According to my statistics for this website, “crime in Merida” is the key phrase most searched on my site. Sadly, I have very little posted on this topic because the crimes here don’t hold a candle to those of other parts of the country.
Yesterday an armed detail of about 40 federal and state police, fully decked out in riot gear, bulletproof vests, automatic weapons, etc., descended on a market stand downtown and confiscated hundreds of pirated CDs and DVDs. There was no resistance to the invasion. Now why they picked that particular stand is a mystery, as pirated media is available in every corner of the city, including the taco stands. The guy who owns the place must have said the wrong thing.*
A few months ago, we had a rash of larcenous people telephoning victims and telling them they’d kidnapped their relative, demanding that the victim deposit money to the bad guy’s account or hand it to them on a street corner. These amounts ran from about fifty to two hundred dollars, typically, and the calls were hoaxes. Nonetheless, people paid up, I’m told.
And just yesterday in the Diario de Yucatan, there was an article warning people of new scams on the internet from people saying they were dying or that a relative had died, and that they wanted you to have their millions – just give me all your account numbers. This is actually new here, and the article mentioned that the translations to Spanish were awkward.
There is an ocassional murder, often domestic. There are terrible auto accidents. There are murky domestic crimes, like assault and incest, both in town and in the villages. Hanging appears to be the preferred method of suicide.
There are many many burglaries, though few robberies. Thieves target your house when they are pretty sure no one is there. About eight months ago, someone very tiny cut through our palapa (thatch) roof of an open air room we have upstairs. They stole a hammock. There was a bright yellow rope tied to the mini fridge, but they couldn’t get it through the hole, and the two doors to the place were padlocked. We called the police who came, and forensics guys dusted for prints. For a hammock!
Merida and surrounding towns have gangs. Gangs with names as ridiculous as gang names can be. They mostly attack each other, but they are powder kegs, ready for narco infiltration, if it has not happened already. I think that as in the US, these are disenchanted young men, angry at the poverty they have experienced all their lives, angry at watching their fathers slaving for six dollars a day, and rather than struggle to go to school which they can’t afford, they choose a criminal path. According to articles in the papers, the gangs operate in the south part of Merida, downtown centro, and in corrupt towns like Kanasin. In fact, Kanasin seems to be a hotbed of violence and rotten politics.
There are lots of explanations of why we haven’t yet had any of the drug cartel problems here. Northern Mexico is a war zone on many levels. You couldn’t pay me now to drive to the USA, as I used to. Cancun, only 170 miles away, has growing problems that threaten tourism. There are even some nearby towns where there is drug gang violence and even killings. And probably we have a few here.
But none of these murderous crimes are aimed at your everyday citizens. Shootings in the streets are rare, as are crossfire mishaps. In our area, there are no bad guys hijacking your car on the highways, no brutal home invasions, nothing that I personally am wary of.
One popular explanation for our lack of narco crime is that many of the gang leaders have stashed their families here in safe Merida and have a “gentlemen’s agreement” on leaving this city neutral. It’s hard to say whether this theory is truth or urban mythology.
Overall, I feel safer here in Merida than I ever did in Seattle or any other northamerican city. If you compare the incidence of actual violence between Merida and just about any American city, there is no contest. Merida is safer for the average citizen.
I like to think our low crime rate is because we have a good state police force, with plenty of intelligence, equipment, and personnel. There are stopping points on the highways in and out of the city where police check cars they don’t like. A lot. Police are everywhere in the city. Yesterday I saw a young guy in battle gear straddling the back of a police truck with his automatic weapon loosely pointed at the road in front of him.
We have police helicopters and when we hear them, we know someone important is in town.
From what I have heard, one thing that might be going on is kidnappings of wealthy people for ransom. Merida has more millionaires per capita of any city in Mexico, so this is fertile ground for kidnappings. I understand there is a consistent call for bodyguards. Not being rich myself, this doesn’t personally threaten me or most people I know. Indeed, I don’t even know whether it’s happening here.
If anyone has a different point of view on this, I’d like to hear it.
Note: I have since learned that the DVD store was a major distributor of pirated material.