Clashes between drug smugglers are escalating in the south of Mexico. The local authorities pretend that not much is happening, but the first European travel companies stop offering trips to the area and some famous Mayan sites are no longer taken by their clients or local guides.
Mexico has been fighting drug cartels for years. In some areas of the country it is very dangerous for tourists. illustrative photo
| Photo: ČTK/AP Photo/Marco Ugarte
Chiapas, the poorest Mexican state in the south of the country near the border with Guatemala, is experiencing a rough start to the year. Lucrative routes pass through the area for drug smugglers and smugglers of the ever-increasing number of migrants heading from the south of the continent to of the United States.
The two largest criminal groups in the country are already quite openly fighting for control over them. Their rivals from the new generation Jalisco cartel (formerly known as Los Mata Zetas) are trying to break into the holdings of the Sinaloa cartel, the BBC reported.
The Spanish newspaper El País noted that the authorities are trying to downplay the whole situation, but evidence is growing daily that a growing part of the territory of Chiapas is under control cartels. According to the BBC, hundreds of people are fleeing the violence, and tourism in the sought-after Lacadon area, which is very important for the poor state, is also at risk. “The French, British and Belgian agencies we represent have decided not to bring tourists here anymore,” El País quoted ATC Touroperadores, which has been operating in the region since 1984, as saying.
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In their statement, the representatives of the company also mentioned incidents when guides in a car with clients found themselves in a shootout or someone threw stones at them. They also said the gunmen extorted fees from them or forced them to borrow their car for a fee and pay gang members as tour guides and armed escorts.
The AP reported that Mexican authorities acknowledged Friday that the remote Mayan site of Yaxchilán and the Tonina pyramids are now off limits to visitors, according to the monuments’ administrators, due to land rights disputes. The heritage agency known by the acronym INAH claims that tourists will continue to freely access the popular sites of Bonampak and Lagartero.
However, the AP spoke on condition of anonymity to two local guides who disputed the official claim. Because of the militants, many of their colleagues no longer take tourists there.
“They ask for documents to see if you live there. They take your phone, ask for your PIN and then read your messages to see if you belong to another gang. And at any time a rival group may appear and start a firefight. It’s like telling me to go to Gaza Strips,” the guide described the almost permanently occupied checkpoint on the way to the Lagartero Mayan pyramid complex.
Secret airport in the jungle
According to guidebooks, cartels often set up checkpoints on the way to Bonampak, famous for its murals. According to the experience of the locals in the jungle near the monuments, criminal organizations have at least four secret airports where they receive shipments of drugs from the American South.
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The outflow of tourists is taking a toll on local residents.
“Some communities sell handicrafts, provide accommodation, boat trips. Now theirs economy suffers. This is an agricultural state, there is no industry or factories, tourism has become a driving force, it is one of the few job opportunities,” one of the guides told AP.