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FLASH ALERT: INCREASED DRUG GANG VIOLENCE AROUND RESORTS AND TOURIST AREAS IN MEXICO

Updated: Nov 15

Team: Dyuti Pandya, Beatrice Fratini, Nicholas Fegreus, NORTHCOM Team; Marina Tovar, Counterintelligence and Cyber (CICYBER) Team

Demetrios Giannakaris, Morgan Kennedy, Editors; Cassandra Townsend, Senior Editor

Week of: Monday, November 1, 2021


Puerto Morales location[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for a potential threat to the state of Quintana Roo and major tourist areas around the Caribbean coastline of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. This comes after a gunfight between two drug-dealing groups operating at the street level attacked the Hyatt Ziva hotel in Puerto Morelos. Vigilance and strict monitoring of the areas should be maintained as violence related to drugs and political motives are rising rapidly in the area.


CTG is on HIGH alert for any potential attacks in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, given that it is a major tourist destination that is now growing into a hotspot of drug cartel violence. Tourists will likely continue to be injured or killed as ongoing cartel territorial fights over drug routes occur. Visitors should remain vigilant in crowded areas, especially during the weekends when tourist locations are the most populated and emergency response is likely to be delayed.


On November 4, 2021, at least 15 armed assailants alleged to be part of a drug gang entered the beach at the Hyatt Ziva in Puerto Morelos, south of Cancun, and opened fire on two suspected drug dealers from a rival gang who were claiming the area as their territory.[2] Specific targets are not yet identified for the attacks, but the most recent shooting follows a recent spike in instances of violence often occurring due to conflict between the regional drug cartels.[3] The arrival of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel in areas of Cancún and Tulum likely indicate the potential for escalations of violence in Quintana Roo. The drug cartels’ in Mexico hold a strong control over officials across the region.[4] This very likely reduces the presence of investigatory resources and reduces the likelihood of the implementation of stronger laws for reducing drug violence.


The CJNG and its rivals are likely exploiting recent security gaps in certain areas caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to gain control over the drug trade in the region. These unpatrolled areas likely contain undetected channels used by drug smugglers to evade detection which has likely resulted in an abundance of drugs being sold by the local groups and street gangs throughout areas, contributing to the increase in violence. The heightened competition for control over the drug route has almost certainly contributed to the increased use of violence as means for CJNG’s expansion. In areas where drug markets are deeply fragmented and competitive, violence is likely to arise as means to reach an organization's end or to act as a barrier for new groups entering the market. The fracturing of larger cartels and establishment of small-scale groups have also likely contributed to the increased violence. Security weakness and institutional vulnerabilities in the region likely facilitates the struggle for powers and increase in distribution of the drugs.


The decade-long approach taken by the government to target the cartel leaders has resulted in the emergence of new drug cartel leaders to continue the operations and continue the attacks on faction groups, tourists, and civilians.[5] The long stretches of the Yucatan peninsula, together with the high level of government corruption in the region, are likely the factors that make it difficult for security forces to exert control over the area.[6] Absence of regulatory and law enforcement likely makes it easier for local drug cartels to exert dominance and control over activities, such as carrying out attacks around the area. This is very likely to continue as the drug cartels will likely continue to use corruption of government officials to maintain the existing conditions that favor drug trade.


The conflict between drug cartel rivals competing for power and drug trafficking routes has likely resulted in the businesses remaining shut amid growing violence and fear. The prevalence of illicit narcotic organizations in the state very likely discourages the presence of legitimate businesses and distorts government allocation of resources. Smaller gangs such as the Pelones cartel, Bonfil cartel and Zeta cartel are continuing to compete for activities such extortion, drug sales, kidnappings and skimming of unsuspecting foreign tourists almost certainly resulting in the harm of local economies and Individuals. The economic productivity of the areas will almost certainly decrease as drug trafficking keeps expanding.


Due to the ongoing territorial fight between the CJNG and the Gulf cartel in the Quintana Roo tourist areas, tourists will very likely incur violent settings. As rival cartels carry out attacks in highly populated areas such as Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen, tourists are very likely to be caught in the crossfire, likely resulting in fatalities. Drug cartels are also likely to kidnap tourists for ransom, rob them, or extort them to finance illicit activities. The threat of violence will very likely increase during the weekend, as many tourists gather in popular party locations. Due to traffic and the crowded weekend settings, emergency response is very likely to be slow, delaying proper attendance to the potential victims.


CTG recommends that individuals visiting the area remain vigilant. Potential targets include resorts, hotels, and other tourist spots in the areas where there is likely a large group of foreign individuals gathered at the destination. Law enforcement agencies should continue to be on high alert for possible threats and increase their presence at the beaches, resorts, and hotels throughout the Quintana Roo and neighboring areas on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Regular patrolling of these areas with security checkpoints to monitor the vehicles’ and individuals’ entry should be implemented at hotels and resorts in high-risk locations such as Cancun and Tulum to screen for weapons, drugs, and other threats that would likely instigate attacks. Strengthening enforcement on Mexico’s land and coastal regional borders will likely help in controlling the drug flow into the region by illicit planes from Central and South America. The NORTHCOM Team will continue to identify and analyze developing and potential threats posed by drug cartel groups, recent trends and activities, and likely future target locations. The Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) Team will continue to seek information to detect the ongoing attacks in the areas.

CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH due to attacks occurring at regular levels. With tourists visiting these places around the year, it is likely an attack could be carried out during holiday seasons and long weekends. Tourists, locals, and staff members at the resorts and hotels are very likely the primary targets of an attack. As the holiday season is approaching, the areas will almost certainly be populated and congested, likely increasing the number of drug dealers entering the local markets and making sales. This will very likely result in various confrontational attacks between the drug faction groups.

The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) produces Worldwide Analysis of Terrorism, Crime, and Hazards R(W.A.T.C.H.) intelligence to deliver critical intelligence and investigation services to pinpoint and assess regional variations of global threats. We can provide you with the safety and protection needed to feel secure. No matter if it’s just one person or an entire organization, we can handle everything for your peace of mind. We are the present, and future solution to the ever-evolving global threat landscape. To find out more about our products and W.A.T.C.H. services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.

[1]Mexico Quintana Roo Puerto Morales location map” by Jaontiveros licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

[2] Cancún tourists rush to shelter as armed gang storms beach at luxury hotel, The Guardian, November 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/04/cancun-tourists-luxury-hotel-gunmen-reports

[3] Two men killed in shooting at resort near Cancun, authorities say, USA today, November 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/news/2021/11/04/mexico-two-killed-resort-cancun-shooting/6290801001/

[4] Mexico’s Long War: Drugs, Crime, and the Cartels, Council on Foreign Relations, February, 2021, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/mexicos-long-war-drugs-crime-and-cartels

[5] Kingpin Approaches to Fighting Crime and Community Violence: Evidence from Mexico’s Drug War, Institute for Study of Labor Discussion Papers, May 2015, https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/111512/1/dp9067.pdf

[6] Corruption, Drug Trafficking, and Violence in Mexico, The Brown Journal of World Affairs, June 2013, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257771175_Drug_trafficking_corruption_and_violence_in_Mexico_Mapping_the_linkages

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