02/14/22 (written by jcarrillo) – Violence on the Mayan Riviera continues as two Canadian tourists were murdered in mid-January and another left hospitalized. The tourist hotspot has been experiencing an increased level of gang-related violence throughout the past several months. With violence in the Mayan Riviera occurring almost every month since September, it continues into the month of January with three people killed allegedly due to drug-trafficking.
The Mexican state, Quintana Roo, continues to experience violence amongst its tourist hotspots. More recently, two Canadian tourists, identified as Robert Dinh and Thomas Cherukara, were killed at the Hotel Xcaret in the city of Playa del Carmen on January 21st. A woman, who was identified as one of their partners, was wounded as well in the crossfire of the altercation. The authorities have shared the arrest of two people, who were identified as Christian ‘R’ and Nhu ‘T’. According to Reuters, Christian ‘R’ was a Mexican hitman who was hired to kill the victims. Further, Nhu ‘T’ was linked to the crime when video surveillance surfaced showing her talking with the prime suspect just prior to the murders. These assailants were believed to have followed the victims for several days throughout their stay at the hotel. There were ten tourists comprising the two victims along with three children and five women. They were believed to be on vacation as they arrived at the Hotel Xcaret in Playa del Carmen on January 15th and were set to leave January 22nd.
Crime brought by international criminal groups
While the investigation is still ongoing, the Attorney General of Quintana Roo, Óscar Montes de Oca, shared with Grupo Fórmula the reasoning behind the murder of Dinh and Cherukara was likely related to debt incurring from criminal activities. The governor of Quintana Roo, Carlos Joaquín, reported these crimes were committed in Canada and are not related to the state as the mentioned debts are associated with international criminal groups. One of the victims, Robert Dinh, was identified as a member of an organized crime group that operates within Canada and the United States. Dinh bared a long history of crime in Canada such as drug trafficking and money laundering (Milenio). Keith Finn, with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, disclosed that the criminal organization was responsible for “transporting drugs to southern parts of the United States and north to Canada while having affiliates in California, Mexico, Australia, Vietnam, and throughout Canada” (Milenio) . Five days after the incident at Hotel Xcaret, the bar manager from Mamita’s Beach Club, located about fifteen minutes from the hotel, was found dead in the bathroom. Although Montes confirmed that both incidents were related to drug trafficking, Joaquín assured that the killing at Mamita’s Beach Club was not linked to the crime at the Hotel Xcaret.
Following the assassination of these two Canadian tourists, Montes announced they have remained in contact with Mexican Interpol (Interpol Mexicana), diplomatic authorities in Canada, and the federal Secretariat of Public Security and Citizen Protection (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana) in order to rectify the concern at hand in the tourist sector. According to La Jornada, Montes stated there needs to be stronger security methods so they are able to “work in a coordinated manner to solve this unfortunate fact in the tourist pole”.
Trends and effects of homicide rates in Quintana Roo
Quintana Roo is considered the “jewel crown of the Mexican tourist sector” (El País) as it sees more than 12 million visitors per year and nearly half of those coming from the United States. In September, a security guard and taxi driver were killed in a shooting and in August, another man was killed after being shot in the back of the head in Tulum. As crime continues to rise in the tourist state, with two suspected drug dealers left dead at the beach in Puerto Morelos in November and two tourists in Tulum killed in the crossfire of rival drug dealers in October, the United States has issued new travel alerts for the area. The United States Consulate in Mérida has warned United States citizens of travel to Quintana Roo and recommends traveling with extreme caution given recent events. Gustavo Flores-Macías, Associate Vice Provost for International Affairs at Cornell University, believes it is still “generally safe” to travel to Mexico despite these new travel alerts issued.
The Secretary General of National Public Security from Mexico shared data that shows Quintana Roo having higher homicide rates compared to surrounding Mexican states. In December 2021, the homicide rate in Quintana Roo was 28.1 per 100,000, however, it was still down 59% since its peak in July 2018. According to El País, politicians have noted Quintana Roo’s homicide rate is lower than the national average as well. Despite having a downward trend in homicide rates, higher rates of organized crime still continue within the state. Some responses to crime in Quintana Roo have been the Quintana Roo police establishing a surveillance center in Cancún a few months ago. Late last year, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent 1,500 soldiers to Cancún in response to violence in the tourist area. Due to the recent incidents at Hotel Xcaret and Mamita’s Beach Club, these soldiers are now patrolling the beaches of Playa del Carmen.
“2 Canadians killed, 1 wounded in Mexico resort shooting.” The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 21, 2022
“Dos muertos y un lesionado tras tiroteo ocurrido en un hotel de Xcaret: fiscal de Quintana Roo.” Grupo Fórmula. January 21, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HozHxdNrhA
“Hombre que murió durante balacera en hotel Xcaret era buscado por lavado de dinero en Canadá.” Milenio, January 22, 2022
“Playa del Carmen: dos turistas canadienses mueren en una balacera en un hotel.” BBC Mundo, January 22, 2022
Vázquez, Patricia. “Tres involucrados más en ataque armado en el Hotel Xcaret de Playa del Carmen.” La Jornada, January 24, 2022
“Security Alert- US Consulate General Merida.” U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Mexico. January 25, 2022
Hilarie, Valentine. “Debt dispute probably sparked killing of two Canadians in Mexico.” Reuters, January 25, 2022
Chen, Eve. Schulz, Bailey. “US travelers urged to ‘avoid travel to Mexico’ and ‘exercise increased caution’ in hot spots.” USA Today. February 1, 2022
Pérez, David. “Shootouts and murdered tourists: Why the FBI set its sights on the Mexican paradise of Quintana Roo.” El País. February 1, 2022
Pérez, David. “Extortion and murder in the Riviera Maya: The dark side of Mexico’s tourist paradise.” El País. February 8, 2022