Milenio and Reforma.
The latter newspaper said the state has become a magnet for members of international criminal organizations as well as foreigners fleeing justice in their countries of origin.
“The appeal for fugitives,” Reforma said, “is that they can go unnoticed by traveling like tourists, enjoying the natural paradise of the Riviera Maya while making connections or closing deals with other groups of criminals.”
That appeared to be the intent of Canadians Robert James Dinh and Thomas Cherukara, who were murdered at the Xcaret Hotel on January 21.
They allegedly had links to the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. According to the Canadian Embassy in Mexico, at least 30 members of that organization have traveled to Cancún since October.
“Some of them were denied entry to the country but others managed to enter,” Reforma said.
According to a report by the Toronto Star, which cited a former member of a Canadian gang known as the United Nations, “Canadian Hells Angels bikers owned a luxury condo by Playa del Carmen that was open to all members.”
“It’s kind of like a clubhouse” inside a gated community protected by an armed guard, the former gang member told the Star.
“It was described … as their international clubhouse. It’s for business and pleasure. I met cartel guys at that actual house,” he said.
President López Obrador claimed last week that the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had participated in an investigation into the murders at the Xcaret Hotel and indicated that his government would seek a report about its involvement from Ambassador Ken Salazar.
“… We’re not opposed to coordinated work against crime, but we can’t allow our sovereignty to be violated,” he said.
But Quintana Roo Governor Carlos Joaquín rejected the president’s assertion, telling Milenio Televisión it appeared that López Obrador had received “incorrect information” about the supposed presence of FBI agents in Quintana Roo. Rather, personnel from the FBI, the DEA and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will travel to the state in February to exchange information with local authorities, he said.
The foreign agencies won’t be carrying out any operations in the state, Joaquín said. But they will help Mexican authorities identify international criminal organizations operating there and look at ways to avoid incidents such as the murder of the two Canadian citizens.
The governor claimed in a separate interview that the perpetrator of the attack on the Canadians had returned to Mexico City. He was hired in the capital to undertake the murders, Joaquín said.
Two people have been arrested in connection with the attack, including a Canadian, but the man who allegedly perpetrated the killings – identified as Oscar Alanís – remains at large.