PLAYA DEL CARMEN — While authorities investigate what set off a deadly shooting at an electronic music festival event, residents said it came amid a growing and increasingly open drug scene in this resort town that has long been spared the violence of Mexico’s cartel wars.
Concerns that violence may be creeping into Playa del Carmen were voiced to an Associated Press reporter as people attended an evening vigil Monday Jan. 16 in front of the Blue Parrot nightclub, where five people died and 15 were wounded or injured in the chaos before dawn.
“This is a sign of what has been happening,” said Lenin Amaro, a local business owner and politician.
Investigators were trying to determine the motive of the shooting, but Quintana Roo state Attorney General Miguel Angel Pech said the gunfire erupted when security tried to stop a man from entering the club with a gun. He ruled out any terrorist intent.
Three of those killed were part of the security detail at the 10-day BPM electronic music festival, Pech said. The gunman apparently fled.
Gov. Carlos Joaquin attributed the shooting to “the intolerance and conflict of interests between two people,” referring to it as “a personal conflict” between two people who exchanged gunfire. He did not specify what the conflict was.
Federal authorities have spoken of a strong presence of the Zeta cartels in the state for years, especially an hour to the north in Cancun. In 2010, Zetas were blamed for the firebombing of a bar in Cancun that killed eight people.
On Monday, officials released a list of the dead, who included one Canadian, one American, two Mexicans and one Italian.
The American killed in the shooting at the nightclub has been identified in media reports as Alejandra Villanueva, an 18-year-old Denver woman. Roberto Martinez told NBC News that his sister, Alejandra Villanueva, was killed in the attack.
Fifteen people suffered injuries, including at least two Canadians and two Americans.
One man who was inside the club said he hid in a storeroom with four others until the shooting stopped. He said he is a local resident and veteran of the club scene, and he agreed to speak about it only if granted anonymity because of fears for his safety.
He said that the Zetas cartel controls all drug dealing in the resort and that in the big clubs it has multiple people selling drugs, usually out of the bathrooms. He said drug dealing has become more open in recent years.
“In this area there are Zetas that control everything and that’s why everything is fine,” he said. “All the clubs here, every club here is controlled. In the toilets, everywhere, they control the drugs. They offer you drugs openly. The businessmen, the people in nightclubs, they cannot do anything. They (the Zetas) can burn your building.”
He said local officials tolerate drug dealers as long as they don’t “mess up.”
For that reason, he did not believe the Zetas were responsible for the shooting. “The Zetas didn’t do this. Otherwise they’re going to kill their own business,” he said. “If there are no clients there are no drugs.”
He and others speculated that a rival had tried to sell in the club or perhaps just wanted to hurt their business. He said security at the event was not using metal detectors.
The Blue Parrot’s management did not immediately respond to requests for an interview.
A foreign promoter attending the electronic music festival who was at an event in another Playa del Carmen location during the shooting, said many people who came to town for the festival had been unnerved by the bloodshed and left for Tulum to the south. A number of parties that were unrelated to the festival, but had sought to take advantage of so many DJs in town during the coming days have been canceled, he said.
The promoter, who insisted on speaking anonymously out of concern for his safety, said it was unfortunate that organized crime was hurting the 10-day BPM festival.
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