Mexico: Safer But Not Safe Says Travel Warning

Troubled with crime, Mexico has been on the bad list of places to visit for quite some time. But the situation is improving. Murders of U.S. citizens are down. Drug-related violence seems limited to isolated areas of the country. But a new warning issued by the U.S. Department of State urges caution.

The State Department is warning travelers to “defer nonessential travel” to the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas in Mexico. The continuing concern involves Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) that are “engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity,” says the State Department warning.

The latest travel warning urged caution when visiting Mexico, including Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa, saying travelers “should exercise extreme caution particularly late at night and in the early morning.”

Giving credit to an improving situation in Mexico, the State Department notes that 32 U.S. citizens were murdered in Mexico in the first six months of 2012, compared with 113 in all of 2011. Still, the number of kidnappings and disappearances throughout Mexico is of concern with both local and expatriate communities victimized.Casting a more positive light to illuminate efforts being taken to improve the situation, Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete of the Mexico Tourism Board said the protection of tourists “is at the pinnacle of importance to the Mexican government,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Indeed, festivals and events continue in Mexico and draw big crowds. Fifteen thousand people turned out for a mass yoga class in Mexico City, once a central location in the drug wars ravaging the country, now an area where no advisory is in place, as we see in this video:

[Photo Credit- Flickr user MattMawson]

Crime In Mexico, Just Part Of The Deal

Crime in Mexico continues to concern travelers. Recent accounts of death by a drug lord urge caution when visiting Mexico, yet the country still ranks high as a desirable travel destination.
Seeming to run deeper than ever, crime has weaved its way through Mexico in some unlikely areas as well. Affecting everything from the police, accused and indicted with claims of extortion and false imprisonment, to the launch of an app that could have predicted a recent earthquake, crime continues. Maybe, just in spite of tourism-charged efforts to paint a different picture of Mexico, crime is always going to be a deadly part of the canvass.

Police in Mexico’s northern state of Tamaulipas discovered the bodies of 14 men placed in plastic bags and left in a small delivery truck just this week. All of the men, between 30 and 35 years of age, are suspected to be the victims of the ongoing war between drug cartels, as reported by news organizations as far away as the Daily Star in Lebanon.

Granted, Tamaulipas is one of the areas most affected by drug cartel violence, but the deaths still add to the more than 47,000 people killed in drug-related violence since Mexico launched its “war against organized crimes” in 2006.

To counter the perception that all of Mexico is riddled with crime, the Mexico Tourism Board is making efforts to put a new face on the country.The Mexico Taxi Project, an advertising campaign, seeks to “change perceptions about conditions that tourists find there,” said the New York Times shortly before the program’s launch last November.

In the commercials, reminiscent of a cross between the HBO series “Taxicab Confessions” and Discovery’s “Cash Cab,” we see (via hidden camera) the cab driver asking his passengers how their (insert name of city in Mexico) vacation went. Predictably, the (very touristy but believable-looking) passengers had a (wonderful, safe, fabulous, highly recommended) time and can’t wait to come back.

Nice try, probably typical of the visits of many travelers, but news of a Mexican businessman found slain recently after accusing federal police of various crimes is troubling.

Of even more concern is that the incident is not isolated. As reported by the Latin American Herald Tribune, last September, more police officers were arrested and accused of even more crimes including extortion, bodily injury, abuse of authority and crimes against health.

It seems that the element of crime in Mexico has a way of becoming part of the best, most well directed efforts one could imagine.

Mexico City, host to a magnitude 8.0 earthquake in 1985 that claimed 10,000 lives, has been developing a new Blackberry app to provide early warning for earthquakes. When it failed to work for a recent magnitude 6.5 quake, the problem was found to be that the epicenter of that quake was in an area not yet covered by the app.

Carlos Valdés, head of the National Seismologic Service, told beyondbrics that crime in the state has blocked their efforts and that seismologists have been beaten up and threatened by armed assailants on the highways of the western state of Michoacan.

Still, tourism is growing in Mexico with most locations one might visit considered safe. Our immersion in Mazatlan last year revealed a safe and friendly destination. Fans and supporters of Mexico urge travel in spite of the U.S. Department of State’s warning of caution.

Gadling’s Dave Seminara, a fan of and frequent traveler to Mexico, may have nailed the “What to do?” question in his article, “Crime in Mexico: Is Puerto Vallarta unsafe for travelers?” answering,

“…Mexican officials are smart enough to know that they’ll need to redouble efforts to prevent crimes like this one from occurring again. In the meantime, travelers who are concerned about violent crime should consider visiting smaller towns, rather than big cities – not just in Mexico but also in many countries around the world.”

[Flickr photos by sarihuella]

Sections of Mexico unsafe for travel, consulate issues warning

Just when we thought it might be safe to travel to Mexico again, more bodies found in mass graves prompt a new travel warning for U.S. citizens and law enforcement. Mexican authorities have charged 14 people in connection with bodies found in newly-discovered mass graves warning us that parts of Mexico are still unsafe for travel.

The story starts back to August of last year when bodies were found in mass graves at a ranch in San Fernando, Tamaulipas in Mexico, just 90 miles south of Brownsville, Texas. Buses heading north towards the U.S. were stopped and boarded by gunmen who demanded identification then took Mexican national passengers away. Authorities have not confirmed but believe the intent was to hold them for ransom or use them to smuggle drugs into the U.S. 72 bodies were found then.

Last week, 59 bodies were found on Wednesday then another 13 more bodies were found on Friday at the same ranch. Bus lines followed the lead from cruise lines to cancel routes into the troubled area sparking demonstrations around Mexico. Protesters condemned the drug gangs themselves and the Mexican government’s war on drug gangs.

“The investigation is in progress and we must be very careful, especially not to cause alarm among the population that is worried about the whereabouts of their loved ones, but we can deduce that, unfortunately, that they are fellow Mexicans,” said Morelos Canseco Gomez, a top security official in the northern state of Tamaulipas reports CNN.

If you have been keeping up with the news you know that Mazatlan, Mexico has been in the spotlight recently as cruise lines stopped calling there over safety concerns. Gadling readers both agree and disagree with the decision by major cruise lines to stop calling in Mazatlan and the general safety level in the country saying:

“There is no place in Mexico that is safe right now. Death is random as well as directed toward a target. Collateral damage happens anywhere there is some beef between these diablos”

“I’m glad to see some cruise lines are not putting their passengers and crew in harms way by avoiding certain vacation destinations. As tourists we should withhold our travel dollars until safety and security become a necessity and not a luxury.”

“Americans are being targeted in Mexico — and murdered. These murders are occurring in taxis, at airports, and on the streets. Rich Americans are fleeing Mexico for their lives.”

“I agree stay the hell away from Mexico…i went there in November and all you do is get hassled to buy stuff…drug…whores…anything”

Here is the travel alert issued late Friday by U.S. consulate officials:

“The United States Consulates General in Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, and Monterrey advise American citizens that the U.S. government has received uncorroborated information that Mexican criminal gangs may intend to attack U.S. law enforcement officers or U.S. citizens in the near future in Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and San Luis Potosi. This information is being distributed to all U.S. government employees in the three states. No other information is available. If more detailed information is developed, we will advise American citizens immediately.”

As Mexico’s war against drugs continues, look for travel alerts and warnings to continue also. be prepared for transportation companies to cancel routes and itineraries too, also concerned over the safety of their personnel and passengers. How much of that will happen is uncertain, but many agree, Mexico needs to gain control of the situation for the protection of it’s citizens and visitors.

“The mass graves found yesterday once again show the Mexican government’s failure to deal with the country’s public security crisis and reduce criminal violence, which has left many populations vulnerable to attacks, abductions and killings,” said Rupert Knox, a researcher on Mexico at Amnesty International told CNN. “All too often, such human rights crimes have gone unpunished, leaving criminal gangs and officials acting in collusion with them free to target vulnerable communities, such as irregular migrants.”

Related Stories