MEXICO CITY (AP) – A commando of gunmen from a drug gang stormed a beach on Mexico’s resort-studded Caribbean coast in front of luxury hotels on Thursday and killed two drug dealers of a rival gang.
The dramatic shooting attack left tourists scrambling for cover at the resort of Puerto Morelos, south of Cancun.
The two suspected drug dealers killed on Thursday had apparently arrived at the beach opposite Azul Beach Resort and Hyatt Jiva Cancun, claiming it was now their territory.
“About 15 people rushed to the beach to kill two people who pretended to be new dealers in the area,” Quintana Roo state chief prosecutor Oscar Montes de Oca told Radio Formula.
The killers had apparently arrived by boat. There were reports that a tourist was injured, but this was not immediately confirmed by state officials.
The shootings were the latest chapter in drug gang violence that has tarnished the reputation of Mexico’s Caribbean coast as a once-quiet oasis.
The state police chief wrote in his Twitter account that “there are no seriously injured or kidnapped tourists,” but did not say whether there were any non-serious injuries.
Montes de Oca’s office said there had previously been “a clash between rival groups of drug dealers on a beach near the hotels”. Several cartels are fighting for the area’s lucrative retail drug trade, including the Jalisco Cartel and a gang affiliated with the Gulf Cartel.
Hyatt Jiva Cancun guests posted videos and photos of tourists hiding or panicking in hotel lobbies and hallways during the event.
Guests at the nearby Azul Beach Resort also posted videos of people taking shelter or gathering in the lobby. An employee who answered the phone at the hotel said the shooting took place on the beach near the facility.
To eliminate competition and ensure that their drugs are sold first, rival cartels often kill street-level dealers of another gang in Mexico. This is not the first time that tourists have been hit by such battles.
The Puerto Morelos shooting comes two weeks after a California travel blogger and a German tourist were killed in similar shootings in the beach town of Tulum.
Anjali Riot, a San Jose, California woman born in India, and Jennifer Heinzold, a German national, apparently were hit by a gunfight by drug dealers on October 20 in Tulum, south of Puerto Morelos.
Three other foreign tourists were injured after being shot at a roadside eatery, which has some outdoor tables, right in front of Tulum’s main strip. These include two German men and one Dutch woman.
The German Foreign Office issued a travel advisory about the violence, advising its citizens “if you are currently in the Tulum or Playa del Carmen area, do not leave your secure hotel facilities.”
The Tulum gun battle also apparently broke out between two groups operating street-level drug sales in the area, according to prosecutors.
There have been indications that the situation in Quintana Roo state, where all the resorts are located, had spiraled out of control months ago. In June, two people were shot dead on the beach in Tulum and a third was injured.
And in nearby Playa del Carmen, police conducted a massive raid on the beach town’s restaurant-lined Quinta Avenida in October, detaining 26 suspects – most apparently for drug sales – A city policeman was shot dead and locked in a car trunk. Last week. Prosecutors said Friday they arrested a suspect in that murder.
The prosecutor’s office said of the raid, the crime “has increased slightly with extortion, drug sales to foreigners and Mexicans.”
President Andres Manuel López Obrador’s administration has pinned its hopes on the so-called Maya Riviera, where it has announced plans to build an international airport and a stop for the Maya train, which will run in a loop around the Yucatán peninsula.