'Unsafe For Travel': Americans Warned Not To Vacation In Mexico Due To Violence Spike

Written By BlabberBuzz | Tuesday, 23 November 2021 16:45
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Two tourists were shot dead and three others were wounded at a roadside diner in the bohemian Mexican vacation town of Tulum the morning after the hand-printed signs emerged in the Tulum marketplace in crisp block letters.

The notice read, "Attention Tulum merchants... this was a warning," and went on to threaten "managers and owners" of pubs and restaurants in the "Mini Quinta" tourist zone. Last month, tourists visiting the Malquerida Bar had the misfortune of being caught in the crossfire of cartels.

A local citizens' advocacy group shot the signs and shared them on social media. Los Pelones — "the bald ones" — signed the message, which threatened merchants that refused to pay bribes to drug trafficking organizations. The gang has been a longtime enforcer of the Gulf Cartel, whose battle with archrivals the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel has recently resulted in shocking gangland-style violence along the Riviera Maya, a sun-drenched stretch of beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula that is Mexico's most popular tourist destination.

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The situation has deteriorated to the point where Mexico's President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has announced the formation of a "tourist battalion" to safeguard tourists, consisting of 1,500 National Guard soldiers equipped with automatic rifles. The soldiers will be stationed in Cancun and the surrounding areas, including Tulum, where ten criminal groups are vying for control of the picturesque tourist resort, according to Mexican law authorities.

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In the Tulum incident on Oct. 21, US travel blogger Anjali Ryot, 25, and German tourist Jennifer Henzold, 35, were killed. Two weeks later, scores of visitors were forced to flee a beach in the village of Puerto Morelos, south of Cancun, when 15 gang members wearing ski masks went on a daylight shooting rampage, killing two suspected drug smugglers.

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“What we’re seeing is a huge increase in street fighting from the plaza bosses,” The Post spoke with Texas-based security consultant Robert Almonte, an expert on Mexican cartels. “That’s how they respond when rivals come onto their turf. They don’t lose any sleep over who they shoot. And if there are innocent bystanders, too bad. That’s the way they think.”

According to Oscar Montes de Oca, the lead prosecutor in the state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun, Puerto Morelos, and Tulum are located, there are two other gangs in Cancun fighting for dominance of the Riviera Maya, in addition to the ten outfits fighting for control of drug sales in the "plazas" or drug marketplaces of Tulum.

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The latest beach commando raid, according to state governor Carlos Joaquin, was "a significant blow to the state's development and security... putting the state at grave risk." According to Mexican statistics, homicides in the state increased by 333 percent from 145 in 2015 to 628 in 2020, a 333 percent increase in an area where tourism accounts for 75 percent of the local economy.

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“Mexico is not doing anything to fix the problem,” Almonte told The Post. “My concern is that, as a tourist, you are not going to be the target, but you might be sitting at a table next to a target, and suddenly that vacation becomes your last.”

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel was created in 2009 by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes ("El Mencho"), who is one of the world's most-wanted drug traffickers following the arrest of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in 2014. El Mencho's capture has a $10 million reward stated by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Jalisco is one of the leading manufacturers of fentanyl and methamphetamine imported into the United States. It's also become one of Mexico's most dreaded drug cartels.

Last year, cartel members attempted to assassinate Omar Garcia Harfuch, the chief of police of Mexico City, in an incident that left three people dead, including two of his bodyguards. They used a rocket-propelled grenade to shoot down a military helicopter in 2015.

Rubén Oseguera González, also known as El Menchito, was caught on drug-trafficking allegations in 2015 and extradited to the United States last year, where he awaits trial.

According to Almonte, the gang was dealt a serious setback this week when Mexico's military captured Cervantes' wife, Rosalinda González Valencia.

According to Almonte, the lady known as "La Jefa" — the chief — was Jalisco's major accountant and a member of the Los Cuinis clique. Gonzalez Valencia, who was arrested in a posh Guadalajara suburb on Monday, is accused of laundering money for the cartel.

“Who knows what kind of information she will give to authorities,” Almonte told The Post.

While it's uncertain whether the high-profile arrest will lead to the Jalisco Cartel's demise, the Gulf Cartel's head, Ariel ("El Tigre") Trevino Pena, was killed by the Mexican army in a gunfight in Matamoros in October. According to security analysts, the Gulf Cartel, one of Mexico's oldest criminal organizations, is engaged in infighting.

The Gulf Cartel, founded in Matamoros in the 1930s by Juan Nepomuceno Guerra Cárdenas, was the first to sneak alcohol across the border during Prohibition. Gambling, prostitution, and thievery were later added to the business. According to Mexican and US police, the Gulf focused on cocaine and marijuana trafficking in the 1980s, followed by fentanyl and other synthetic drugs, as well as racketeering and human trafficking near the border.

The Gulf Cartel also has cells in various Texas border communities and has formed alliances with Italian mobsters.

There's also the Sinaloa Cartel. With El Chapo serving a life term in a Colorado maximum-security prison, the organization is now led by Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia, 73.

Zambada Garcia, who had his own criminal enterprise before joining the Sinaloa Cartel with El Chapo, is said to be in poor condition and hiding. The State Department increased the prize for information leading to his arrest from $5 million to $15 million in September.

The State Department issued a $5 million reward earlier this month for information leading to the arrest of four Sinaloa drug traffickers, including Aureliano Guzman Loera, who is known as "El Guano" and is El Chapo's older brother.

Things have been a little tumultuous in the organization, which smuggles a wide range of products, including opiates since longtime kingpin El Chapo died. They are fighting for dominance among themselves in addition to attacking their enemies in the Jalisco and Gulf cartels, according to Almonte.

“Right now you have factions fighting for leadership within the Sinaloa Cartel to control the sale of opioids, and you have the larger cartels all fighting each other,” he told The Post. “It’s a mess.”

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