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Beware of dangers traveling to Mexico

POSTED February 22, 2012 8:19 a.m.
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The State Department has once again issued a travel warning to U.S. citizens planning to enter Mexico. In particular, the concern is directed at Mexico cities bordering the United States that travelers from the U.S. must pass through when entering Mexico. The warning also suggests that there is heightened danger to tourists throughout all of Mexico, but it specifically lists the Mexican states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas as the worst areas. The aforementioned areas are troubled because they represent the most active gateways to the United States from Mexico for drug, gun, and human trafficking.

This is not the first time the U.S. government has issued a warning of this nature, as there has been much drug-related violence in Mexico for the past seven years (and before). Travel warnings have been occurring at least once yearly. Since December of 2006, some 50,000 people have been killed either as direct targets or as unintended victims of violent actions stemming from conflicts between rival drug cartels, as well as between the government and cartels.

The problem has become so serious that the Mexican government is literally fighting the cartels to keep that country from becoming a narco state. By definition, a narco state is where a nation's government either directly or tacitly approves of the illegal drug trade. Mexico's government is not at that point, and it is certainly trying to eliminate the drug scourge from its country. Nevertheless, the cartels are not only operating openly and in a brazen fashion, they are actively attempting to corrupt or intimidate government and elected officials. The fact that the United States has a voracious appetite for drugs does not help the situation at all.

The dangers to U.S. citizens, and frankly, anyone in Mexico, include the possibility of being caught in the crossfire between warring drug cartel members. People who appear to have wealth, valuable vehicles or other high dollar items appear to be more vulnerable to robberies than the "average person." Car jacking, kidnappings, homicides and thefts are among the threats facing travelers in Mexico. Disappearances, which are the consequences of some of the kidnappings that have occurred, are also taking place in Mexico,

According to the State Department, "U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) which engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico. The TCOs are engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity in those areas, resulting in serious crime and violence throughout the country and can occur anywhere."

The threats to U.S. residents visiting Mexico are real, but statistically, the chances are very slim that any one individual would fall victim to the ongoing violence in Mexico. Millions of tourists visit Mexico every year and experience no problem at all. One should keep in mind, also, that the cartels and other violent criminals make up but a tiny fraction of that country's population. One can argue that there are cities in the United States that are similarly dangerous.

There are two points to this column. The first is simply a matter of sharing information that may be useful to would-be travelers from the United States to Mexico. And if you do choose to travel to Mexico, do so during daylight hours, do not travel alone, leave your travel itinerary information with someone at home, avoid the areas that are known to be dangerous, tone down the appearance of having wealth and, in general, use common personal safety sense. The second point is that the cartel-related crime that currently exists in Mexico is also, at this time, starting to emerge here in the United States. There have been cross-border kidnappings, there is evidence that cartels are already established and active here, and where there are cartels, government corruption will follow. Some of the violent crimes that are often carried out here by what would appear to be local gangs actually have either a direct or indirect cartel influence behind them.

We can conclude that Mexico has areas with increased dangers, and that is a fact. Perhaps more important is the fact that we, as a society, must aggressively combat any cartel-related activity in our country to keep it from growing like the cancer it is. This requires local, state and federal authorities to work closely together by sharing information and rigorously enforcing the law to keep the problem under control. The community has to be vigilant and willing to report suspicious activity and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), now part of Homeland Security, has to do all it can to keep tabs on and rid this country of cartel members and their consiglieries. If we fail, then maybe someday it will be the Mexican government issuing travelers' warnings to its citizens about the dangers awaiting them in our country.
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