In Riviera Maya, cartel extortion schemes know no bounds

Although the economic fallout from the pandemic ripples throughout the Riviera Maya, the cartels have continued their extortion plans in the popular tourist destination of Mexico, where their operations have grown to target everyone from local vendors to large companies.

The scale of cartel extortion plans in the Riviera Maya was at the center of a report released in late September by Mexico Evalúa, one of Mexico’s leading public policy think tanks. The report highlighted a sting in which police officers in Quintana Roo state posed as company employees and security guards to uncover an extortion ring.

Officials investigated a group that collected derecho / cobro de piso (rights of use), one of the 12 forms of extortion recognized by state authorities. The operation led to police arresting a van, designed to resemble public transport, carrying members of the group. All were arrested for extortion.

From costumed characters to upscale hotels and restaurants, everyone is the target of this widespread extortion. According to James Tobin, a member of the National Public Security Council, extortion prices range from around 200 pesos (about $ 10) per day for individual vendors to 25,000 to 100,000 pesos ($ 1,200 to $ 4,900) for the big enterprises.

According to Mexico Evalúa, the main groups responsible for the extortion in the region are the two most powerful criminal groups in the country, the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG), as well as the group local Pelones. However, common criminals are also known to pose as members of cartels to shake up local businesses.

Other arrests linked to the extortion in Cancun and Playa del Carmen underscore the prevalence of this program throughout the Rivera Maya.

SEE ALSO: Coronavirus and Crime – Deadly Combo for Riviera Maya in Mexico

In recent years, the Riviera Maya has seen an increase in resort extortion, along with a variety of other extortion methods, including one of the biggest ATM scams in the world.

InSight Crime Analysis

As the pandemic has slowed the tourism-based economy across the Riviera Maya, cartel extortion programs have not only continued to grow, but have also expanded to target almost all local businesses.

In Quintana Roo, derecho / cobro de piso is one of the most common extortion methods, according to Secretary of State for Public Security Lucio Hernández.

Quintana Roo state had the second highest rate of extortion complaints per 100,000 population in 2020, according to the Quintana Roo Security and Gender Observatory (Observatorio de Seguridad y Género de Quintana Roo – Osege). In the first half of this year, cases were reduced by 62%, but 911 calls related to this crime during the same period increased by 49%.

Yet almost 99% of extortion cases go unreported.

The reasons for the failure to report victims of extortion are twofold: fear of reprisals and mistrust of the authorities. In this context, the testimonies gathered by these investigations in Mexico Evalúa provide a significant insight into the victims of these extortions.

SEE ALSO: The Sicilianization of the Mexican Drug Cartels

They also illustrate how these extortion schemes are implemented – from threats over the phone to in-person visits to companies, often involving acts of intimidation or violence against employees.

However, the prevalence of extortion patterns is not only unique to Quintana Roo, as Mexico Evalúa has also investigated and analyzed extortion case studies in the states of Chihuahua, Michoacán and Baja California.

Nationally, nearly one million extortion cases were recorded in 2020 – with 1,821 companies out of 10,000 victims. Extortion is estimated to cost the Mexican economy on average 226,000 million pesos ($ 11.3 million) per year, or about 1.25% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

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