Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Caribbean jewel of Tulum deals with rapid rise in violence

A number of foreigners have been killed in the Caribbean resort town of Tulum, shining 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% increase over the same period last year when just 36 murders took place, according to statistics from the National Security System.

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, caught in the crossfire of a shootout between gangs. Three other tourists were injured.

This year has also seen attacks claim the lives of nationals from Spain, Uruguay and Belize.

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.

La Malquerida Tulum
The killing of two foreign tourists in a shootout is just the latest example of Tulum’s rise in violence. FGE Quintana Roo

In 2020, a record number of American tourists visited the Riviera Maya, a long strip of resort towns that includes Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, allegedly to escape COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to the Washington Post.

InSight Crime analysis

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 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.

party in Tulum
Tulum has become known internationally as a party destination. This photo of a dance party was taken in December 2019. Facebook

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, among other security strategies, following the murder of the two tourists.

While a number of criminal groups, including national-level threats such as the Zetas Vieja Escuela cartel and local gangs such as the Bonfil, have long operated in Tulum, the arrival of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation has been blamed for an escalation in violence.

Reprinted from InSight Crime, a foundation dedicated to the study of organized crime.

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