The United States government has started tracking reports of blackouts and injuries related to potentially tainted alcohol in Mexico, which several tourists allege they have been served at resorts in the Riviera Maya.
As of yesterday, the Department of State said that it had already received a dozen complaints.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported claims from tourists that they were drugged or served tainted alcohol in July and has since published a series of reports investigating the allegations.
In total, it has identified more than 120 cases of tourists who reported blacking out, being robbed, becoming ill or getting injured after allegedly being served adulterated liquor or being drugged. The incidents range from several years ago up to recent weeks.
However, when the Journal Sentinel asked the Department of State in July about the frequency of tourist injuries in Mexico, an official said that the agency kept no such data although it did subsequently make a slight modification to its Mexico travel information by warning visitors about tainted or substandard alcohol.
Both Republican and Democrat lawmakers have criticized the department for downplaying the seriousness of the risk to tourists and not doing enough for those who have experienced problems while holidaying in Mexico.
But in a statement released yesterday, Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert rejected those claims, pointing specifically to the travel advisory update.
“We are concerned about reported incidents that the consumption of substandard or unregulated alcohol in some tourist areas in Mexico has resulted in illness or blacking out,” the statement read.
“Any U.S. citizen who falls ill should seek immediate medical attention. We also encourage U.S. citizens to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in Mexico.”
A spokesman for the department said that the complaints it receives will be used to “press the government of Mexico and Mexican state authorities to make the protection of U.S. tourists a priority.”
As tourism is one of Mexico’s largest income earners and the U.S. its biggest source of visitors, there is no lack of motivation for Mexican authorities to ensure that the issue doesn’t lead to a drop in visitor numbers.
Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid has spearheaded a public relations campaign in the U.S. in recent weeks, denying that tourists are being serving alcohol.
“There is no evidence about tainted alcohol,” de la Madrid said in a television interview with CNBC.
However, the seriousness of the allegations is underscored by the death of a 20-year-old Wisconsin woman in January just hours into a vacation in Playa del Carmen after she had been drinking at a swim-up bar.
Presumably talking about the case, de la Madrid said that tainted alcohol was not to blame.
“I know the story, I know the case . . . we found out that it is not related to tainted alcohol, it has to do with excessive alcohol,” he said.
While the Department of State would not disclose any details about the complaints it has received, several other victims have come forward with stories about negative experiences in Mexican resorts.
A Canadian woman who recently stayed at an all-inclusive resort in the Riviera Maya contacted Mexico News Daily with allegations that her boyfriend was drugged and robbed.
The woman said that after drinking together — with bartenders serving drinks double or triple their normal strength — the couple went back to their room before her partner left again for “one more drink.”
However, he “didn’t return for hours and “when he finally came back it was in a wheelchair naked, wrapped in a sheet totally unconscious,” she said via email.
“The men . . . from the resort brought him in, dropped him on the bed and refused to find him a doctor or to tell me where they found him, who he was with or what had happened him,” she added.
The woman said that when he finally regained consciousness, “his pupils were huge” and he “was still high on the drugs they had slipped him.” His cash, credit cards, shoes and even underwear were stolen, she said.
Eventually, the woman said that they were forced to leave the resort amid threats from hotel staff, adding that they received no assistance from the travel agency they booked the vacation with.
The Journal Sentinel has reported similar stories while others wrote about their experiences in online forums including that of travel website TripAdvisor. However, some posts warning about rapes at Mexican resorts were removed by the site, according to tourists who submitted them.
A 2017 report by the Mexican government revealed that up to 36% of the alcohol consumed in Mexico is illicit, meaning that it is untaxed and unregulated.
But while the tourism secretary conceded that thousands of bottles of unregulated liquor have been confiscated by authorities, he stressed that it did not pose any danger to those who may have consumed it.
“It is not tainted, it is not tainted,” de la Madrid repeated.