Tainted Alcohol & Crime: Mexico Struggles With Image As Cruise Destination

A couple who went on an excursion during a cruise to Cozumel had "no idea how they made it back to their cruise ship cabin" after they "had a few drinks" ashore, according to the Journal Sentinel newspaper.  In an article titled As Dozens More Report Blackouts at Mexico Resorts, Country Says It Will Act on Tainted Alcohol, the Journal Sentinel explained that a couple from North Carolina who cruised to Cozumel went drinking after a snorkeling excursion. "The last thing they remember is vomiting . . . They woke up hours later and felt lucky to be alive. One had a large bruise on her thigh. Both her knees were scraped and bloody."

The story is one of several dozen incidents in Mexico investigated by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that surfaced in the wake of the death of college student Abbey Conner who visited a resort in Playa del Carmen earlier this year. In an article titled A Mexican Vacation, a Mysterious Death, and Now Mexico Travel CruiseEndless Questions for Wisconsin Family, the paper reports that 20 year old Abbey was vacationing with her parents and her 22 year old brother, Austin Conner. Abbey and Austin went to the swim-up bar at the resort where they "toasted the completion of final exams with a couple shots of tequila." 

But a short time later, the hotel staff found them both unconscious, face down in the pool. The parents were later notified that their children were taken to a local hotel; the Mexican doctors diagnosed Austin with a severe concussion with a "golf-ball sized lump on his forehead."

Abbey was reportedly unresponsive and in a coma, on a ventilator, with no reflexes to light, touch or pain. Her collarbone was broken, according to an account in the newspaper. 

Abbey's parents flew her to a hospital in Cancun and then on to a hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, where doctors concluded that she was brain-dead.

Another recent story (video bottom) involved a tourist from Texas who enjoyed a few rum and cokes over the course of several hours at a swim up bar at a Mexican resort, only to be later found floating unconscious in the swimming pool. He incurred $57,000 in medical bills from the local hospital. 

Travel Weekly was just one of many travel journals reporting on what it characterized as "deeply disturbing" incidents in Mexico where "American visitors believe they may have been drugged, incapacitated and possibly abused." Travel Weekly went on to opine on the apparent "indifference to the victim's plight from resort personnel and police, reports of an avaricious medical system eager to exploit foreign patients and the seeming impossibility of justice" which "could have a chilling effect even on repeat visitors who love the country." 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of State just issued an updated travel advisory for Mexico, and expanded its warnings about crime and violence in several regions which are home to Mexico's most popular tourist destinations. The U.S. cautioned U.S. citizens that homicide rates are on the rise in areas such as the states of Quintana Roo, which includes Cozumel, and Baja California Sur, which is home to Los Cabos, where Cabo San Lucas is located.

The State Department stated that "resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes." Nonetheless, while most of the homicides are targeted criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shootings, in which innocent bystanders have been injured or killed, have occurred.

Many fans of vacationing in Mexico may say that the violence is limited to the drug trade but the Department of State warns that innocent tourists are at risk of becoming victims.

The Travel Weekly article warns that tourism to Mexico is at risk if Mexico does not implement training to resort staff and tourist police, as well as place pressure on local medical facilities to stop exploiting tourists. But it seems highly unlikely that these proposed changes will take place anytime soon. 

Many people contact our office asking whether it's safe to cruise to Mexico. My thought is that 95% of the visitors who get off a cruise there will have an uneventful experience, if not an enjoyable time, assuming travel to Mexico is your thing. (I wouldn't recommend cruising to Acapulco because of the problem with violence there, as I have stated before.)

But between the Department of State warnings and the reports of tainted alcohol deaths coming from Mexico, if I were considering a vacation cruise, I might think that sailing out of Seattle or Vancouver through Canada and Alaska might seem a little more appealing.     

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.  

Photo credit: Mexico - Miami Seatrade Convention Miami - Jim Walker   

 

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Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Editor - August 25, 2017 7:42 AM

There clearly is an image struggle as your article states and we do not deny there have been problems with violence and tainted alcohol in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. However, Cozumel has not suffered from these problems and islanders are increasingly frustrated that coverage mentions Cozumel, tarring it with the same brush completely unfairly.

The Journal Sentinel article you cite does mention one example from Cozumel. While we sympathize with the couple involved, the article is anecdotal and includes no evidence to suggest the couple were served tainted alcohol in Cozumel. In fact, it mentions they were using the anti-motion sickness medicine "scopolamine" at the time (you didn't mention this above for some reason). Of course, we don't know if this had any effect, but it's worth bearing in mind that the recommended advice for that medicine is to limit alcohol intake and talk with a doctor before drinking while using it as it could cause cause drowsiness, dizziness, or blurred vision.

With regard to the new State Department Travel Warning, again, Cozumel is lumped in to the same group as Cancun since it is simply a blanket warning about the whole of the state of Quintana Roo. Yet, there has been no increase in homicides or tourist involvement in violence on the island at all. It's a bit like warning people not to visit The Hamptons because there had been violence in Brooklyn. Fair? Hardly.

For the record, Cozumel island is very safe and a world apart from other places in Quintana Roo and we simply wish this would be recognized in the media's coverage. If Cruise Law News is interested in following up on this angle we would be delighted to help and invite you to visit our beautiful, peaceful island to see for yourselves.

Thanks for your time, Editor, This is Cozumel.

Gringo - August 25, 2017 2:01 PM

Americans go to Mexico and drink like Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas and it's the resorts' fault.

Got it.

Why aren't older, richer Europeans who don't binge-drink dying from this "tainted" alcohol?

tinikini - August 25, 2017 10:58 PM

While I know there are two sides to every story and with that being said....I am sorry for this couple and was truly crushed when I read this article about Cozumel. We just traveled to Playa and Cozumel in February...kinda scary that it could have happened to us as we do drink, but not to the black out stage. We have been traveling and own a timeshare in Cozumel and we call it our second home. We have NEVER had a problem in Cozumel, EVER. And to be fair we have not had any problems in Playa either, but are more guarded in Playa. One trip to Cancun was enough for us.

We have been all over Cozumel for the past 20 years and have never felt unsafe or unwanted, or treated like we were just another dollar on the island. We have met local people and befriended them and we eat in their homes. It is a true privilege to be invited into their homes being a non native, no matter what country you come from. The locals are all so kind and welcoming. We have gone scuba diving countless times and they take the best care of us above and under the water. I hope and pray that the comment from Editor above is the absolute truth and not posting under a fake name and address. In my opinion there is no comparing Cozumel to Playa del Carmen and Cancun. Cozumel wins hands down!! I wish you well, Cozumel, at keeping your island under control!!!! Prayers to the families!!!!

Paige - September 2, 2017 7:56 AM

We travel to Cozumel two or three times a yr. I have never NOT felt safe there. We have been going there ever since we did a cruise and had a fabulous excursion in 2013. Since then we fly down and stay for a week or more each time. It's a quiet little island after the ships leave.
Saying this, when we were there for Christmas and New Yrs, we tried to make plans to go to Playa Del Carmen for NYE for a change of pace. Thank God we didn't. There was a drug related organized crime fight and innocent people were killed at a very popular Night club. It was very disturbing since we have never heard of any bad things happening down there.
I have never heard of the boot leg liquor issue either. Although we stay at a condo and we visit restaurants that we are very familiar with.
I love my Cozumel and I hope that this doesn't happen nor begin to happen or change our little slice of Paradise.

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