March 16, 2012
Two recent travel warnings about visiting Mexico have sparked controversy and re-ignited the question “Is it Safe to Visit Mexico?”
One warning was from the state of Texas. As Reuters reported on March 6th, “Texas on Tuesday warned residents for the third consecutive year not to travel to Mexico during the upcoming university spring break season, saying drug cartel violence and other criminal activity are a safety threat even in resort areas.”
In response, Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, the Director General Adjunto of Mexico’s Consejo de Promoción Turística de México (CPTM), the Tourist Promotion Council, objected to the warning and actually met with Texas officials to discuss it.
Lopez Negrete’s objection is that "This warning is exceptionally aggressive. To paint Mexico with such a massively broad brush stroke is simply outrageous."
Indeed, in 2010, the Texas Spring Break warning was more specific, warning spring breakers not to visit cities on Mexico’s northern border. But in 2011 and 2012, the state just warned them against visiting the whole country of Mexico.
As Lopez Negrete has pointed out, most tourists are not in the violent areas. "Those pockets where this violence is taking place are very well identified. This is totally unrelated to tourism. This is not about attacking tourists."
That’s true for the most part. There is no evidence that American tourists, or tourists of any nation, are being targeted.
It’s also a little ironic to see the government of Texas warning university students not to visit any part of Mexico on spring break. The behavior of many spring breakers is not noted for the exemplification of safety, health and well-being. Public drunkenness and debauchery are not safe wherever practiced, so why doesn’t the state of Texas warn against those behaviors ?
On the other hand, the U.S. State Department’s warnings are much more measured and tailored to specific regions of Mexico. The warning was updated on Feb. 8th, 2012. I recommend that interested readers peruse the warning here.
The State Department warning doesn’t actually tell Americans not to visit Mexico, and attempts to put things in perspective:
“Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day. The Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations, and there is no evidence that Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) have targeted U.S. visitors and residents based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major trafficking routes.”
The State Department warning contains detailed information about the security situation in the 31 Mexican states and Mexico City, the Federal District. (This past summer my family and I had a very safe and enjoyable visit to Mexico City. Click here for my article about it, with some great photographs taken by my wife and sons).
American would-be-visitors to Mexico ought to investigate the situation and make their own decisions.
Remember that Mexico is a big country, about the size of Western Europe. The drug cartel violence, horrible though it is, is not distributed evenly throughout the country.
Consider the numbers involved. In 2012, there were about 130 Americans murdered in Mexico. However, when you consider that about 13 million Americans visit Mexico, that’s a very low percentage.
Also, it should be pointed out that some Americans visit unsafe areas, engage in unsafe activities, and some are even involved with drug trafficking themselves.
Not only that, but some American cities have higher murder rates than Mexico’s nationwide murder rate.
On the other hand, if Americans do have trouble in Mexico they are in a foreign country, they may not speak the language, and the Mexican legal system is notoriously unreliable. Of course, it’s unreliable for Mexicans also.
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It’s a complicated issue that can’t always be summarized in a sound bite.
Mexican tourist promoters are concerned about Mexico’s image in the U.S. Tourism is an important industry in Mexico. Last year 22.7 million tourists visited Mexico. But if the security situation gets worse, tourism could be seriously damaged.
If you plan to visit Mexico, do your own research. Investigate your destinations and how you are getting there. Plan ahead. Be careful, of course. And enjoy your trip.
© 2012 Allan Wall - All Rights Reserved
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Allan Wall recently returned to the U.S. after residing many years in Mexico.