Wednesday February 10 2016

Posted by Tomas on January 19, 2016
  • Mexico Travel Warning in Perspective
    Mexico Travel Warning in Perspective

The latest Travel Warning for Mexico was updated by the US Department of State on January 19, 2016. The unfortunate part in the reality of bureaucracy is the lag time between real world events and the publication. Despite the alarming statistics in both Baja California and Baja California Sur presented in the travel warning, things appear to have returned to a state of calm in the last 4 months.

In addition to the State Department warnings the Center for Disease control has also released a Travel advisory for Mexico, regarding the Zika Virus for pregnant women. I'll take a look at the reality of that too.

Excepts from the Official US State Department Warning for Mexico - January 19, 2016

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens about the risk of traveling to certain places in Mexico due to threats to safety and security posed by organized criminal groups in the country.

U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery by organized criminal groups in various Mexican states. For information on security conditions in specific regions of Mexico, which can vary, travelers should reference the state-by-state assessments further below.

This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mexico, issued May 5, 2015, to update information about the security situation and to advise the public of additional restrictions on the travel of U.S. government (USG) personnel.

General Conditions: 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 dedicates substantial resources to protect visitors to major tourist destinations, and there is no evidence that organized criminal groups have targeted U.S. visitors or residents based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.

Nevertheless, U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter organized criminal groups that engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico. Crime and violence are serious problems and can occur anywhere, and U.S. citizens have fallen victim to criminal activity, including homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking, and highway robbery. While many of those killed in organized crime-related violence have themselves been involved in criminal activity, innocent persons have also been killed. The number of U.S. citizens reported to the Department of State as murdered in Mexico was 100 in 2014 and 103 in 2015.

Gun battles between rival criminal organizations or with Mexican authorities have taken place in towns and cities in many parts of Mexico and have occurred in broad daylight on streets and in other public venues, such as restaurants and clubs. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been temporarily prevented from leaving the area. Criminal organizations have used stolen cars, buses, and trucks to create roadblocks on major thoroughfares, preventing the military and police from responding to criminal activity. The location and timing of future armed engagements is unpredictable. We recommend that you defer travel to the areas specifically identified in this Travel Warning and exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the other areas for which advisories are in effect.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to lower their personal profiles and to avoid displaying indicators of wealth such as expensive-looking jewelry, watches, or cameras. U.S. citizens are encouraged to maintain awareness of their surroundings and avoid situations in which they may be isolated or stand out as potential victims.

Kidnappings in Mexico have included traditional, "express," and "virtual" kidnappings. Victims of traditional kidnappings are physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid for release. "Express" kidnappings are those in which a victim is abducted for a short time and forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, then released. A "virtual" kidnapping is an extortion-by-deception scheme wherein a victim is contacted by phone and convinced to isolate themselves from family and friends until a ransom is paid. The victim is coerced (by threat of violence) to remain isolated and to provide phone numbers for the victim's family or loved ones. The victim's family is then contacted and a ransom for the "kidnapped" extracted. Recently, some travelers to Mexico staying at hotels as guests have been targets of such "virtual" kidnapping schemes.

Of particular safety concern are casinos, sports books, or other gambling establishments, and adult entertainment establishments. U.S. government personnel are specifically prohibited from patronizing these establishments in the states of Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit.

Carjacking and highway robbery are serious problems in many parts of the border region, and U.S. citizens have been murdered in such incidents. Most victims who complied with carjackers' demands have reported that they were not physically harmed. Carjackers have shot at vehicles that have attempted to flee. Incidents have occurred during the day and at night, and carjackers have used a variety of techniques, including roadblocks, bumping/moving vehicles to force them to stop, and running vehicles off the road at high speeds. There are indications that criminals target newer and larger vehicles, especially dark-colored SUVs. However, even drivers of old sedans and buses coming from the United States have been targeted. While violent incidents can occur anywhere and at any time, they most frequently occur at night and on isolated roads. To reduce risk when traveling by road, we strongly urge you to travel between cities throughout Mexico only during daylight hours, to avoid isolated roads, and to use toll roads ("cuotas") whenever possible. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. In remote areas, cell phone coverage is limited or non-existent.

The Mexican government has deployed federal police and military personnel throughout the country as part of its efforts to combat organized criminal groups. U.S. citizens traveling on Mexican roads and highways by car or bus may encounter government checkpoints, staffed by military or law enforcement personnel. In some places, criminal organizations have erected their own unauthorized checkpoints, at times wearing police and military uniforms, and have killed or abducted motorists who have failed to stop at them. You should cooperate at all checkpoints.

The latest travel warning is nicely presented graphically presented and with the click of a button you can see the travel issues specific to any Mexican state.

Putting the Warning in Perspective

What is living on the edge dangerous to one person is the daily mundane to another. I live in Baja California Sur and have done so for more than 16 years. I speak Spanish and read the local news daily. I am part of the tourism industry but as a journalist don't put that in front of the truth. As a freelance photographer and later videographer, I have traveled more than 90 countries and lived abroad almost half my adult life. I am a traveler, not a tourist. The intangible gems of my life are the people and cultures I've explored outside my native country.

There are parts of Mexico I will not travel to at the current time. None of those ugly places are in Baja. There are not highway roaming bandits looking to feed wayward tourists to their Doberman, I have yet to see a pirate in the Sea of Cortez, nor is Mexico on the verge of revolution. There is perhaps no country in the world that welcomes North Americans with such open arms. 

For Baja California the current  travel warning reads:

"Exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night. According to the Baja State Secretariat for Public Security, Tijuana and Rosarito continued to experience an increase in homicide rates from January to October 2015 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."

The violence referred to in the warning is again, almost entirely crime on crime and virtually transparent to the foreign population. But remember, Tijuana is now a city of 1.6 million people and the fourth largest metro area in Mexico. Huge efforts have been made in the Rosarito Beach areas and the confidence in North American travelers is returning. Like locations in Baja California Sur there appeared to be a territorial struggle between cartels with the violence peaking in the summer of 2015.

The travel warning for Baja California Sur reads as follows:

"Exercise caution in the state capital of La Paz. According to the Department of Interior of Mexico, Baja California Sur registered its highest homicide rate ever as of October 2015. Many of these homicides have occurred in La Paz, where there has been an increase in public acts of violence between rival criminal organizations.

This is true, and out of date at the same time. La Paz had an unusual eruption of drug violence from August 2014 to October 2015 and in that period the region recorded more than 160 drug related homicides. The murder per capita rate rivaled Detroit. That violence has since been quelled and since October we have had three drug related incidents resulting in four deaths. But with the city of more than a 1/4 million and the tip of the peninsula just over 1/2 a million, that puts La Paz back on track with some of the US's safest cities in murders per capita. Everyone is optimistic the current calm will return the nature of the City of La Paz to the city of peace.

The Zika Virus

There are currently no reported cases of Zika on the Baja peninsula or in any state adjacent to Baja ~ this may change as we enter our mosquito season in late July. Zika has been reported locally contacted in the southern most state of Mexico, Chiapis.

The Center for Disease Control recently issued an advisory to pregnant women for travel to just about everywhere south of the United States in the western hemisphere. As Wardens for the US Consulate we received an additional warning from the State Department to pass on to our readers. 

It is BELIEVED that the Zika virus is responsible for dramatically elevating the birth defect known as microcephaly in a particular region of Brazil. It is an alarming increase of over 20X, but at this time only a statistical inference to the cause. 

At the time of the update to this article on February 1, 2016 there are 18 cases in Mexico, most of them locally contracted and 31 cases in the United States, most of them contracted on trips to South America.

This is the same breed of mosquito that carries dengue and malaria, BTW.

Much of Mexico never gets a 'killing frost' so we almost always have live mosquitoes, but much of Central Mexico is at too high an altitude to be threated by this species of mosquito.. Here in Baja we also need rain for a 'bug season' and that won't happen again in the tropical reaches until early July. With tropical diseases ranging from good old Malaria to dengue you should always avoid insect bites. 

Click here for more on the Facts about the Zika Virus

"Bully up America", as Teddy Roosevelt would say.

Here is the most convincing statistic to keep in mind when digesting all your advice and ponderings when weighing the decision of traveling to Mexico: In 2014 an alarming 100 US citizens were murdered in Mexico. 

That is tragic, particularly for the family and friends of those 100 real people, its scary... and it makes great headlines.  

But... also in that same year Mexico returned to the top 10 tourist destinations world wide. Cabo San Lucas became the #1 destination on the west coast. More than 11 times more Americans visit Mexico than will visit London.  In 2014 a record setting 25.4 million Americans visited Mexico giving it #1 position in foreign destinations and a 37% market share of US international travelers.

With 25.4 million US citizens visiting Mexico per year it means the murder rate of US tourists in Mexico is a minuscule 0.39 per 100,000 visitors. To put that in perspective you are 5x more likely to be murdered by a family member, at home.

When on vacation anywhere you should take extra steps to avoid being the victim of petty crime. Americans are notoriously unaware of their surroundings when traveling. The more adventurous you get, off the beaten path or exploring sketchy neighborhoods the more you put at risk. There are three kinds of people, those that like to scare, those that like to be scared and those that want to make the decision on their own. Be informed with real information when making your own risk assessment.

Come visit us in Baja and don't miss out.

 

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