By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
On December 8, the U.S. State Department published an updated travel warning for Mexico, superseding the one issued in mid-April 2016. The updated warning reflects the ever-changing nature of violence and unrest across various parts of Mexico, and indicated some disturbing trends in normally calm parts of the country.
Cities and Roads in Mexico Specified
There has been little change in Mexican states notorious for drug cartel activity, such as Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Guerrero, and Jalisco, to name a few. The warning specifies certain cities and roads in each state where U.S. citizens should defer all non-essential travel for their safety. One part of Mexico that was previously considered relatively safe and now has an extensive list of municipalities to avoid is the State of Mexico, also known as Edomex. Fortunately, no advisory is in effect for Mexico City, which historically has been somewhat of a safe zone for top drug cartel operatives. However, other crimes are common in the Mexican capital, such as express kidnappings, and U.S. citizens should still remain vigilant.
The state of Tamaulipas has been the hottest spot in Mexico for cartel violence in the last few years, and this is even more worrisome because it shares a considerable length of international border with Texas. The warning states, “U.S. citizens should defer all non-essential travel to the state of Tamaulipas due to violent crime, including homicide, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, extortion, and sexual assault. The number of reported kidnappings in Tamaulipas is among the highest in Mexico. State and municipal law enforcement capacity is limited to nonexistent in many parts of Tamaulipas. Violent criminal activity occurs more frequently along the northern border and organized criminal groups may target public and private passenger buses traveling through Tamaulipas.” The fact that the local police cannot be relied upon to assist in an emergency speaks volumes to the gravity of the situation in northeast Mexico.
Homicides Spike in Baja California
One of the more worrisome trends is the uptick in criminal activity in Baja California. This peninsula is divided into two separate states, Norte (north)—which is home to Tijuana, Rosarito Beach, and Ensenada—and Sur (south), which host thousands of visitors every year to the well-known Los Cabos vacation resorts. The State Department has warned Americans to exercise caution in Baja California Norte: “The state of Baja California experienced an increase in homicide rates from January to July 2016 compared to the same period in the previous year. While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured, have occurred during daylight hours.” In addition, “Baja California Sur continues to experience a high rate of homicides. Many of these homicides have occurred in La Paz, where there have been ongoing public acts of violence between rival criminal organizations.”
The good news is that drug-related violence continues to be a largely internal concern. The warning states, “There is no evidence that criminal organizations have targeted U.S. citizens based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.” The Mexican government takes great pains to protects major tourism areas since this is such a large source of income. To the surprise of many, criminal organizations also tend to stay away from resort areas because the publicity is very bad for their drug business. However, there are exceptions, with the decade-long carnage in Acapulco being the most notable.
It’s Not All Bad
Thousands of people cross the U.S.-Mexico border every single day, and hundreds of thousands fly safely in and out of the country every year to visit places like Cancun, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, and ancient ruins and historical sites. Mexico may be plagued by a considerable amount of drug-related violence, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible to travel there safely. Before making plans, it is imperative to research Mexican destinations and read through all travel warnings before making decisions about movement and logistics to ensure the safest trip possible.
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