Good Guy Cartel? Why Cartel Hitmen Actually Keep Cancun Safe

by K. Mennem

Despite some travelers' fears of Mexico, Cancun remains a popular tourist destination -- and not only for Americans, but for Europeans, Mexicans and South Americans alike. Cancun, despite a few incidents that received international headlines, has avoided the gangland violence that has plagued other parts of Mexico.

Even though violence is not widespread, the impact of organized crime weighs heavily on the area. Cancun and the state of Quintana Roo remain an important transit center for cocaine, and several drug trafficking organizations are currently competing for the territory.

Colombian cocaine is shipped to the state in three major ways, the most important being through the commercial ports. Large loads can typically be moved untouched in large containers. Cocaine is also moved by small water vessels to the more desolate areas of the state. The small boats cruise from multiple Central American destinations and land in unwatched Mexican coastline. Lastly, cocaine is moved in smaller amounts through the Cancun airport.

This illicit business has helped the local economy grow with more cash for investments, but also has been detrimental to local government stability. The government has found itself co-existing with crime groups in order to keep the peace along the beautiful coastline, which makes the state prosper. This in itself means some politicians are handpicked by powerful cartels like the Zetas.

Violence is rare in the Cancun resorts area, as being robbed and assaulted in the tourist zones is almost unheard of. These areas have long been off limits, as rogue bandits know they will have a greater power to answer to, likely with their head, if they act without orders from the in-command cartel.

This type of operating system has failed another once popular tourist area in southern Mexico. Acapulco was a highly touted destination from the 1950s, all the way to the early 2000s. When Mexico fully confronted drug cartels, Acapulco was one of the hardest hit. The cocaine port that housed numerous criminal organizations was spun into havoc. The trend has not stopped, pushing the city to be named the second most dangerous city in the world in 2012.

Cancun and the state of Quintana Roo have stuck to the plan, avoiding the Acapulco disaster by keeping peace in the tourist areas at all costs. High ranking law enforcement and politicians have been the main victims of this cycle in the state.

Multiple commanding officers have been gunned down in recent years. Most speculate they failed to stick to the deal. Commanding officers are taken out when they get too tough on organized crime groups who believe they broke the deal.

Moving cocaine peacefully without chopping off heads is the Mexico of old and Cancun has stuck to the old plan of maintaining business and peace among the masses.

Next time you get hammered and stumble down the Cancun tourist strip without getting mugged, you may just want to thank the local cartel hitman.

Photo credit: Daniel Aguilar/Getty Images