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Dangerous Spring Break?

American Tourists Warned Against Travel to Mexico

El Mensajero, Video, News Report, By Francisco Barradas, Translated by Suzanne Manneh // Video: Amanda Martinez Posted: Apr 05, 2009

Traduccin al espaol

Editors Note: Since the State Department issued a travel alert about the increased violence in Mexico, U.S. media have discouraged Americans from going there. In fact, the number of Americans who get killed in Mexico is about the same as the number who kill themselves there. And some of the Web sites that highlight these risks are connected to American tourism boards that have their own financial interests in making Mexico look dangerous.

SAN FRANCISCO Among the 10 best tips for Cancun offered on the Web site springbreak.com are: Take buses because they are fast, safe, and cheap, drink bottled water and other drinks that you know wont cause Moctezumas Revenge, and dont urinate in the street.

But there is no preventative advice about the increase of the violence in public spaces or about the dozens of Americans who have been kidnapped across Mexico in recent years as emphasized by the State Departments Feb. 20 travel alert.

The U.S. government warning prompted a fierce media campaignwith the strongest presence on television--beginning in March that recommended that no one visit Mexico at all.

On March 25, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to Mexico for two days, and the issue of security was number one on her agenda. That Wednesday, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano appeared before Congress to discuss the border enforcement policies announced by the Obama administration the day before.

But for Matt Scrivin, who works for Student City, an online company that plans vacations for young adults, the press attacks on Mexican tourist destinations are false.

Look at ABC programs like Good Morning America or Nightline -- they mix real incidents of violence in neighborhoods in Mexico City with beach scenes, and thats not fair, said Scrivin by phone from Mazatlan, Mexico, on the Pacific coast.

According to Student City, the company has served 50,000 travelers each year for 10 years. It has a contract with MTV which hosts beach parties that are broadcast to the world from the Mexican coast.

The State Department estimates that 100,000 adolescents and young adults travel to Mexico in April during spring break.

The Most Dangerous Country

"It is imperative that travelers understand the risks of travel to Mexico, said the U.S. State Department Travel Alert, noting that the greatest increase of violence has occurred near the U.S. border.

But San Franciscos Mexican Consul Carlos Felix described the alert as unbalanced.

We have problems, we are determined to struggle against drug trafficking, he said, but it isnt true that the country is experiencing generalized violence. This is not Iraq; its not a war zone."

Mexico is not dangerous for American tourists at all, affirms Frank Koughan, a veteran television and newspaper journalist who produced the CBS program 60 Minutes for eight years and left his native New York for Quertaro, Mexico, in 2006.

Is Mexico dangerous? I think thats the wrong question, said Koughan. The question should be, Is Mexico more dangerous than the United States? and the answer is, No.

Last year, 40 people died in the United States from Quertaro alone, Koughan wrote in an email. The United States has a lot more random shootings in schools, churches; 10 people were killed in Alabama in the second week of March. Every terrorist in the world wants to attack New York, but I dont see very many stories asking, Is it safe to visit the United States?

In 2008, tourism to Mexico increased by 7 percent from the previous year, according to the countrys tourism board. A total of 23 million foreigners traveled to Mexico in 2008, 40 percent of them to Cancn or another destination in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatn.

If 2008 was the year of the most drug-related killings, it was also the year Mexico received the most international tourists, Geraldo Garca, editor of El Periodico de Quintana Roo, wrote in a Feb. 19 column.

How They Die

According to U.S. State Department figures, 798 Americans died in Mexico between January 2006 and June 2008. Of these, 159 were killed, 101 committed suicide, 16 died of a drug overdose, and the other 522 died of accidental causes, such as highway incidents or drowning in the ocean or swimming pools.

Americans suicide rate in Mexico is about the same as the rate at which they are getting killed there. The U.S. State Department compared the period of January to June 2008 with the same period two years ago.

Between January and June 2006, 37 Americans were killed on Mexican soil; another 26 took their own lives. In 2007, there were 37 homicides and 28 suicides, and in 2008 there were 18 homicides and 13 suicides.

The homicide rate for Americans in Mexico seems to be falling. In 2006, the State Department recorded 85 for the whole year; in 2007, there were 56. Suicides increased slightly from 38 in 2006 to 40 in 2007.

From 2006 to 2008, 72 percent of the killings of Americans in Mexico occurred on the border of their own country: Tijuana, Baja California and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas are, statistically, the cities with the greatest risk.

Of the 159 killings of Americans that have been recorded over the last three years, eight occurred on beaches (Mazatln, Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta).

However, there are Web sites devoted to spreading the negative experiences of American tourists in Mexico. Two that stand out for their shrillness--a succession of murders, rapes, kidnappings and robberies that bring to mind the film Friday the 13th--have a common connection: The Tourism Council of the state of Florida.

Mexico, according to figures from the Mexican government, made $13.289 billion from tourism in 2008. Its a huge market and, it seems, there are some who are willing to kill the truth for it.

Related Articles:

Finding the American Dream - In Mexico

White House Announces New Border Plan to Combat Drug Cartels

In Global Economic Crisis, Mexico Is Resilient

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