State Department Travel Warning For Mexico Includes Cancun, Los Cabos
By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
For the last several years, the U.S. State Department has been publishing travel warnings to American citizens planning travel to Mexico. This warning is generally updated approximately every six months, and provides a state-by-state description of threats that are usually crime-related. States with a high prevalence of drug-related violence make a regular appearance in the warning, like Tamaulipas and Guerrero. However, the August 22 warning came as a shock to many because it included the historically calm tourist meccas of Cancun and Los Cabos.
Specifically, the part of the warning related to Baja California Sur (where Los Cabos are located) stated: “Criminal activity and violence, including homicide, remain an issue throughout the state. Exercise caution as Baja California Sur continues to experience a high rate of homicides.” It also indicated that while most of these homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations and turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens.” Similar language was used to warn U.S. citizens about travel to the state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, and Tulum are located.
Drug Cartels Near Tourist Regions
Historically, Mexican drug cartels have avoided engaging in extreme criminal activity in or near busy tourist areas. Such activity tends to draw major media and police attention, both of which are detrimental to drug and human smuggling operations. Large resort areas like Los Cabos and Cancun have been largely immune to shootouts and violence usually associated with Mexican border areas. However, the homicide rate in both Baja California Sur and Quintana Roo has risen since this time last year. According to the Los Angeles Times, there have been deadly gun battles in downtown Cancun, and in January, five people were killed at a nightclub in nearby Playa del Carmen. In Los Cabos, a municipality on the Pacific Coast that includes the cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, three people were shot to death this month at the entrance to a popular beach.
Homicide rate increases have also been occurring across much of Mexico. This year, Mexico is on track to record more homicides than in any year in the last two decades. Many drug war observers have attributed this rise in crime to the arrest and extradition of former Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán. With El Chapo gone, Sinaloa rivals are taking advantage of the perceived power vacuum by making a play for territory—places like Los Cabos, which has been under Sinaloa cartel control for years. Rafael Fernandez de Castro, director for the Center for U.S.-Mexican studies at UC San Diego, told the LA Times that the rapid increase in development, especially in Los Cabos, may have helped contribute to the violence as migrants from around the country came to build new hotel rooms and resorts. Migrants are often targeted by cartels like Los Zetas for kidnapping and extortion.
Violence in Mexico
These shifts in violent activity are typical in Mexico, as cartels are constantly looking to obtain territory where they can exploit lucrative drug and human smuggling routes. Sadly for tourists, in Quintana Roo, the state where Cancun is located, 169 killings were reported from January to July, more than twice as many as during the same period last year. In Baja California Sur, home to Los Cabos and Cabo San Lucas, 232 slayings have been reported this year, nearly four times as many as during the same period last year. Despite this, Mexico has seen a 12 percent increase in American tourism. While U.S. citizens are likely to continue visits to these areas, it is more important than ever to be aware of changing security conditions before travel to Mexico.