Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Mexico Travel Warning
[Photo: Downtown Nogales, bereft of tourists]
My mother-in-law is visiting us in Tucson, and just this morning I was discussing with her the question of whether she wanted to visit Nogales, the Mexican border town that's an easy 60-mile drive from our home.
Nogales used to be a very popular spot for people in southern Arizona, but no more. There are two main reasons.
One is a basic fear of violence, though lots of people still think that Nogales is relatively safe, provided you don't wander off too far from downtown, or plan to spend the night bar-hopping.
But two, and perhaps the strongest: Given widespread concern about travel to Mexico by Americans, downtown Nogales -- once bustling with life and with vibrant shops and restaurants -- has become just plain sad. The friendly shopkeepers, those still in business, put a brave face on it, but the fact is that downtown Nogales looks dead and forlorn. Most of the joy has gone out of the place.
So we won't visit today, and that's a reason. It's just too damn sad.
But frankly, it's also just too damn dangerous. (If you're thinking about Nogales, ignore clueless happy-talk travel reviews like this one. In fact, according to the State Department, Nogales has become one of the new centers of border-town violence, with increasing incidents of daytime street shootouts. And if you want Mexican pottery and the other sort of stuff people buy there, here's a clue: You get a better price at Mexican pottery, furniture and curio shops in Tucson and in Tubac, Az. And you don't have to schlep your stuff through Customs.)
The violence has affected U.S. tourism in Mexico (and especially in the border regions), though cheap prices and desperate marketing have drawn lots of new tourists from Brazil and other places where street violence and other crime is a lot more common than it is in the U.S.
The safety situation in mexico is not getting any better, judging from a new travel warning issued by the U.S. state Department.
[UPDATE FEB. 21 -- A woman in El Paso, Texas, was injured by a bullet apparently fired during a shootout in Juarez, Mexico, which is 2 miles away. Only high-powered assault rifles can do that.]
Alarmed by the growing violence caused by drug-traffic gangs in Mexico, the State Department has issued the strongest warning to date to discourage Americans from visiting Mexico.
Here's the full text of the current State Department travel warning for Mexico.
The Mexican government, incidentally, reacted strongly to this. The AP reports that Mexico's top domestic security official called the warning, which covers almost half of the states of Mexico, "ridiculous" and "out of proportion."
[UPDATE FEB. 26 -- 22 passengers on a Carnival Cruise shore excursion were robbed at gunpoint on Thursday in Puerto Vallarta. Here's a link.)
The new State Department warning is definitely harsh.
"According to the most recent homicide figures published by the Mexican government, 47,515 people were killed in narcotics-related violence in Mexico between December 1, 2006 and September 30, 2011, with 12,903 narcotics-related homicides in the first nine months of 2011 alone," it says. "While most of those killed in narcotics-related violence have been members of TCOs [transnational criminal organizations], innocent persons have also been killed. The number of U.S. citizens reported to the Department of State as murdered in Mexico increased from 35 in 2007 to 120 in 2011.
"Gun battles between rival TCOs or with Mexican authorities have taken place in towns and cities in many parts of Mexico, especially in the border region. Gun battles 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 trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area. TCOs use stolen cars 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 indicated in this Travel Warning and to exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the northern border region."
Here is the text of the warning's section on the Mexican border towns and other northern regions:
Baja California (north): Tijuana is a major city/travel destination in the Northern portion of Baja California -see attached map to identify its exact location: You should exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night. Targeted TCO assassinations continue to take place in Baja California. Turf battles between criminal groups proliferated and resulted in numerous assassinations in areas of Tijuana frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured, have occurred during daylight hours throughout the city. In one such incident, an U.S. citizen was shot and seriously wounded. According to the Government of Mexico, as of August 2011, the city’s murder rate was approximately 20 per 100,000. During 2011, 34 U.S. citizens were the victims of homicide in the state. In the majority of these cases, the killings appeared to be related to narcotics trafficking.
Baja California (South): Cabo San Lucas is a major city/travel destination in the Southern portion of Baja California -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify its exact location: No advisory is in effect.
Chihuahua: Juarez and Chihuahua are the major cities/travel destinations in Chihuahua -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify their exact locations: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Chihuahua. The situation in the state of Chihuahua, specifically Ciudad Juarez, is of special concern. Ciudad Juarez has one of the highest murder rates in Mexico. The Mexican government reports that more than 3,100 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez in 2010 and 1,933 were killed in 2011. Three persons associated with the Consulate General were murdered in March 2010. The state of Chihuahua is normally entered through Columbus, NM, and the El Paso, Fabens and Fort Hancock, TX, ports-of-entry. There have been incidents of narcotics-related violence in the vicinity of the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua.
Coahuila: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Coahuila. The State of Coahuila continues to experience high rates of violent crimes and narcotics-related murders. TCOs continue to compete for territory and coveted border crossings to the United States. In August 2011, suspected members of TCOs and police exchange fire near a crowded soccer stadium in Torreón causing panic. The city of Torreón had a murder rate of more than 40 per 100,000 population between January and August of 2011. USG personnel may not frequent casinos, sport books, or other gambling establishments and adult entertainment establishments.
Durango: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Durango. Between 2006 and 2010, the number of narcotics-related murders in the State of Durango increased dramatically. In 2011 several areas in the state continue to experience high rates of violence and remained volatile and unpredictable. USG personnel may not frequent casinos, sport books, or other gambling establishments and adult entertainment establishments.
Nuevo Leon: Monterrey is a major city/travel destination in Nuevo Leon -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify its exact location: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Nuevo Leon, except the metropolitan area of Monterrey where you should exercise caution. The level of violence and insecurity in Monterrey has increased, illustrated by an attack on a popular local casino in August that resulted in 52 deaths. One U.S. citizen was injured in that incident. Local police and private patrols do not have the capacity to deter criminal elements or respond effectively to security incidents. As a result of a Department of State assessment of the overall security situation, on September 10, 2010, the Consulate General in Monterrey became a partially unaccompanied post with no minor dependents of USG personnel permitted. USG personnel serving at the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey may not frequent casinos, sport books, or other gambling establishments and may not travel outside the San Pedro municipal boundaries between midnight and 6 a.m. Although there have been no such incidents in 2011, in 2010 TCOs kidnapped guests out of reputable hotels in the downtown Monterrey area, blocking off adjoining streets to prevent law enforcement response. TCOs have also regularly attacked local government facilities, prisons and police stations, and engaged in public shootouts with the military and between themselves. TCOs have used vehicle born improvised explosive devices against military and law enforcement units. Pedestrians and innocent bystanders have been killed in these incidents.
San Luis Potosi: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of San Luis Potosi, except the city of San Luis Potosi where you should exercise caution. The entire stretch of highway 57D in San Luis Potosi and portions of the state east of highway 57D towards Tamaulipas are particularly dangerous. In February 2011, one U.S. government employee was killed and another wounded when they were attacked in their U.S. government vehicle on Highway 57 near Santa Maria del Rio. Cartel violence and highway lawlessness are a continuing security concern. USG personnel may not frequent casinos, sport books, or other gambling establishments and adult entertainment establishments.
Sinaloa: Mazatlan is a major city/travel destination in Sinaloa -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify its exact location: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Sinaloa except the city of Mazatlan where you should exercise caution particularly late at night and in the early morning. One of Mexico's most powerful TCOs is based in the state of Sinaloa. With the exception of Ciudad Juarez, since 2006 more homicides have occurred in the state's capital city of Culiacan than in any other city in Mexico. Travel off the toll roads in remote areas of Sinaloa is especially dangerous and should be avoided. In the last year, the city of Mazatlan has experienced a level of violence (primarily confrontations between TCOs) not seen before and incidents of violence are occurring more frequently in tourist areas. USG personnel are permitted to travel between the Mazatlan airport and the tourist areas only during daylight hours. We recommend that any other travel in Mazatlan be limited to the tourist areas (Zona Dorada and the historic town center). In 2010 there were over 300 narcotics-related murders within the city, compared to fewer than 100 in 2009. In the first seven months of 2011, there were 300 narcotics-related murders.
Sonora: Nogales and Puerto Peñasco are the major cities/travel destinations in Sonora -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify their exact locations: You should defer non-essential travel between the city of Nogales and the cities of Sonoyta and Caborca (which area also includes the smaller cities of Saric, Tubutama, and Altar), defer non-essential travel to the eastern edge of the State of Sonora which borders the State of Chihuahua (all points along that border east of the northern city of Agua Prieta and the southern town of Alamos), defer non-essential travel within the state south of the city of Ciudad Obregon with the exception of travel to Alamos (traveling only during daylight hours and using only the Highway 15 toll road, aka cuota, and Sonora State Road 162), and exercise caution when visiting the coastal town of Puerto Peñasco. Sonora is a key region in the international drug and human trafficking trades, and can be extremely dangerous for travelers. The region west of Nogales, east of Sonoyta, and from Caborca north, including the towns of Saric, Tubutama and Altar, and the eastern edge of Sonora bordering Chihuahua, are known centers of illegal activity. U.S. citizens visiting Puerto Peñasco are urged to use the Lukeville, Arizona/Sonoyta, Sonora border crossing, in order to limit driving through Mexico, and to limit travel to main roads during daylight hours.
Tamaulipas: Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Tampico are the major cities/travel destinations in Tamaulipas -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify their exact locations: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Tamaulipas. All USG employees are: prohibited from personal travel on Tamaulipas highways outside of Matamoros, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo due to the risks posed by armed robbery and carjacking; may not frequent casinos and adult entertainment establishments within these cities; and in Matamoros are subject to a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew. Be aware of the risks posed by armed robbery and carjacking on state highways throughout Tamaulipas. In January 2011, a U.S. citizen was murdered in what appears to have been a failed carjacking attempt. While no highway routes through Tamaulipas are considered safe, many of the crimes reported to the U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros have taken place along the Matamoros-Tampico highway, particularly around San Fernando and the area north of Tampico.
Zacatecas:You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Zacatecas except the city of Zacatecas where you should exercise caution. The regions of the state bordering Durango and Coahuila as well as the cities of Fresnillo and Fresnillo-Sombrete and surrounding area are particularly dangerous. The northwestern portion of the state of Zacatecas has become notably dangerous and insecure. Robberies and carjackings are occurring with increased frequency and both local authorities and residents have reported a surge in observed TCO activity. This area is remote, and local authorities are unable to regularly patrol it or quickly respond to incidents that occur there. Gun battles between criminal groups and authorities occur in the area of the state bordering the state of Jalisco. There have also been reports of roadblocks and false checkpoints on highways between the states of Zacatecas and Jalisco. The city of Fresnillo, the area extending northwest from Fresnillo along Highway 45 (Fresnillo-Sombrete) between Highways 44 and 49, and highway 49 northwards from Fresnillo through Durango and in to Chihuahua are considered dangerous. Extreme caution should be taken when traveling in the remainder of the state. USG personnel may not frequent casinos, sport books, or other gambling establishments and adult entertainment establishments. USG personnel may not travel outside the City of Zacatecas after dark and must abide by a curfew of midnight to 6 a.m. within a secured venue."