Corruption in Cancun

Cancun officialdom had hysterics when an outrageously slanted smear appeared in The Times (London) claiming that crime and rape are rampant here. It’s not true. There have been some incidents, but we get 2.4 million visitors a year, and tourists are far safer here than they are at home.

The Times story centered on Brenda Searle, a British/Dutch female backpacker who disappeared. She came in through the Cancun Airport (which serves the entire state of Quintana Roo), but never even stayed in Cancun. According to the Times, “She was on a tight budget and could not afford the high prices charged in Cancun´s main hotel zone.” She was last seen in Chichén Itzá (178 km. west of here) and she did spend some time on Isla Mujeres, which is definitely not Cancun, although it is nearby. Isla Mujeres is very safe and has an impeccable reputation.

The story also repeats the wildly exaggerated charges that Cancun is a drug smuggling center: “US officials say that traffickers, long notorious in northwest Mexico near the US border, are expanding their reach to less patrolled areas and using corruption to virtually take over states such as Quintana Roo, where Cancún is located.” Drug smuggling does take place, but not anywhere near Cancun, which is way too well-patrolled and populated.

This is a separate issue that requires some detail to clarify, but basically, the state is in the flight path of Colombian smugglers, who drop their loads off the deserted coasts of the undeveloped southern area, approximately 250 kilometers south of here. There’s only one highway through dense jungle with isolated villages and scattered tourism developments.

The Cancun authorities are making ridiculous statements about all this, blaming it on the foreign women who walk around topless and invite rape by dancing wildly. The head of the state police said that foreign women are asking to be raped because they like to walk alone on the beach at night. The head of the local marketing association suggested that Cancun is being defamed because it’s the best resort in the Caribbean.

They would do better to stick to the facts. Petty crime is not uncommon in Cancun, but we live in the Hotel Zone, and it is incredibly safe. At one point, the lock on our door was jammed and the door itself was swollen by humidity and could not be closed anyway. We just left it open when we went out. This lasted for quite a while, too embarrassing to tell, actually. Nothing was taken from our apartment.

At the same time, in the course of living in Mexico for almost twenty years, most of my Anita’s jewelry has disappeared, stolen by servants, and I’ve lost four expensive cameras. But these losses were a result of our own negligence. When travelling anywhere, you have to be on your guard, as there are thieves who prey on careless travellers, and Cancun is no exception.

Police extortion

Police extortion of tourists detained for minor offenses is often a problem and there have been some grotesque incidents. The authorities cracked down hard, however, and dismissed hundreds of officers, including some top officials. They claim the problem is under control.

I was out with a friend who is one of those drivers who always gets stopped by the police because he is a nitwit. Sure enough, he gets pulled over for a missing turn signal. He doesn’t have the car registration, his license or the front plate. All have been retained by various arresting officers to assure his appearance in court.

“Isn’t there any other way to arrange this, officer,” he says politely. This is the traditional form for offering a bribe.

“Corruption isn’t what it used to be,” the policeman replies, sadly. He then explains that they have special undercover units out checking on the patrols, accepts a $10 usd bribe and then issues careful instructions on what to say if stopped a bit further along by one of the patrols — that he let us off with a severe warning after we begged and cried for mercy.

The police do have a sort of sense of honor (or they are just prudent) and we rarely hear of innocent parties being shaken down for a bribe. Even if you are clearly innocent and have the courage to attempt facing down a police officer, the wisest approach to police extortion is to pay them off. You can usually bargain them down quite a bit. Try not to get outraged about this. Just be practical and maintain a sense of humor. Make sure to note their badge numbers and the patrol number. If you wish, you can then make a complaint at police headquarters and they will be fired, but you won’t get your money back.

Rape is prosecuted vigorously

Street crime and assaults on tourists are quite unusual, even in downtown Cancun. Out-and-out clear-cut rape is very rare. Most of the cases involve young women who get blind drunk at discos or bars and then have sex with virtual strangers while nearly unconscious. On awakening, they get angry and want to press charges. In one case, an American high school student had gone off with a guy and had sex and then she couldn’t even remember who he was or where it had taken place.

There have been cases that are clearly rape, such as by a security guard who let himself into a woman’s room and forcibly raped her. He later tearfully confessed that he had seen her naked and was overwhelmed by lust. These are definitely prosecuted.

There are also cases of drug-assisted rape, usually using a fast-acting sedative called Rohypnol. This seems to be a common problem in the United States, too. When I asked about this on the Internet, I received the following from a University of Wisconsin college student:

“About four or five years ago there were a large amount of reported rapes on certain college campuses which all lead back to, as we call it, ‘roofies.’ The idea of letting my drink out of my sight is unheard of. Also, if ever a guy that I don’t know buys me a drink, I will walk with him to the bar. And, at all fraternities, the beer must be opened in front of you.”

Any sex crime incident should be reported to the police. Do not listen to what anyone else tells you about this. Cancun has a special unit for sex crimes, with women officers, and I know that they take every case seriously, because we read some really odd ones in the papers, usually involving girls who use rape charges to get even with boyfriends. Even marital rape is prosecuted.

At the same time, the official reactions are just absurd. The correct answer is that this is a resort that caters to foreigners and there can be no toleration of any form of sexually abusive behavior, especially when it involves minors, as among the Spring breakers.