By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Despite a recent surge in violence and the shooting death of seven men in a local bar on Jan. 5, Playa del Carmen is a safe destination for tourism, the Mexican Caribbean resort town’s recently instated mayor, Laura Esther Beristáin Navarrete told a small gathering of journalists in Mexico City on Wednesday, Jan. 9.
“Yes, we have had some problems, but these are isolated incidences and Playa del Carmen is still one of the country’s safest destinations,” Beristáin Navarrete said.
The former federal deputy, who took office as Playa del Carmen’s mayor on Sept. 30 after winning the position in July on a left-leaning National Regeneration Movement (Morena) ticket, pointed out that the shooting took place in a low-income neighborhood that is relatively far from the town’s beachside tourist zone.
The upscale Playa del Carmen resort, which is located in Mexico’s southeastern Yucatan Peninsula, 68 kilometers south of Cancun and is part of the posh Riviera Maya corridor, has suffered a growing number of violent acts in the last two years.
In March of last, the U.S. State Department closed its consulate there and issued a travel advisory warning for U.S. citizens to avoid the city of 150,000 people because of “a real cime threat” linked to warring drug cartels.
An explosion on a Playa del Carmen ferry one month earlier left at least five U.S. tourists injured, and a shooting at a club in January 2017 resulted in the deaths of five people, including a U.S. minor, who was trampled in the mayhem.
But Beristáin Navarrete said that her government is working hard to reduce the incidence of crime in the city, with a total police force of 400 officers.
“We are working from the trenches to try to curb delinquency,” she said.
“One of our biggest problems is that we have no canine units, which we desperately need, along with new technologies and equipment.”
She said that local authorities are meeting with private-sector companies, as well as family organizations, in order to present a unified front against crime.
Beristáin Navarrete also said that there has been a large influx of foreign migrants, especially from Venezuela, that have created overpopulation, economic strains and increased security concerns for Playa del Carmen.
Nevertheless, the mayor said that the resort town is doing well in terms of tourism, with an average hotel occupation of between 80 to 85 percent in the last 12 months.
Regarding the controversial Tren Maya tourist train, a federal pet proposal of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who is also from the Morena Party, to link five of Mexico’s southeastern states and which some environmental groups warn could endanger local flora and fauna, Beristáin Navarrete said that she is very much in favor of the plan.
“The train will help spur tourism throughout the region, and there is no reason to think that the project will be developed in a way that will harm the environment,” she said.
“The federal government will take all the necessary precautions to ensure that the delicate ecology of Quintana Roo and the other Yucatan Peninsula states are protected.”