Tourists wishing to enjoy Cancun’s many decadent pleasures please travel light: do not carry your conscience with you. If still wanting to go with your eyes open and integrity intact do consider the plight of those likely to serve you:
Cancun has the highest suicide rate in Mexico, 80% of it in the poorest colonies. There were 105 suicides in 2007. It was the second highest cause of death after accidents (traffic, domestic and workplace), up from 2005, when it was 16th and in 2006 when it was 9th. Three quarters of those who killed themselves were men, of whom 37% lived alone.
Cancun has displaced Acapulco as the city with the greatest diversity of languages, with 80% of indigenous languages spoken here, a consequence of migration. This has led to problems among the different cultures, with the exposure of the indigenous people to foreign tourists causing loss of native cultures and violence and drug use among the indigenous population.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchu, was asked to leave the Fiesta Americana Coral Beach hotel in Cancun by its security staff who mistook her for an indigenous trinket seller.
A survey found 65% of children come to school without eating in the morning, 8% are off school with malnutrition-related illnesses, 13% of parents cannot spend enough time with their children, and 5% admit to drug problems themselves. Ninety-five per cent of the children said they had been beaten at home, mostly by hand or by belts, and 25% said they were ignored or humiliated by their parents. Forty per cent said they were left alone for long hours because both their parents were at work and 70% said they did not receive much parental attention even when they were at home.
Eighty-two per cent of 16-and 17-year-olds said they knew of a gang and all of them said associating with one increased their popularity and gave them the opportunity to explore sexual relations. There were more than 110 gangs in 2006, 22 new ones having formed that year, and with an average of 30 members in each gang between the average age of 12 and 21. There were 744 legal outlets for alcohol and 264 schools. There are between 300 and 500 drug outlets. Since April 2005, 11,321 minors were arrested in Cancun, 555 of them girls and 8,000 were arrested between Friday night and Monday morning.
Seventy-four per cent of women interviewed in a survey said their husbands or partners beat their children; all of them said Cancun was more violent than what it was five years ago, 41% feared their children consumed drugs and 29% feared their children would end up joining gangs. Violence against women increased by 50% between 2005 and 2006.
Locals find it difficult to use the last remaining public beaches because the access points are in bad shape, there are not enough facilities or simply because they are not allowed to enter, say local Deputies who toured the area. More than 10 tourist megaprojects were approved in 2007 despite violating environmental laws, according to the Mexico Centre of Environmental Rights (Cemda). Fourteen building workers were killed in the first 45 days of 2007. Dolphin Discovery, an American company which caused the destruction of 200 square metres of corals off Cancun and accused of mistreating dolphins and illegally taking over public land, was put in charge of a civic group in 2007 entrusted with promoting environmental consciousness among school children.
Despite having 150,000 permanent inhabitants and a floating population of 12,000 building workers, Playa del Carmen has one hospital with 13 beds. Seriously ill residents and tourists have to travel more than 70 km to the Cancun general hospital for treatment. A dengue case was detected everyday in January 2007 while 120 cases were reported in 2006. In 2005, Cancun came to within two weeks of having a health emergency, unable to deal with the 750 tons of garbage that is generated daily.
Cancun is a destination of choice for fugitives on the run, people smugglers and sexual predators like Mark C. Hollstrom, wanted in the United States in several cases of sexual molestation. He set up shop in Cancun, widely advertising his chiropractic clinic. A former Argentinean military officer complicit in tortures was outed by a magazine. Cancun is also a preferred destination for people smugglers ferrying Cubans to the USA and child traffickers.
In 2006, there was one sexual attack on a minor each day. Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho retired to Cancun hoping to write books in idyllic surroundings. Instead, she stumbled upon a flourishing child sex racket involving Mexico’s leading textile magnate who was taped confessing to “sleeping only with virgins”. When she exposed this, Lydia was arrested at the instigation of a powerful state governor, a friend of the magnate. He tried to have Lydia raped in prison. The Mexican Supreme Court by a 6-4 verdict said the governor had no case to answer.
1. La Jornada 2006: April 25; Nov 18,21; Dec 31; 2007: Feb 2,16; March 22; April 20; June 7,26; Aug 7,15; Sep 30; Oct 28; Nov 1; Dec 11; 2008: Jan 15, 28