Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The "real" Cancun

Last night, several molotov cocktails were pitched into a strip club in the heart of Puerto Juarez, killing six women and two men at last count. The local and national press have suggested that those to blame belong to Las Zetas, the very same narcogang presumably behind the terrible massacre recently discovered in Tamaulipas. There may also be some link to the capture, two days ago, of a capo, Edgar Valdez Villareal, aka La Barbie, whose activities extended to Quintana Roo. The story has apparently been picked up by the media in the U.S. and Europe, provoking further concern among those in the tourism industry here in Mexico lindo.
A couple of clarifications are merited here. First, this did not occur in what gringos think of as Cancun. Rather, it occurred in a part of the city that virtually no gringos ever venture into, although some think they have (they have typically ventured as far as the city center, Cancun viejo, if you can call anything built after 1970 old in a country full of colonial architecture. The city center is still very tame but a tad decrepit and third worldish looking in comparison to the hotel zone but nonetheless sends many Americans into a kind of panic). Puerto Juarez, where this incident occurred, is another world altogether. This part of the city started as a shantytown in the 1970s in the shadow of the planned city created by economists from the Banco de Mexico. It is now very much part of the city proper but still the hood in terms of criminal activity, which is very unfortunate for the many honest and hard-working Mexicans who live there. Second, while this is a particularly grisly incident, especially because it involved women working in the bar who had in all likelihood been victimized quite enough, narcocrimes are not new to Cancun or the Yucatan peninsula in general. Drugs have been moving through the peninsula in large quantities (think tons) since the 1970s, when drug busts by mostly local police occurred every couple of months at least, and the laundering of money is clearly one of the major factors driving the Riviera Maya's rapid development in the past couple of decades. As a consequence, the narcochavitos have been killing each other and the occasional police officer for years, with bodies found quite regularly in the ditches and sidestreets of Puerto Juarez and Solidaridad, the equivalent of Puerto Juarez for Playa del Carmen, in similar neighborhoods in Merida on the Yucatan side of the peninsula, and even occasionally in Chetumal, Quintana Roo's sleepy capital, which sits right on the border of Belize. Quintana Roo's murder rate is still very, very low compared to most states in the federation. Is it only a matter of time before such incidents occur in the hotel zone or on Playa del Carmen's strip of restaurants and nightclubs? That's anyone's guess. Until now, a level of civility has prevailed with regard to the tourist economy, perhaps because the narcotraffickers recognize that the industry provides a convenient shelter for them, in terms of covering up both the transport of their products and for washing their profits in region's many hotels and restaurants and commercial plazas, etc.

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