(NewsNation) — As Americans prepare to pack up the books and hit the beaches, many are hearing an increasingly strong warning from the U.S. government: Think twice before traveling to Mexico.
Experts who spoke to News 2’s sister station, NewsNation, said some resorts, which have long been considered safe areas, may actually be controlled by Mexican drug cartels.
“There is a cartel presence in these resorts,” said Robert Almonte, a former U.S. marshal in the western district of Texas.
Almonte isn’t just referring to drugs being sold to tourists; he says cartels own some of those popular resorts as a way to launder money.
“They’re not going to have their name on there,” he said. “They’re going to other individuals that have interest in the companies already and I think one of the main reasons is to launder their money.”
The U.S. Treasury Department is currently pursuing such a connection with the case of Sergio Armando Orozco Rodriguez, also known as “Chocho.”
Using the Kingpin Act, federal authorities allege “Chocho” is a member of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) who extorts businesses for protection money in his hometown of Puerto Vallarta and launders drug proceeds through ties to nightclubs and restaurants along the city’s main boardwalk.
Earl Anthony Wayne, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, says money laundering through hospitality services, real estate and other foreign trade that appears legitimate all boils down to Mexican cartels supplying drugs and American demand for them.
“One of the things we’ve discovered about these groups is they may be bad and evil, but they’re often pretty smart in finding ways to move their profits around,” said Wayne.
As of this writing, the U.S. State Department has issued its strongest possible “do not travel” warning for five Mexican states — Colima, Michocan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas — due to “crime and kidnapping.”
A sixth state, Guerrero, is on the list due to “crime.”
Of the 32 Mexican states, only two have a “normal precautions” designation, the lowest level.
The popular tourist state of Quintana Roo, which includes vacation hotspots such as Tulum, Playa Del Carmen and Cancun, has a Level 2 “exercise increased caution” warning.
Almonte thinks it’s time for Americans to avoid the country as a message to the cartels and the Mexican government.
“We’ve had enough,” he said. “We’re not going to Mexico until you guys get your house in order.”
Tourist data suggests Americans are still heading south by the millions. Through the first 11 months of 2022, more than 30 million U.S. citizens traveled to Mexico.