MEXICO (AFP): A shooting involving rival gangs on a beach near Mexico’s Caribbean resort of Cancun left two suspected drug dealers dead on Thursday and sparked panic among foreign tourists.
The armed clash, the second to shake Mexico’s Riviera Maya in recent weeks, is another blow to a tourism industry still recovering from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There was a confrontation between members of opposing groups of drug dealers on a beach in Bahia Petempich, Puerto Morelos,” the Quintana Roo state attorney general’s office tweeted.
“Two of them lost their lives,” it said.
No tourists were seriously injured or kidnapped, the Quintana Roo public security department reported.
Tourists staying in hotels next to the beach described how people ran for cover after shots were fired.
“Guests are telling me they were playing volleyball on the beach, gunman approached firing gun,” tweeted Mike Sington, a tourist from the United States staying at the Hyatt Ziva Riviera Cancun Resort.
“Everyone ran from beach and swimming pools. Staff hustled us into hidden rooms behind the kitchens.”
– ‘Hugging, crying’ –
Videos posted on social media showed dozens of tourists, some in bathing suits, waiting in the hotel lobby along with staff.
“People are hugging each other and crying,” said Sington, who describes himself as a former senior executive at NBC Universal.
Forensic service personnel, as well as members of the National Guard, arrived at the scene while a military helicopter flew overhead, an AFP reporter saw.
Looking tense and covering their faces, employees evacuated the hotel on company buses.
Mexico is plagued by cartel-related bloodshed that has seen more than 300,000 people murdered since the government deployed the military in the war on drugs in 2006.
While the Riviera Maya, home to Cancun and other leading resorts including Playa del Carmen and Tulum, is generally considered safer than much of the country, there has been an increase in violence.
Last month, two tourists from Germany and India were killed in a shootout between suspected drug dealers in Tulum, while several others were injured.
In 2017, three foreigners were among five killed in a shooting at an electronic music festival in Playa del Carmen.
The incidents have led European countries and the United States to warn their citizens about the risks of visiting the Mexican Caribbean, among the world’s top beach destinations.
Other major Mexican destinations, including the Pacific coastal city of Acapulco, have also faced serious security problems for years.
Tourism represents 8.5 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product and is the main economic activity in the southeast region, which includes the Riviera Maya.
Although Mexico has remained open to foreigners during the Covid-19 pandemic, a slump in visitor numbers has taken a heavy toll on the country’s tourism industry.