August 31, 2018

The Department of State recently issued a travel advisory for Americans who plan to go to Mexico, increasing the advisory level in several states. However, for Quintana Roo, the Department has maintained its Level 2 advisory, to “exercise increased caution." The latest travel advisory comes on the heels of the discovery of eight bodies - several of them dismembered - throughout Cancún on Aug. 21. This discovery raised the alarms of authorities in Cancún, a major tourist destination for Mexico and the Caribbean. Killings in the Cancún have increased considerably since 2016, although the areas with the heaviest tourist presence have remained mostly unaffected.

Historic Death Toll in 2018

As of the end of July 2018, 308 killings had been reported in 2018 in Cancún, already more than throughout the entirety of 2017, during which 277 people were killed. The increase is even more noteworthy considering that Cancún registered only 21 murders annually as recently as 2014. Although the overall security situation in Mexico has worsened in recent years, the state of Quintana Roo - where Cancún is located - has had one of the largest increases in killings.

Cause of Increased Murder Rate

Authorities in Cancún acknowledge at least seven criminal organizations, several of which are linked to major drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs), operate in the city. The gang Los Pelones is considered one of the most active, committing homicides and extorting private business-owners. Los Pelones is subordinate to the Cártel del Golfo DTO. The Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), which has increased its activity nationwide, also has a large presence in Cancún and in the state of Quintana Roo. A change in the regional government of Quintana Roo in 2016 may have also played a role in the increase in violence, as rival DTOs seek to corrupt and intimidate a new group of incoming politicians and vie for political protection. The arrival of Carlos Joaquín González, of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD), ended the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institutional, PRI), which had led the regional government since Quintana Roo became a state in 1974.

Impact to Tourists

Despite the considerable increase in murders and overall violence in Cancún, most criminal activity occurs in low-income or residential areas, generally away from the major tourist destinations and hotels. Most of the shootings involve members of different criminal organizations, usually battling for areas to control for drug-trafficking. National, regional, and local authorities have launched special operations to reduce the violent trend in Cancún, focusing especially on the area known as “Zona Hotelera.” Recently, 140 Mexican soldiers deployed in the tourist areas, which remain be largely safe.

The security situation in Cancún is unstable and authorities do not seem to be getting it under control. Although special caution is advised when visiting the city, crimes against foreign visitors continue to be rare. Visitors should remain within the hotel and beach areas during their visit and only use private transportation facilitated by the hotels to travel to the airport. Foreigners should also avoid any personal confrontations, especially in bars and restaurants.

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