The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Forced Criminal Activities along Mexico's Eastern Migration Routes and Central America Department of Public Affairs and Security Studies

Quintana Roo

While we visited Tenosique, Tabasco, many Guatemalan migrants we interviewed told us that their final destination was not the United States, but the city of Cancun. In Cancun, our interviewees did not reach an agreement on whether migrants stayed in city permanently and whether their stay was voluntary.

Experts mentioned the neighboring Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and Oaxaca as places of origin of many Mexican migrants residing in Cancun, particularly those working in the construction industry. Although they did not identify the incidence of labor trafficking in the city, our interviewees expressed their concern over labor exploitation in Cancun. Mexican migration from neighboring states was considered to be temporal rather than permanent. Experts pointed at the hotel industry in Cancun as the main environment where labor exploitation occurs. Some experts reported that the workforce from Mexican neighboring states may be declining while Central American labor rises. The attributed reason was that Mexican migrants started to demand better pay.

When discussing the possibility of human trafficking for sexual exploitation taking place in the city, experts were divided. Since prostitution is one of Cancun’s biggest business, it is difficult to discern who is voluntarily working in the sex industry from those who are coerced. Government officials reported raiding several clubs, spas, and massage parlors. The raids did not lead to arrests or closure of venues. Authorities found no evidence that these business, where only women were reported to be working, were not breaking any laws. No minors were found working at these places and the women were mostly of Mexicans. Everyone had legal papers to work in those places. When authorities asked the women if they were coerced into prostitution, they denied, and some even expressed discontent over being interrupted at work.

However, most interviews reported a growing concern over the existence of sexual exploitation of minors in Cancun. Sexual exploitation of minors of all nationalities is believed to occur in the city. Law enforcement agencies have not identified any human trafficking network operating in the city yet. Experts believe that because employment in the sex industry is not permanent, trafficking cells are very small and disappear after a while. Recent efforts to investigate possible human trafficking cases in Cancun have faced serious complications. Authorities reported that keeping investigations moving forward is difficult due to the lack of trained personnel as well as confusion over Quintana Roo’s state anti-human trafficking legislation, which has several of its articles currently contested. A law enforcement official reported that any possible human trafficking investigation has to be transferred to federal agency, such as FEVIMTRA or SEIDO, depending on whether or not organized crime is involved.

Activists and civil organizations dedicated to bringing human traffickers to justice have expressed concern that female victims are afraid to file complaints. In our interviews, non-government individuals said that the state government has threatened people who wanted to report on Cancun’s violence. Law enforcement agents harassed the staff of the city’s only shelter for human trafficking female victims, leading to its closure. Currently, there is no shelter for migrants in the city.

Cancun’s civil organizations recurrently promote safe sex campaigns in neighborhoods known for prostitutions. The employee of a local civil organization told us that during one of these campaigns he interacted with girls believed to be human trafficking victims. He informed local authorities, but they did not take any action.

Prostitution is a common activity in Cancun and its surrounding areas. In our interviews in metropolitan Cancun, multiple interviewees told us that finding a prostitute was as easy as hailing a cab. Taxi drivers in Cancun are known for informing their passengers where to find prostitutes and brothels. We collected the card picture above from a taxi car in Cancun. Possibly because we are females, taxi drivers in Cancun did not ask us if we wanted to visit brothels. Nevertheless, we spotted an abundance of spas and massage parlors around the city.