Crime in Merida

Beryl Gorbman
www.yucatan-yenta.com

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.

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
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8 Responses to Crime in Merida

  1. Debi says:

    I’m with you! There is crime here, but it doesn’t hold a candle to other regions of Mexico, or even States in the USofA. Seems to be mostly crimes of opportunity – and rarely ever violent. Occasional reports of abuse of children in the Diario, and vehicle accidents, oh my gosh don’t you just hate the photos; twisted bodies on the road, dismembered pieces and parts…
    I’ve heard, and have no facts to back this up, that cartel families live here and that is why we’re safe, sort of like switzerland, a safe zone. Whatever the rumor I’m glad for it!
    I have no fear walking around late at night, never would have done that in my neighborhood in Colorado, no fear talking to strangers, no fears about much of anything.
    But let’s not tell everyone! OH my gosh the horror, the crime – you don’t want to come to Merida!
    Debi

  2. Ye Olde Gringoe says:

    Dear BG,

    Were you to rob a bank in Merida, where would you go to hide?

    There’s only one airport.
    There’s one highway to Campeche, and one to Cancun.
    There are numerous roads leading to small Mayan villages where everyone knows everyone else, and where outsiders are identified immediately and are watched like hawks.

    Were you to grow marijuana in Yucatan, where would you grow it?

    There’s little topsoil. Water sources aren’t dependable. And the topography
    is almost absolutely flat.

    With regard to the local population, it’s divided between middle- and upper-class Mexicans of European ancestry, and a Mayan proletariat.

    There are very very few poor or working-class meztizos — the sector from which Mexican organized crime draws almost all its recruits. (Interestingly, those areas in and around Merida known as poor or working-class meztizo are generally those parts of the city which experience the highest incidence of violence and crime.)

    Also, while poverty unquestionably exists in Yucatan, it can’t be compared to the starvation-level poverty encountered in other Mexican states such as Guerrero

    And while corruption unquestionably exists in Yucatan, it can’t be compared to that found in other states, whose names are obvious.

    It may be useful to compare Yucatan to someplace like Puebla.

    A great deal depends on what state governments and the local bourgeoisie have traditionally been willing to tolerate in terms of crime and corruption.

    In Yucatan and Puebla, the state governments and local bourgeoisie have traditionally made it very, very clear that they like things to stay nice and quiet, and will tolerate mischief only to the point that it becomes disruptive.

    Traditionally, in Yucatan and Puebla, for example, when mischief starts getting disruptive, it is suppressed with breathtaking speed and force.

  3. Ye Olde Gringoe says:

    Thank you, BG.

    If my remarks were of any value, it’s because I’ve given the question some thought.

    And I’ve given the question some thought because I love Mexico a great deal and the ongoing surge in lawlessness makes me very depressed.

    A great deal depends on Yucatan.

    Although the foreign press reports the violence in Mexico as if it were a homogeneous phenomenon in which there were no meaningful distinctions to be made, the violence is not, of course, uniform.

    Recent events in Monterrey, for example, are particularly ominous because the city’s industrialists and middle-classes were long regarded as so wealthy and influential that they would of course have both the will and the means to protect themselves and their city from narco-generated violence.

    That Monterrey’s most powerful have failed to protect themselves and Monterrey from narco-generated violence can be seen as a sign that perhaps no one is invulnerable, and that those cities that have so far remained untouched have remained so only through sheer luck.

    There’s considerable sentiment that if narco-generated violence were to reach Merida, then, on a national level, all bets would be off.

  4. Louis Nevaer says:

    EXPATS GONE WILD

    Anyone who doesn’t think there’s crime in Merida just doesn’t know where to look.

    Over the past two months, not a few number of Americans living in Merida have approached me, embarrassed, asking me if the “locals” think that “all of us are a bunch of thieves.” This, of course, is a result of the disclosure that Brazos Abiertos, Inc. was pretty much a scam. But I always reassure people: “No, they don’t think all the Americans in town are thieves – they think you’re fucking stupid for having been taken to the cleaners by a bunch of pathetic drunks and the despicable accomplices who helped them in this little criminal enterprise, but they don’t think you’re thieves. In fact, the Brazos Abiertos fraud is nothing compared with what the Cuban Expats in the Yucatan are doing.”

    Yes, Beryl, the Cubans, not the Americans, are The Expats Gone Wild!

    While American Expats are living in their Gingolandia Bubble, take note of what the Cuban Expats in town have been up to: Human trafficking! Gangland style shootouts over turf wars! An international ring operating between south Florida and the Yucatan involving stolen yachts and luxury boats! A scandal involving millions of dollars of pleasure boats sold for a song to the Yucatecan business and political elite that has made headlines around the world!

    Now, that’s Gangsterism at its most brazen!

    The DIARIO DE YUCATAN has been covering these events over the past several years, most recently now that Mexican authorities have requested assistance from the FBI to break up the Cuban and Cuban-American traffic in stolen pleasure boats that have inundated Progreso and the beach towns along the gulf coast. (You can read a recent story here: http://www.yucatan.com.mx/20101029/nota/25639-.htm)

    But if you want to read a terrific investigative piece about the Cuban Expats Gone Wild of the Yucatan, Francisco Alvarado, Russell Cobb and Paul Knight wrote a in-depth piece in the MIAMI NEW TIMES. (You can read the story here: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2008-01-10/news/the-deadly-road-through-mexico/full/)

    So there you have it, more crime in Merida than you’d care to admit. I’m just delighted that the FBI has arrived, and they are working to assist the IRS and Mexico’s Hacienda on other investigations as well. They all seem like a terrific group of professional men and women when I met with them.

  5. Ye Olde Gringoe says:

    @Louis Nevaer

    One evening a few years ago in Puebla, in a very quiet low-key district, my taxi passed a building that puzzled me. It had a massive and very beautiful antique wooden door. Very discreet, tasteful lighting illuminated the entry. An extremely hefty and antique-looking brass plaque beside the entry said — as far as I could tell from the moving taxi — something about a “club.”

    The overall appearance was so stolid and stuffy that I thought I was looking at an approximation of one of those old-fashioned “gentleman’s clubs” in London where women weren’t allowed and gruff codgers sat around smoking cigars and drinking gin and reading newspapers.

    And this wasn’t such a crazy guess because Puebla, after all, is a very conservative and traditional city whose ruling classes still maintain strong ties with Europe

    But my taxi driver just laughed and laughed when I asked him if the fancy place we passed was a “gentleman’s club” like the once-upon-a-time ones in London.

    “Well,” he said, “only men are members of the club, but women are certainly not forbidden to go in there. The men go to the club because there are women there. It’s a brothel.”

    He went on to explain that this was typical of Puebla. If you so much as walk down the street drinking a beer, the police in Puebla will quickly stop you and fine you because drinking in public is illegal. Places like the “club” are tolerated because they’re discreet and what goes on in them is hidden from view and doesn’t disturb public order.

    I think Merida is probably very similar. Yes, of course, there is crime in Merida, as there is in any other city. But I think the wealthy and powerful probably have zero tolerance for misbehavior that’s noisy and messy and violent.

    Selling stolen yachts from Miami, or providing “transitional accommodation” for Cubans illegally entering Mexico, doesn’t disturb the peace.

    And since both activities are operated by segments of the local population that don’t interact socially with the Yucatecan middle- and upper-classes, what they do is pretty much “invisible.”

    However, if the current governor’s political aspirations are, as gossip suggests, truly presidential, then I imagine that tolerance for discreet criminal activity will soon evaporate, and shady characters will be forced to take their business elsewhere.

  6. BG says:

    This is from my cousin Serge, who is French (and lives in France).

    We are puzzled !! In Europe, everyone talks about the dangers of living in Mexico. What is your opinion ?
    Serge.

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