Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Construction Workers: Under the Yoke of Organized Crime

"Yaqui" for Borderland Beat

Isla Blanca, Quintana Roo (pictured above)

Workers who lay the foundations of the hotel infrastructure of Isla Blanca, an extension of Cancun, live stories of terror, as organized crime pressures to recruit them and, if they refuse its demands, they are victims of extortion, disappearance or homicide.

Every day some 35,000 construction workers build the foundations of the hotel infrastructure of Isla Blanca, an extension of Cancun, at an annual growth rate of more than 7,000 rooms. But apart from this successful industry, these workers live stories of terror as organized crime pressures to recruit them and, if they refuse its demands, they are victims of extortion, disappearance or murder.

Isla Blanca, Quintana Roo: The Planet Hollywood Cancun hotel offers its guests the possibility of vacationing like a movie star in Isla Blanca, as it is inspired by the glamor of the seventh art. It is the first lodging in Mexico operated under the brand owned by Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In contrast to the dream environments that invite you to live a fantasy experience, this property has been the scene of terror for workers who have been tortured, disappeared or killed during the construction stage.

Aerial view of the Quintana Roo beach

The all-inclusive Planet Hollywood Beach Resort Cancun

Aerial view of the hotels in this beach resort

The inauguration of this 898-room hotel complex, whose investment reached 200 million dollars, was scheduled for December 15, 2020. 

However, it was postponed a few weeks due to the discovery of the bones of four people in an adjoining lot, in November 2020. The identities of the victims have not been officially released.

It is not an isolated case. Organized crime has infiltrated to the ground in the Mexican Caribbean tourism industry, considered the main economic engine of the region, admit authorities, businessmen and workers.

Catalonia, Atelier, Excellence, Majestic, Palladium, RIU Dunamar and RIU Beach Palace are accommodations whose construction works were also co-opted by extortionists and drug sellers, the testimonies of ex-workers and a member of the State Ministerial Investigation Police coincide with diligences in the area, who for security reasons asked not to reveal his identity.

During a meeting with deputies of the Justice Commission, on December 18, 2020, the head of the General Attorney of the State of Quintana Roo (FGE), Óscar Montes de Oca Rosales, assured that the escalation of violence in the entity is directly linked to migrants employed in the construction sector.

“Of the homicides (in Quintana Roo) –both perpetrators and victims–, 80% are not from here; They all come from neighboring states and have to do with construction. There they are taken and taken, first, to help in the sale of drugs and, later, they are turned into hitmen, ”said Montes de Oca.

A photograph of violent crimes:
On June 18, 2020, seven months before the official opening of Planet Hollywood Cancun, Ángel de la Cruz, a worker from Tabasco, was taken to a basement inside the resort by a criminal group infiltrated in the work day.

What is known is that he was beaten and tortured for 12 hours, his weekly payment and his cell phone were stolen. Then they released him. It was a warning for Manolo, his employer, to pay the forced fees that he owed to the criminal group that had taken over the work, according to what Ángel himself was able to narrate by phone to his family in Tabasco, thanks to a cell phone they lent him.
The threat materialized on July 21 and Ángel disappeared: two hooded men kidnapped him from his workplace, in full view of his colleagues. Since then, his family has been desperately searching for him, and it is personal.

At Planet Hollywood, William Ariel Llanes, Carlos de la Cruz, Juan Pablo Pech and Carlos Ramón López were also disappeared between 2019 and 2020, while Jesús Moisés Gómez and Laureano Méndez were disappeared from the Catalonia hotel works. So far the investigations have not yielded clues as to his whereabouts or those responsible for his disappearance.

Extortion at construction sites, the recruitment of workers, their torture, disappearance and homicide are part of an organized crime operation scheme that began to be identified two or three years ago in Isla Blanca, spread to Cancun and currently it covers the north coast of the state, confirms James Tobin Cunningham, a member of the National Security Council.

Isla Blanca is the epicenter of the problem. Called to be "the new hotel zone of Cancun", here the construction of 29,400 hotel rooms is projected, according to the Partial Urban Development Plan. However, there, in addition to the disappearances of construction workers, there are reports of violent executions to the detriment of this sector.

At least three alleged workers were found dead outside the RIU, Planet Hollywood and Catalonia hotels in 2020. One more appeared with signs of torture last January.

Who could be behind this scene of violence? A diagnosis on security matters prepared by Lantia Consultores in 2016 located the operation of two large organized crime groups in the state: the Pacific Cartel and the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, ie CJNG, with a presence in Cancun and Chetumal, dedicated to drug trafficking , people, goods, extortion and kidnapping.

"Modus operandi":
The pattern of extortion is similar in all works where the presence of people linked to criminal groups is reported: working has a cost or there is "tablazo", a method of torture in which pieces of wood are used to beat the victim. All workers have to pay floor fees (piso) : engineers, architects, construction managers, bricklayers, electricians, plumbers, helpers and even street vendors and public transport workers.

The charge varies, depending on the position and the work in which it works. It is mandatory and can be in two ways: a weekly fee of approximately 500 pesos or a dose of marijuana that the employee has to pay for forcibly.

René paid the drug trafficker about 1,500 pesos a week, a third of his income, for 10 bags of marijuana that they forced him to buy. He is a worker who worked at the Catalonia, Majestic and Planet Hollywood hotels. His name, and that of all the employees interviewed for this report, have been changed so as not to jeopardize their integrity.

"The Engineer", as his direct employer is called, has to give an additional fee to that paid by each worker. If you do not give that payment, the first warning is to hit one or more of your workers, as happened with Ángel de la Cruz.

Each construction site in large resorts, with surfaces of up to 40 hectares, houses an average of 800 workers. Mixed with this army of workers are the thugs.

Criminals keep track of attendance and how much each worker earns per week. The vendor offers them drugs all day. The situation worsens if, in addition to the weekly quota, workers go into debt to be able to consume, describes Jacinto.

Tobin argues that criminals identify constructions when they are just starting, they look for those responsible for the works and also for contractors; they research your personal data and then address it.

On March 15, 2021, the FGE reported in a statement about the arrest of three individuals identified as Marcos, Martín and Carlos, related to crimes of extortion, as well as possession, trafficking and sale of drugs in hotel buildings, coinciding with the modus previously described operandi.

Funeral of William Ariel Llanes. He "disappeared" in September. Photo: Cecilia Suárez

Calvary of the invisible victims:
Driven by the promise of higher wages and better living conditions for themselves and their families, men and, to a lesser extent, women, migrate from marginalized populations in southeastern Mexico to Quintana Roo, in order to be employed in the manufacturing industry. construction.

Of the 74, 764 people that this sector employs, 51, 351 are registered with the IMSS; that is, 23, 413 are in an informal scheme, without labor benefits, social security or an employer responsibility contract. Even so, Catalina Portillo Navarro, head of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare of Quintana Roo, affirms that working conditions in the state are much higher than those of workers in their states of origin.

However, the contribution of construction employees to an economy that extends year after year is not proportional to working conditions, historically marked by exploitation, informality and security risks, laments Juan José Chilón, former leader of the Union of Construction Workers, Laborers and Employees (Sitec). The economic deprivation and almost zero social mobility currently place them in the crosshairs of organized crime.

For the criminologist and security specialist Mónica Franco, these young people, living in poverty, alone and far from their families, do not have support networks, which increases their vulnerability.

These conditions, the expert adds, have made it practically impossible for workers to have the opportunity to report extortion and acts of torture.

The FGE recognizes that there are 18 investigation folders for disappearances related to workers in the construction industry, according to an official response. However, the prosecution does not have data on the operations carried out in the construction works and declared that there is no record of clandestine graves between January 1, 2015 and November 31, 2020, which leaves out the findings near the Planet Hollywood.

For the families, the search has become an odyssey, due to their financial shortcomings, lack of legal knowledge, apathy from the FGE and poor support. They have also stated that neither the hotels nor the construction companies for which they worked have agreed to assist with the investigation.

Although the Planet Hollywood and Catalonia hotels are subject to reports of disappearance of workers within their facilities, these tourist complexes operate normally.

Protection ... of the Tourist Brand:

In a destination like Cancun, whose economy depends on the more than 23 million visitors that arrive annually, it is a priority to take care of the image of the tourist centers. The prosecutor Montes de Oca put it in those terms during the December meeting with legislators: “All the events (homicides) are regrettable, but for a state that lives off tourism, we have to take care of our raw material, which is precisely tourism. so that it does not happen that they decide not to come ”.

For her part, the head of the Quintana Roo Tourism Secretariat, Marisol Vanegas Pérez, ruled out that it was a serious situation. He dismisses that it inhibits the arrival of tourists to the state and adds that so far no investment has been stopped for security reasons.

Vanegas acknowledges that drug trafficking groups have "sneaked" into the hotels under development, but states that this is resolved in a "simple" way: by certifying the supplier companies "before the Mexican Chamber of the Construction Industry."

This position is shared by Ramón Roselló, manager of InverHotel, a company that groups 16 hotel chains that add up to 50,000 of the 114,000 rooms that operate in the Mexican Caribbean.

Although Roselló acknowledges that there is a problem of insecurity in buildings, he believes that it is not "so serious" and qualifies as "exceptional" the work of the authorities. He says that if the news about violence in construction is repeated a lot, that could have a negative impact on the image of Cancun as a destination.

For his part, Tobin mentions that there are already investors who have stopped projects due to insecurity in the works.

While tourism in the area shows signs of progress, the Stations of the Cross does not end for the victims and their families.

For Chilón, the Tourist Brand has weighed more than the workers' own lives, and concludes: "It is very regrettable that information is hidden in order to preserve the image of the city and prevent tourists from not coming."

Source: Proceso / ICFJ

*This research was carried out for Aristegui Noticias, El Universal, Proceso, Novedades, and Connectas with the support of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) within the initiative for Investigative Journalism of the Americas.*


  1. Ndrangheta makes mexican cartels looks like little kids

  2. CJNG runs this area

  3. Very interesting. So parts of Cancun are literally built on bodies.

  4. So not forget jesús alberto capella ibarra "el Rambo de Tijuana' left a trail of murders and disappearances in tijuana and later in Morelos where he ran state's secretary of security, both after serial criminal police chief and former military lt col. Julian leyzaola, by the time he went to QR as state security chief, capella was about to get fired by criminal governor graco ramirez, he is also asset of the hank rohn brothers still sick over their failure to take over Las Vegas, they do not want foreigners taking over their turf in Cancun for free either, remember the governor of Quintana Roo who hired him and "El Vikingo" released murderer of new public security chief general tello quiñones went right back to Cancun and his private security corporation, he sells security like an old time mafios from Coahuila who went from a military "generalship" to a police job in cancun after passing through zeta infested veracruz, francisco delgado velazco has been declared innocent, he could not have achieved that without SEDENA complicity, yeh, we all know that.

  5. Such a shame that the little to eat is taken or beaten for. The ignorance & stupidity that's transpiring in Mexico is something that many good people of Mexico don't want.

    Good article.

    1. I apologize for a few typos that I will fix shortly. I am sure this is the case at many other "tourists development " sites.......this was a very hot topic when Cabo San Lucas was beginning to be developed. A Majority of the workers were imported from Mainland Mexico MUCH of the consternation of the locals. For years the workers lived in hideous conditions up in the hills and out of sight in shanty towns, the "other CSL". A generation later and the inevitable population boom plus the growth and development of Los Dos Cabos, incl San Jose del Cabo has led to all manner of income disparity and , of course, illegal land grabs despite the creation of "jobs".

    2. Again thank you for your hardworking efforts you contribute to BB Yaqui.



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