4 killings near beach in Cancun linked to drug gang leader dubbed “The Panther” as authorities offer $50,000 reward
The killings of four men in the Mexican resort of Cancun was probably related to drug gang rivalries, authorities said Tuesday.
The Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo said drug gang leader Hector Flores Aceves, known by his nickname “Pantera,” or “The Panther,” was involved in the killings.
The dead men were found Monday in the city’s hotel zone near the beach. The killings came as Cancun kicked off the Easter Week vacations, one of its busiest times of the year.
The state offered a $50,000 reward for Flores Aceves on Tuesday, saying he was involved in the killings. But it was the same reward offered for his arrest since a series of attacks and killings at bars in Cancun in May 2022. Officials said Flores Aceves also goes by the nicknames “El 15” and “Rey” (“King”).
In 2022, Lucio Hernández, the then-police chief of Quintana Roo, said Flores Aceves and a rival implicated in the bar attacks were members of the Sinaloa cartel, which split in the state. Two people were killed and eight wounded in shooting attacks on two bars in Cancun on May 6, 2022.
At the time, Hernández said the two “are trying to control what they call ‘the marketplace’ to carry out their criminal activities.”
He said the gangs’ activities included drug dealing, kidnapping and extorting “protection money” from business owners, by threatening to attack or kill them if they didn’t pay.
The information offered Tuesday did not give any more details on the motive in the latest killings, in which two suspects were detained. But gangs in Mexico frequently stake out exclusive areas where only they can sell drugs to tourists, and kill anyone selling drugs for a rival gang.
Photos published by Reuters showed local police, the Mexican National Guard and a vehicle from the attorney general’s office at the Fiesta Americana hotel.
Monday’s killings came less than a week after a U.S. tourist was shot in the leg in the nearby town of Puerto Morelos. The motive in that remains under investigation.
The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert last month warning travelers to “exercise increased caution,” especially after dark, at Mexico’s Caribbean beach resorts like Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, which have been plagued by drug gang violence in the past.
That warning came in the wake of the kidnapping of four Americans in Mexico earlier this month. The State Department posted a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory for Tamaulipas, the Mexican state the Americans were in when they were kidnapped.
There have been a series of brazen acts of violence along the Caribbean coast, the crown jewel of Mexico’s tourism industry.
In June 2022, two Canadians were killed in Playa del Carmen, apparently because of debts between international drug and weapons trafficking gangs. Last January, two other Canadians were killed and one injured in a shooting at a resort near Cancun.
In March 2022, a British resident of Playa del Carmen was shot and killed in broad daylight while traveling with his daughter in his car.
In October 2021, farther south in the laid-back destination of Tulum, two tourists – one a California travel blogger born in India and the other German – were killed when they apparently were caught in the crossfire of a gunfight between rival drug dealers.
The following month, two suspected drug dealers were killed in a shooting that sent tourists in swimsuits fleeing in panic from a beach near Cancun.