File it under “What were they thinking?”
Hot on the heels of recent scenes of a widespread gunfight on the streets of Acapulco, Mexico, a new and entirely avoidable tourism headache has now developed on the other side of the country.
In scenes reminiscent of a war zone, and unexpected in the “City of Peace” as Mérida, Yucatán is known, the Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios (COFEPRIS) carried out a spectacularly dramatic operation in broad daylight during the late afternoon of Friday 29 April, at bars and cantinas across the center of Mérida. Supported by heavily armed and masked state and federal forces and K-9 squad dogs, COFEPRIS raided a number of establishments (at least ten of which this reporter has been made aware), intimidating customers, who were forced to empty their pockets and backpacks for search by the authorities, while astonished locals and tourists in the streets outside watched in amazement while the huge convoys of vehicles containing state and federal police wearing balaclavas and carrying high caliber weapons rolled past.
Four bars were temporarily closed by COFEPRIS under the general health act, however at press time, authorities have announced only two arrests from the operation (one customer and one bar employee), both for possession of drugs, and both of which occurred at a single establishment.
A street vendor outside one of the establishments raided told this reporter of his amazement to see such heavily armed forces stop in front of him, terrifying him and the other people in the street and nearby, including a number of foreign tourists who had been shopping at the nearby market.
While COFEPRIS doubtless has the right to carry out such operations if they have suspicion of the need to do so, the overwhelming display of military style power used would appear to be designed to do nothing more than to intimidate the patrons of the establishments in question (and perhaps justify the recent hiring of additional numbers of officers?) A presumably unintended consequence of the operation is the photos of heavily armed forces on the streets outside the establishments, which are now flashing around the internet, and providing a headache for the tourist authorities who have worked so hard to present Mérida as a peaceful place. The fact remains of course that Mérida is a peaceful place, and this highly unnecessary show of force was nothing more than overkill. The photos however are reminiscent of places such as San Pedro Sula, Honduras, long rated as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and where images of this type are commonplace.
COFEPRIS and the other local, state, and federal authorities most likely consider this operation to have been a “success”. One would ask however, at what price to the image of Mérida does this “success” come? Pictures like these will hardly encourage first time visitors from Cleveland or Montreal to believe the “City of Peace” propaganda. “Mérida as part of police state” is more likely to be the message they receive.