Wednesday, February 8, 2012

U.S. issues new travel alert for Mexico

An objective analysis of the U.S. State Department's latest Mexico travel warning

The United States Dept. of State renewed today a travel alert that applies to a large portion of Mexico's national territory.

"Crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country, and may occur anywhere," said the U.S. government. The alert was a re-issuance of a warning previously announced April 22, 2011.

The government said that the number of American citizens murdered in Mexico had risen from 35 in 2007 to 120 last year. But it claimed there is no evidence that U.S. nationals are being targeted in such cases.

Included in the alert are all or parts of the Mexican states of Baja California, Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Durango, Chihuahua, Zacatecas, Sonora, Sinaloa, San Luis Potosí, Nayarit, Michoacán, Guerrero, Jalisco, Aguascalientes, Nuevo León, Colima, Morelos & Veracruz.

As I reported last November, during a 12 month period from 2010 to 2011 Australia, the United States and five western European nations declared 65% of Mexico unsafe for visits and travel by their citizens: Mexico's popularity as a tourist destination has suffered drug war effects in recent years, slipping from eighth to 23rd place between 2007 and 2010:

But the Mexican government claims that the vast majority of violence in the country is confined to a very small geographic area. For instance, its statistics show that in 2011, 44% of all organized crime homicides occurred in just 2.4% of the national territory ( If that figure is accurate, most of Mexico is indeed secure. President Felipe Calderón is quick to point out that Mexico is far safer than many of its Latin American neighbors (

Still, the U.S. government said in the latest alert that it remained "particularly worried by the growing number of kidnappings and disappearances throughout Mexico."

"We strongly recommend that you maintain a low profile and avoid any indication of wealth which might attract attention," said the alert. It particularly cautioned U.S. citizens about the "serious problem" of kidnapping and robbery on highways, especially in northern Mexico near the border. The government said that "new and large vehicles" present the most obvious targets for highway assaults. U.S. citizens were warned to drive only during the day, and to avoid secondary roads in favor of major highways and toll roads.

The part of the story not told is perhaps more important than what has been.

The claim that there is "no evidence" that Americans have been targeted for violence in Mexico is absurd, as the U.S. government knows. On Feb. 15, 2011, two federal agents, Jaime Zapata and his partner Victor Ávila, were traveling from Laredo, Texas to Mexico City on official business. They were in a government vehicle carrying U.S. diplomatic tags. The men were unarmed, in accord with Mexican law. As they passed through the north central state of San Luis Potosí, on a major four lane highway between Monterrey and Mexico City, two vehicles began following them and forced them off the road. According to Ávila, as many as 15 men dressed in military uniforms and carrying assault weapons circled their car. Zapata rolled down his window to confirm that they were federal agents, and the men opened fire at point blank range with AK-47s. Zapata, gravely wounded, died within minutes, and Ávila barely survived. U.S. agents attacked in Mexico:

This is a very high profile case in the U.S., and one of the assailants was just extradited to a Washington, D.C. federal court in December. The government's filing of a "no evidence of targeting" report is misleading, and a real disservice to the American traveling public. If cartel executioners had no fear of assaulting known federal agents, why then would they be afraid of killing any U.S. citizen -- even in a very public location, as this one was?

More on the murder and wounding of the U.S. ICE (immigration) agents:
Los Zetas accused killer makes his first appearance in D.C. federal court:
Zeta boss linked to 50 murders, including U.S. ICE agent, is arrested:
Accused Zeta killer of U.S. ICE agent returns to D.C. federal court:

But that's only the beginning of the story. On December 22, a young American family was travelling by bus from their home in Ft. Worth, Tex. to a family Christmas gathering in Veracruz state. They had crossed the border in the Brownsville-Matamoros area. The bus in which the family was riding was one of three attacked early that morning by machine gun wielding hit squads. A 39 year old mother and her two daughters, 19 and 13, were singled out, shot and died at the scene. A younger brother survived, as did several other passengers on the bus. While there is no direct evidence that the U.S. victims were killed because of their nationality, they were not a great distance from the border when the attack was launched, and their U.S. citizenship might have been assumed or inferred from all the circumstances. It's foolish to presume that such criminals lack basic common sense. Three Americans on their way to see family murdered in Veracruz:

More on the Texas family killed in Veracruz:
U.S. warns citizens after deadly narco attack against bus passengers:
"I told her not to go to Mexico":
Death toll along Tamaulipas-Veracruz border rises to 39:

And speaking of American targets, let's not forget the U.S. sailor from Washington state who had to spend the 2011 holidays away from home due to his job. Last Christmas day he found himself in the Gulf port of Tampico. Aware of the general insecurity in the region, the sailor was extremely cautious. But on Christmas morning, the 46 year old man left his hotel room briefly just to get a cup of tea. He ended up loosing his life in the process:

Finally, what about the case of the young American couple brutally murdered in March 2010 after attending a birthday party in Juárez? She was a U.S. consulate employee in the city, and he was a sheriff's deputy in El Paso, just across the Rio Grande. There is little doubt that they were purposely targeted by cartel assassins -- based upon nationality:

Everyone must decide for himself/herself whether and where it's safe to travel in Mexico. But consider the source of the information upon which you decide to rely. The United States government has its own agenda, as does Mexico (where a huge number of people make their living from tourism and related industries). Even private reporting sources, such as the many blogs and commercial websites in this country, have their own reasons for saying the things they do (often, because they or their advertisers and sponsors want to sell you something). Think about motive before accepting someone's analysis of the security situation here. No, Mexico is not Afghanistan or Iraq, but it's not Kansas either.

Related posts
Mexico says travel alert is "ridiculous":
"Drug war threatens Mexico's survival and U.S. national security":
U.S. issues world wide alert after Iranian assassination plot is foiled:

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