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Monday, May 18, 2009

Mexico: A Safe and Affordable Vacation

Mexico: A Safe and Affordable Vacation
by Christa Thomas

Lately, there have been a lot of rumors in the news about Mexico. By now, everyone is probably aware of the travel advisory for Mexico and has read an article from the U.S. media’s campaign against Mexico. But what is the real story from people living and vacationing in this great country?

Mexico is a huge country that 110 million people call home. Within that, several border towns have been experiencing drug cartel violence. The U.S. media has tried to create the perception that all of Mexico, including favorite sun and beach destinations, is dangerous.

Part of what started the media frenzy was the U.S. Department of State's Mexico Travel Alert. The U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert (their lowest level of warning) on February 20, 2009, about travel to Mexico. It says, in part, “While millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year (including thousands who cross the land border every day for study, tourism or business), violence in the country has increased recently . . . Common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where prostitution and drug dealing might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable.”

This is good advice that applies when traveling in any country. It certainly should not have sparked the fear and sensationalized coverage that it has. The Travel Alert has been broadly misinterpreted to read that no one should travel to anywhere in Mexico. Clearly though, it does not tell travelers to avoid Mexico, and only urges caution.

I have lived in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico, for two and a half years, and I can report firsthand that the claims of violence and disorder are extremely exaggerated. The information in some U.S. media does not reflect the reality of my life in paradise.

This week I kayaked with dolphins, played softball with a large group of ex-pats, hiked, biked, played on the beach, ate two lunches and one dinner at restaurants (including an amazing crab and shrimp tostado), and watched a live band on the beach while sipping cold cerveza. And each evening, after dark (when it had cooled down), I walked my dog. Not once did I fear for my safety. The only thing I was in danger of was a sunburn.

I drive to Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, at least once a month. I have never experienced or seen any problems and have never felt threatened or unsafe. I was once pulled over by a police officer who politely said, “drive slower please,” and let me continue on my way. I find that the majority of Mexican people are extremely helpful, kind and generous.

My sister and nephew are on their way here today and my mother will join us next week. I would not encourage them to travel here if there was any chance that they would be in danger.

I’m not the only one who feels safe in Mexico. Mexico Living recently polled its readers on whether or not they feel safe traveling to and/or living in Mexico. These are people who know the situation firsthand, and not just from media reports. The overwhelming response was that readers feel safer in Mexico than they feel in the U.S. and/or Canada. They speak strongly about how secure they feel in Mexico.

Since the Travel Alert was issued, the U.S. Department of State has tried to clear up some of the confusion. During the Daily Press Briefing on March 13, 2009, Gordon Duguid, Acting Deputy Department Spokesman, stated, “The violence in certain areas along the borders is of concern. We have made our concerns known in our Travel Alert. I would point out, however, that it is localized. I would also point out that the violence is a response to President Calderon’s strong action against drug cartels. These cartels wanted to have things their own way, and the president refused to accept that and has taken them on, and they have responded with violence. Some of the violence is between the gangs themselves, and some of it is against the police and the other law enforcement authorities. So while we are concerned about the violence in these localized areas, we congratulate the Mexican Government for taking on the problem. And we note in our Travel Alert that American citizens should be aware of the problems in these areas, but that also their travel does not need to be hindered if they have the information that they need.”

Responding to a question about Secretary Clinton’s visit to Monterrey, and whether this is some kind of signal of the Department’s assurance to U.S. citizens that Mexico is safe to travel to, Gordon Duguid stated, “I think that you can judge that if we did not feel somewhere was safe, that we would not take our Secretary there. So, I think it does make that statement”.

At another briefing, Gordon Duguid repeated, “We’ve said that Mexico is a safe country to travel to. I’ve said that from this podium and so has Robert Wood, my colleague.” Further, “The U.S. State Department believes that President Calderon is in full control of his country.”

Peter Kent, Canada's junior foreign minister, echoed these sentiments, stating in an interview, "You can see that certainly the conventional tourist spots, the major tourist locations, don't have any more risk involved than at normal times."

Arthur Frommer, publisher of the famed travel guides, recently traveled to Mexico and stated, “In actual fact, the resort areas of Mexico . . . have experienced no violence directed against tourists and are, in fact, almost totally serene, as I myself witnessed on a recent stay. It is as safe to vacation in the tourist part of Mexico today as to go to any city of the U.S. or Canada.”

Arthur Frommer makes a good point. Looking at crime statistics, it would appear that Americans are safer in Mexico than they are in many parts of the United States. The United States is the most crime-ridden country in the world. Mexico is not even in the top five. The top five are (based on total crimes per country):

1. United States – 11,877,218
2. United Kingdom – 6,523,706
3. Germany - 6,507,394
4. France - 3,771,850
5. Russia – 2,952,370

On a per capita basis, the United States ranks 8th, while Mexico is 39th. Reporting that all of Mexico is not safe based on violence in three or four cities is like saying that the United States is dangerous based on the crime statistics for New Orleans (209 murders in 2008), Detroit and East Los Angeles. In 2008, more Americans died in New Orleans (one city) than in all of Mexico.

The U.S. media has also sensationalized a U.S. military planning report issued in January misinterpreting it to say that Mexico was in danger of becoming a “failed state.” Unfortunately, fear sells papers. The document, however, explicitly states, "This document is speculative in nature and does not suppose to predict what will happen." The document was meant to prompt creative planning and policies that would avoid the "what if?" scenarios.

Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, has since reported, "Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state." Secretary Clinton stated, after her recent visit to Mexico, “I don’t believe that there are any ungovernable territories in Mexico.”

Anthony Placido, chief of intelligence for the Drug Enforcement Administration, recently testified at a Senate hearing that the violence in certain border towns is not a sign of state failure so much as acts of desperation by the cartels and a sign that the Mexican offensive is succeeding.

Mexico is not a failed state, and the majority of cities are extremely safe. Tourism is still strong in Mexico as millions flock to seaside resorts and cobble-stone cities. Last year 22.6 million foreign tourists safely visited Mexico (17.6 million of them Americans). This was a 5.9 percent increase over 2007.

Mexico’s Tourism Board states, “Mexico remains the number one destination for Americans and the occupancy rates in resort areas during the first two months of this year have been higher than last year. Tourism is the third source of foreign revenue for our country and, therefore, safety of international and national tourists is of our utmost priority.”

Spring break has now come and gone with thousands of students safely enjoying all that Mexico has to offer. Mexico continues to be an amazing, fun, sunny, warm, SAFE and affordable place to vacation and LIVE. Come see for yourself!

Read what the vacationers, part timers, and full timers have to say about Living and playing in Mexico - Quotes