By Lourdes Cruz
Cancun, Mexico, Feb 3 (EFE).- A wave of violent crime in the Mexican Caribbean has continued unabated at the start of 2022, raising concerns about its impact on the region’s lifeblood tourism industry.
The crime spree has directly affected popular tourism destinations as well as other parts of the southeastern state of Quintana Roo.
In the first few days of February, a man was reportedly killed on a dirt road near Laguna Manati, a natural protected area on the outskirts of the resort city of Cancun, while at least 15 gunshots from an AK-47 were fired at a house in that state and a reporter was nearly gunned down in the town of Isla Mujeres.
In mid-January, a shootout inside a hotel of the prestigious Xcaret chain in Playa del Carmen killed a pair of Canadians suspected of involvement in the drug trade and left another injured.
A week later, Argentine Federico Mazzoni, manager of a trendy hangout for cocktails and international dishes in Playa del Carmen – home to dozens of all-inclusive resorts – was shot and killed.
Months earlier, a shootout in October at a restaurant in Tulum – one of the trendiest resort towns in the Mexican Caribbean – left two foreign tourists dead and three others wounded.
On Thursday, the Mexican government’s deputy public safety secretary, Ricardo Mejia, said in a press conference that several arrests have been made in these cases.
But business groups insist steps such as increased hi-tech surveillance and better coordination among security agencies are needed to ensure the growing crime problem does not affect tourist arrivals.
Lenin Amaro Betancourt, president of the Business Coordinating Council of the Riviera Maya, Mexico’s main tourist corridor, and owner of a hotel in Playa del Carmen, told Efe Thursday that for now tourism promotion efforts and cold winter weather in the United States and Canada have combined to keep the numbers stable.
“But it does affect our image … Our main market today is the United States and measures need to be taken” that get to the root of the problem, Amaro said.
That stance is shared by Andrea Lotito, vice president of the Riviera Maya Hotel Association, who said the uptick in crime is cause for concern among business leaders and local residents even though tourists have not yet been canceling their travel plans.
In recent days, Quintana Roo Gov. Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez announced that personnel from the US’s Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would travel to his state in two weeks to provide public safety and analytical support.
He later clarified, however, that those agents would not be physically present and that intelligence sharing would continue under the terms established in their treaty commitments.
Amaro said the participation of other nations’ security forces is welcome in fighting crime as long as that collaboration occurs within an established bilateral or multilateral framework.
Public safety in the Caribbean region is a matter of pressing economic concern.
In 2019, prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mexico consolidated its status as one of the world’s 10 most visited countries with more than 45 million international tourist arrivals.
The tourism sector accounted for 8.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product that year and was a major source of hard currency earnings. EFE