Osorio migrated to Cancun 10 years ago from the Orizaba Valley in Veracruz. A fierce, 5-foot-2 former sex worker, she planned on giving Ruben the keys to her castle, the brothel bearing her name. She built Reyna’s near the shanty towns and new mini-cities of massive, low-income, privately-owned housing projects like the Mayan Paradise. Local politicians and police pressured her and other sex workers to move, because authorities felt she and her colleagues were conducting business too close to Kilometro Cero —the invisible, but definitive border separating the storied hotel zone of tourist Cancun from the chaotic city of almost a million people that houses most of the tourism workers, including those that make Cancun one of the Caribbean’s hubs of sex tourism.

“We [the sex workers] organized ourselves, fought the authorities and got them to help establish this complex of sexual service businesses on the margins of the city. When he turned 26, I let Ruben start managing Reyna’s some evenings. I thought that he could handle himself and be strong as I taught him to be,” Osario explains. “I didn’t want him to live in my hell.”

Unfortunately for Osorio and, especially, for her son, the line separating paradise and hell in Cancun is blurred. The city is the suicide capital of Mexico. That’s a subject that’s not likely to come up as thousands of people from almost 200 countries gather here over the next two weeks for the U.N. Conference on Climate Change (known as COP 16). This, despite the fact that the climate injustices that they’re supposed to be confronting lead to the poverty, droughts, floods and other disasters that drive people like Osorio to migrate here, including those who take their lives when they arrive. 

Ruben had promised to never hit his wife, and to kill himself if he did. After breaking that promise, the 28 year old got drunk, tied an electrical chord to his stucco ceiling, wrapped it around his neck and fell to his knees, killing himself in front of his then 4-year-old daughter. He was among more than 100 people in Cancun who have taken their lives each year since 2007.

“How could this happen?” his mother pondered, staring down as if searching for answers in the empty white table where we were sitting in her empty bar (she says the economic crisis has brought business down by at least 60 percent). “I thought he could handle himself. I was wrong. It got to him—all the women, the drugs, the alcohol.”

 Explanations as to why so many Cancun residents can’t “handle it” vary. Tabloids like El Peso regularly run scintillating stories with front page headlines like “Tragedia Amorosa” (Love Tragedy) and “Alambre al Cuello” (Wire to the Neck). Many of the articles also run color pictures, like the one of Ruben lying dead on his knees in his apartment. Neighbors’ explanations add local color (e.g.”He was cursed”) to the tragedies.

Reports in television news and in more the serious journals quote “experts” linking the high suicide rate to the ancient cult of Ixtab, the Mayan goddess of suicide. Ixtab is often depicted in murals and on ancient vases suspended in the sky with a noose around her neck. She symbolizes the high calling that was suicide among the Maya of a previous era; the noose reaches up to the heavens.